Tupperware with a Twist

by

04/28/2003

10 morton street, new york, 10012

Neighborhood: West Village

All those who believe Tupperware parties have gone the way of Suzy Homemaker may have cause to break out the crinoline. As a party at PROUN space studio has recently demonstrated, Tupperware is alive and glib in the West Village. No longer the exclusive domain of Valium-popping post-WWII housewives, this particular Tupperware party, given by architects Gustavo Bonevardi and John Bennett, and guest-hosted by Carolin Young, author of Apples of Gold and Settings of Silver: Stories of Dinner as a Work of Art, tallied—believe it—more men than women. Granted, the Jello, offered in nudie women or Nascar racing cars molds, was vodka-laden. And the Mickey Ice Tups, a more recent rendition of the beloved Tupperpops, served frozen pina coladas and strawberry daiquiris instead of popsicles, in honor of a 1950’s housewife who, according to Young, “used to suck on them while she did her husband’s ironing.”

A 1950’s Sunset Appetizer Book inspired the retro nibbles, including deviled eggs arranged on Tupperware’s Eggs-ceptional Server Set which, incidentally, fits into the Round Cake Taker, for easier transport, and also inverts to make a cake stand. There were classic pigs in a blanket, as well as ham and cream cheese cubes, chosen for Sunset’s pithy description: “These delectable appetizers have gay colors and the stripes of a peppermint stick.” Chicken salad, among other time-tested goodies, was served on white bread rounds cut from an old-fashioned biscuit cutter and placed on Tupperware’s spring colored containers, based on a 1950’s photo of an appetizer spread.

Gone was the angst of Tupperware parties past, the pressure I remember my own mother feeling, the result, most likely, of the conventional Greenwich housewife protocol that if you attended a Tupperware party, you were expected to return the favor and host one. (You can now buy Tupperware online and in malls).

With a nod to this kind of obsessive 1950’s entertaining, an oversized movie screen bore the silent projection of Rock Hudson and Doris Day’s Pillow Talk. That and the musical compilation, Martini Madness, provided the final touches of archness that kept the party attendees from taking the proceedings—or themselves—too seriously. The point of this Tupperware party was simple fun: see friends, eat, drink, maybe go home with a container or two. “Everyone’s thinking about the war,” said Young, appropriately clad in a red wool dress straight out of I Love Lucy (though she prefers to think of it as her Roman Holiday dress, a la Audrey Hepburn). “With all our friends attending peace marches, it seemed important to bring everyone together. To have a break,” she said. “The thought of doing a European-inspired dinner,” she added (the parties in her book all took place in Europe), “seemed completely ridiculous. Tupperware sort of follows my book into America after the war.”

Indeed Tupperware’s connection to World War II extends beyond mere timing. Earl Tupper, a freelance inventor, worked for Dupont in the1940’s, using polyetheline plastic to make gas masks and windshields for B52 bombers. In 1947, looking for domestic uses for this plastic, Tupper designed a line of high-end dinner plates, hoping they would find their way into the dining rooms of 5th Avenue.

When this venture lagged, Tupper turned his attentions further inward, that is, toward refrigerators and cupboards. Sales were modest until Tupper’s discovery of Brownie Wise, a divorcée from Detroit, who was, apparently, buying Tupperware by the hamperful. According to Young, “Tupper called Wise up. He was like, ‘Wow, how are you selling so much?’ only to realize Brownie was inviting women over to her house and giving them demonstrations, the better to sell his products. Door to door sales had been a big source of employment since the Depression,” Young continued. “This type of sale—probably why your mom felt so much pressure—was more community-based, involving people you would normally interact with socially.” In 1956, because of their balance of Bauhaus ideals of form and function on a Post-war industrial scale, Tupperware was accepted into the Museum of Modern Art’s design collection, thanks to design curator Arthur Drexler.

No Tupperware party would be complete without a demonstration, of course, so as the cocktail banter began to dwindle, our evening’s representative, Nellie O’Brien, formerly a TV anchor for local stations in New York and Connecticut, took her place at the head of the Tupperware display. Wearing what looked like a white lab coat, the perky blonde confessed with a sigh, “I was organizationally challenged.” Now a self-proclaimed “organizational expert,” O’Brien’s tone was part ironic, part Born-Again preacher. “Let’s face it,” she continued, “bugs love the glue that holds bags and boxes together.” Against a chorus of groans, O’Brien recounted her personal discovery of Tupperware’s moisture-free containers, Modular Mates, one fateful night at a friend’s party. After Tupperizing her cupboards, she moved on to a more formidable concern: her refrigerator. “My freezer used to be a frozen tundra,” she admitted, wide-eyed. “It was full of UFO’s—unidentified frozen objects. There were chicken breasts frozen to the walls.” Her refrigerator was no better. “My broccoli,” she said, disgustedly. “Ugh! What nobody knows, what I didn’t know, is that food breathes at different rates.” Pausing a moment, for the weight of this to sink in, she held up a FridgeSmart container and added: “Now my broccoli stays fresh and green and crisp for five weeks.”

After a series of hoots and applause, and the demonstration of an ice cube melting with great speed in a Tupperware Ice Cream Scoop, the rapt audience reverted to Jello shots. O’Brien graciously took her cue. “If you have any further questions,” she shouted over the mounting din, “feel free to ask me. But not until I’ve had my vodka and tonic.”

Someone turned up the music. People rushed to the demonstration area for order forms and catalogues. A tall, handsome man clutching a Tupperware spatula, let out a groan. “Everyone must hold a spatula before they go,” he insisted. Across the room, a goateed man in black leather spoke excitedly into his cell phone. “Honey, have you ever heard of Tupperware?”

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