Queen of Tupperware
Dixie’s Here to Party
Tupperware’s rectangular cake taker ($49) holds a 9×13 inch single or double layer cake. Reverse the bottom and you can safely transport 18 cupcakes. What Tupperware doesn’t tell you is that it also holds 34 Jell-O shots. But that’s OK. That’s Dixie Longate’s job. It’s a real job that pays real bills that she wouldn’t have if Tupperware products demonstrated themselves.
You can always host your own Tupperware Party if you want to attend one for free, but there’s a reason audiences are willing to fork over $38 to attend Dixie’s. If you’ve got the dough, you’ve got an opportunity next weekend to find out for yourself what it is. The show will be presented by Broadway Theatre League Wednesday, Feb. 20 through Sunday Feb. 24 in Shopland Hall at the Scranton Cultural Center.
The star of Dixie’s Tupperware Party, Longate presents herself in the production’s program notes as multiple divorcee rebuilding her life after several run-ins with the law in hopes of regaining custody of her children.
“Through plastic, she teaches many valuable lessons to her offspring about teen pregnancy, staying away from drugs and why a trailer is a truly comfortable and practical place to live,” Longate’s bio reads.
Recommended for mature audiences, the show is scripted with more dirty jokes and sexual entendre than some brains can absorb in 90 minutes. Audience interaction has been known to include Rickles-esque harassment.
“I’m grabbing my muff, ’cause I’m going where it’s a little bit chillier,” Dixie says in an online video promo for late winter’s shows in Scranton, Buffalo, and Syracuse.
Dixie makes it clear from the start she is here for the party (you know what’s in that sippy cup) and yet most critics have ceded there’s enough substance mortared between jokes and sales pitches to take the show beyond gimmick to certifiable theater.
Like Tupperware’s nesting Impressions Classic Bowl Set, Dixie’s Tupperware Party reveals layers within layers as you open each one.
First, let’s consider that the products Dixie Longate is demonstrating on stage are really are for sale.
“How mean would I be to give all these people these great food storage solutions and then deny them the opportunity to buy the crap?” Longate quipped in a WEWS TV news report also viewable on YouTube.
Billed as the playwright — while the show sounds spontaneous it is scripted — Kris Andersson is also well-known as the man behind Dixie’s curtain. (And he makes her costumes, too.) He’ll not only take his contracted cut of the ticket sales next weekend, like any good Tupperware consultant, he will earn a commission from each and every item you buy. He will also likely urge you to join the Tupperware sales force yourselves. Because that’s the way Brownie Wise would have wanted it.
Ode to Brownie
Tupperware owes its party sales and incentive structure to Brownie Wise. A native of Georgia with an eighth grade education, Wise was a divorced single mother when she discovered Tupperware in Detroit in the late ’40s. She began selling the revolutionary new, unbreakable plastic bowls at parties with great success and when she called one day to complain about orders that were not filled, she asked to speak to inventor Earl Tupper directly. She recommended he sell his product exclusively at home parties because the product benefitted from demonstration. He agreed and brought her in as the vice president of Tupperware Home Parties in 1951.
It was Wise who developed the social networking system of marketing the company still relies upon today and has since inspired so many others including Mary Kay and Lia Sophia. She created Tupperware’s innovative Jubilee, an annual motivational conventions where top sellers were rewarded with gifts such as minks, appliances and vacations.
In 1954, she was the first woman to appear on the cover of Business Week. She became such a celebrity and so powerful, Tupper was compelled to fire her in 1958 blaming her for unauthorized spending and withholding receipts even as sales had reached $100 million. She had no company stock and was able to secure only a year’s salary of approximately $35,000. Before the end of the year, Tupper would sell the company for $16 million and buy an island. Wise would spend the rest of her life failing to successfully launch home party companies such as Cinderella, a cosmetics company that folded after a year.
For more on Brownie Wise and the history of Tupperware, we recommend the 2004 PBS/WGBH American Experience Documentary Tupperware! currently available for viewing online.
Although Tupperware erased all evidence of Brownie Wise going so far as to destroy remaining copies of her training manual for sellers, her tactics of empowering women are still in evidence in the company’s recruitment and retention programs. Turn down the volume on your computer and click on the “opportunity” page at tupperware.com to view a five and a half minute video thumping with house music beats and inspirational pop lyrics promising confidence and dreams come true to women who dare to become hard working consultants. The Jubilee is like a pageant where women are rewarded for sales rather than beauty.
“I want to be a star,” one woman says with complete sincerity.
Dixie Longate succeeds, perhaps, because she is not making fun of these women, she is identifying with them and celebrating the gift of positive attitude and promise of financial independence that Brownie Wise has given them.
“Instead of just going out and looking for people who want to have a Tupperware party, I look for people (whose lives I can change)” a consultant says as the Chain of Confidence video promo comes to an end.
Homosectionals are women, too?
Homosectionals are what Dixie Longate (see @DixieLongate on twitter) might call the men in drag who rank among Tupperware’s top sales people, whether they’re actually gay or not. (You know God loves a heterosexual man willing to dresses like a woman to sell more Tupperware, too.) You see, Kris Andersson is not the only actor in drag selling Tupperware.
At the annual West Coast Tupperware Jubilee at the Disneyland Hotel in August, the top three in personal sales in the U.S. and Canada were recognized. All three are drag queens — Aunt Barbara a.k.a. Robert Suhan, Dee W. Ieye a.k.a. Kevin Farrell, and Kay Sedia a.k.a. Oscar Quintero. Aunt Barbara (YourAuntBarabara.com), was the number one seller in North America last year. The Long Island-born Suchan built the retro character inspired by his own aunt.
In an Aug. 2012 article in the Orange County Register, Farrell credited Pam Teflon as the one who paved the way in the mid ‘90s. Now 47-year-old actor Jeff Summer was last seen playing The Genie in Aladdin at Disneyland but came to national attention back in 1996 for selling Tupperware in the guise of Pam Teflon. Credited as the Queen who paved the way, Sumner, like Andersson was a writer. He launched a show called My Life in Plastic, described by the L.A. Times in 1996 as the first show where you could order Tupperware colanders and cake servers.” Within a year he had became the most successful consultant among the 8,000 then working in the Pacific region.
“I’m not a drag queen,” he told the Times, “I’m an actor who happens to play a female role.”
A U.S. News & World Report article in June 1996 quoted then president of Tupperware as Gaylin Olson as supporting Pam Teflon “110 percent.” The company later said diversity is a plus and the drag queens are good for their image.
John Kump sells Tupperware as Anita Longhorn.
“When I do parties as myself, I average about $500 in sales,” Kump told the OC Register’s Barbara Venezia. “Anita sells more than double that amount with a party average of nearly $1,500.”
Andersson started hawking the plastic in 2001 to make money, supposedly after his job was downsized, and soon after created Dixie to make the party more fun. In 2004, he brought Dixie’s Tupperware Party to the New York Fringe Festival and by 2007 had opened the show off-Broadway. This most recent version of the show opened as a Pittsuburg CLO Cabaret show last year.
Dixie’s Tupperware Party runs Wednesday and Thursday Feb. 20-21 at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday Feb. 22-23 at 8 p.m., also Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday Feb. 24 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $38 general admission (plus $10.25 fees online). Call 342-7784 or visit www.broadwayscranton.com
Love these vintage Tupperware advertisements? Check out this commercial from 1961, back in the days when that airtight burp was politely called a whisper.