“I Am Betty: The Rise and Fall of America’s Kitchen Queen”

A new musical explores the journey of Betty Crocker and the changing roles of women in the 20th century.

Betty Crocker, a name synonymous with baking and homemaking, has been a cultural icon for nearly a century. From her humble beginnings as a signature on letters to homemakers, Betty grew into a larger-than-life persona on radio and television, offering recipes, advice, and comfort to millions of Americans. But behind the red spoon and smiling face, Betty Crocker represented much more than just a brand. She embodied the changing roles of women in the home and became a beacon of hope in a time when women lacked role models and outlets for validation and joy in their lives. Now, a new musical titled “I Am Betty” premieres at St. Paul’s History Theatre, delving into the complex journey of Betty Crocker and the women she represented.

The Creative Team Behind “Betty”

The creative team behind “I Am Betty” includes playwright Cristina Luzárraga, composer Denise Prosek, and director Maija Garcia. Luzárraga, Prosek, and Garcia bring their unique perspectives to the production, aiming to shed light on the power of the women behind the brand. With a nine-member all-female cast, the musical seeks to correct the checkered history of women’s representation and celebrate the innovation and ingenuity of women in the culinary world.

The Multifarious Journey of Betty Crocker

“Betty” takes a multifaceted look at the icon, exploring her impact on women’s struggles throughout the 20th century. While Betty trended with the times, she never led them. As Cathy Swanson Wheaton, executive editor of General Mills’ cookbooks, notes, Betty Crocker’s image has been both helpful and harmful to women. She represented vivaciousness, optimism, and love, offering quick and easy solutions for the busy lives of consumers. However, she did not represent everyone, and as the feminist movement gained momentum, Betty’s message became more complicated.

The Enduring Legacy of Betty Crocker

If nearly every American household has a Betty Crocker story, it’s because of her enduring success. The Big Red Book, with Betty’s face adorning its pages, has sold over 75 million copies since 1950. Betty’s patriotic symbol during World War II rallied the nation, and her various representations over the years have endeared her to many. However, as the feminist movement gained traction, Betty’s decline became almost inevitable. General Mills attempted to shape her image to be more contemporary, but new challenges arose, such as addressing the nation’s growing diversity.

The Two Faces of Betty

The musical “I Am Betty” uses two Bettys to represent the myriad women who played the role of Betty Crocker on radio, TV, and in print. The first act focuses on Marjorie Husted, a home economist and businesswoman who turned Betty Crocker into a household name. She faced sexism and was paid only a fraction of what her male counterparts earned. The second act centers on Barbara Jo Davis, a Black dietitian who spent 20 years in General Mills’ test kitchen. Davis’s story highlights the contributions of women of color in shaping the culinary landscape.

A Century-Long Journey Through Music

The century-long span of the show allows for a musical journey through the decades. Composer Denise Prosek crafted songs that draw on different musical styles, ranging from 1920s ragtime to Andrews Sisters-esque harmonies of the 1930s and classic Hollywood movie musicals of the 1940s. Each era is represented musically, including boy-band music infused with doo-wop for the 1950s, protest songs for the women’s rights movement of the 1960s, and ’70s R&B. The show culminates with an Elton John-ish, gospel-influenced ballad, capturing the essence of the 1980s.

Conclusion:

“I Am Betty” offers a captivating exploration of Betty Crocker’s journey and the evolving roles of women in the 20th century. Through the lens of music and storytelling, the musical sheds light on the power of women behind the brand and the challenges they faced. Betty Crocker’s legacy endures, even as her image and message have evolved over time. As audiences experience this new musical, they are invited to reflect on the impact of Betty Crocker and the ongoing journey towards equality and recognition for women in all aspects of life.


Posted

in

by

Tags:

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *