Mister Peanut: An Unauthorized Biography
The Roots of Mister Peanut
Work was extremely scarce for anthropomorphic food in 1930s Chicago—this was the world in which Lester P. Nutt came into young adulthood. Nutt was the son of an entertainment family: his father, Filbert Nutt was an entertainer at Chicago's famous Wrigley Field and his mother, Louisa "Peaches" Nutt sang and danced in caberet revue shows. A talented youngster, Nutt showed a love for singing, dancing, and playing musical instruments.
The lack of work soon affected the family, and, in 1937, the Nutts moved to New York City, with Broadway in their dreams and six dollars in their pockets.
Through perseverance and hard work, young Lester managed to land a job in New York's famous Cotton Boll Club, playing clarinet with a jazz and comedy troupe called "Salty Pretzel's Good-Time Revue." The club was a favourite hangout for some of the East Coast's most influential logos and cartoon characters and soon, young Nutt was hobnobbing with some of the elite.
One such meeting proved to be a turning point in Nutt's life. The youngster struck up a friendship with Parker B. "Rich Uncle" Pennybags. Pennybags gave the young legume a piece of advice that he would shape his professional image: "Always look successful—even if you haven't got a bean."
Young mister Nutt began studying the mannerisms and speech of the more well-heeled clientele of the Cotton Boll Club. A skillful mimic, he quickly learned how to "...walk, talk, and act rich..." in his own words. He found his trademark tophat and monocle in a pawn shop and began insisting on the stage name that wold follow him for the rest of his career: Mister Peanut.
They Call me MISTER Peanut
Almost immediately, the Planter's Nut and Chocolate Corporation approached Nutt to model as their spokesnut. The role was a perfect fit, and has been Mister Peanut's most well-known and loved part to date.
, Richard "Mister Salty" Pretzel left the group he had formed, moving on to entertain troops abroad
. It is rumoured that he borrowed the idea for his own stage name from his old friend Mister Peanut, but he has never been forthcoming on the matter. Peanut took over the revue, and it was re-named to the rather cumbersome "Mister Peanut's Good Time Blues and Jazz Show." Their popularity grew and Mister Peanut also struck up a friendship with Rosa "Rosie the Riveter
" Baldwin. Their friendship was soon to turn to romance
By the late 1940s, Peanut had his own radio program. "Mister Peanut's Blues and Jazz Hour" was popular across the USA, and featured a number of greats in the field. It was re-named "Mister Peanut's Variety Pack" in 1952 and Peanut reluctantly gave up gigging at the Cotton Boll Club to host the show nightly.
Digging up the Dirt
In 1952, Mr. Peanut ran afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Claims about his relationship with Ms. Baldwin, an alleged communist, led to some very cruel allegations about Peanut. Several people tried to claim that the notoriously tidy and fussy legume was homosexual, a charge which he denied.
Charges about his sexuality flew, including bizarre reports of peanut butter orgies. Many years later, Mister Peanut stated, "I'd have been the first one 'out of the closet' if I had been—I've never liked keeping secrets. I've certainly never had a problem with gay people, I mean, Morris the Cat has been one of my best friends for years."
It is now believed that the source of much of this controversy was none other than the famed FBI director J. Edgar Hoover himself. Several FBI sources from the era have come forward, saying that Mr. Hoover was extremely mistrustful of talking food items, and created the rumors in order to discredit Peanut.
But Mister Peanut's fame continued unabated. By 1955, he was a show-business legend in his own right. His variety show ran for over ten years with a shifting lineup of music and comedy legends. The transition to the new medium of television was natural and he took to it easily.
A renowned philanthropist, Mister Peanut was known for sending money to children on their birthdays and other holidays. "The guy could've been the richest logo in showbiz," said Winthrope "Nipper" Melrose III (the RCA Victor dog), "but he just kept giving his fortune away."
Nuts About Jazz
In 1965, Mister Peanut and two friends started a jazz band "just for fun." Pure Blues and Jazz featured Peanut on clarinet, Charles "Charlie Tuna" Fishman on bass, and Alfonse "Speedy Alka-Seltzer" Setzer on percussion. PB & J was a huge hit and the three friends were soon playing gigs in New York and neighbouring areas. Over the years, PB & J became something of a local sensation well beyond the dubious thrill of seeing a peanut, a fish, and an Alka-Seltzer tablet play jazz.
Mister Peanut gets Assaulted
Throughout the late 1960s, Mister Peanut played at a number of local fairs on behalf of Planters. A Sheboygan, Wisconsin fair in June of 1966 should have been no different from the dozen other events he played in the months before. A daring stunt turned into a tragedy as Peanut jumped from a trampoline onto an elevated platform where he was promptly seized by Huggles, a large elephant. The gigantic pachyderm then attempted to shell the hapless entertainer.
Mister Peanut was hospitalized for almost three months. Painful hull grafts and strenuous physical therapy eventually got him walking again, but he was left addicted to pain medication. He was a shell of his former self.
The late 60s and early 70s saw Mister Peanut descend in to a personal hell of obsessive work, addiction, and depressive episodes. Peanut ignored his health and threw himself into his work—sometimes playing shows in five different cities in a single week. In 1974, he played over 300 gigs, benefits, variety shows, television appearances, and musical performances in twenty different countries.
Among his copious work from this time were his touring two-man show ("A Couple of Goobers") with actor George Lindsey. His work with PB & J was among their best, and included several notable concerts (particularly their famous three-night stand with the Almond Brothers, who were still a bit green in those days) and three albums. The work was too much, the cracks began to show.
Hitting the Bottom of the Bowl
In 1976, his good friend and longtime drummer Setzer killed himself. The beloved pop cultural icon's suicide was widely publicized and had a devastating effect on Mister Peanut. As Peanut became increasingly brittle, his behaviour became erratic.
His friend Anthony Tiger recalls:
"He just went nuts. Peanut would disappear for days at a time. We were always afraid he'd do something really stupid."
In 1978, at a gala for US President Jimmy Carter, Mister Peanut suddenly collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital, and shortly transferred to rehab at the famous Betty Boop Clinic. There, he met Xantho, best known for her role as the White Rock Fairy—the two helped each other in the healing process and soon fell in love ... it is a romance that has lasted three decades.
Xantho and Peanut were married in 1981.
Peanut Better: The Recovery
The 1980s saw the beloved Mister Peanut get back on his feet. Supported by his wife and his legion of fans, recovery was swift and decisive. In 1983, Peanut revived PB & J, with a rotating lineup of jazz greats. His career slowly began to revive as well.
In the mid-80s, further allegations about his sexuality arose, showing up in articles in the National Enquirer and other tabloid newspapers. These were fodder for late night talk show jokes and the like, and reportedly caused some tension between Peanut and some of his friends. The source of the trouble this time seems to have been Evangeline Morton, the Morton's Salt girl. Miss Morton had apparently become infatuated with Peanut after meeting him at a party in 1966. Her jealousy caused her to get carried away, planting salty stories of his homosexual affairs in the tabloids.
Salt in the Wound
In 1989, while playing a benefit concert, Peanut was recounting the story of his injury. A drunken Russell J. McGruff, the crime dog, lept onto the stage and beat Mister Peanut severely before he was dragged off of the helpless legume. Peanut was hospitalized and required physical therapy, as the beating exacerbated his old injury. Recovery took a torturous two months.
McGruff initially claimed no memory of the event, later confessed the he had been confused and thought Peanut was insulting dogs, "...or, maybe, you know, saying something faggy." Peanut and McGruff made some peace in 1992, but the famous dog was later arrested for allegedly attacking a prostitute and is serving a sentence at this time.
At Home With The Peanut Family
Recent developments in Mister Peanut and Xantho's life have been very promising. In 1998, the Friars Club roasted Mr. Peanut, many of his old friends showed up for the tribute. The very next year he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Toon and Logo Arts and Sciences.
In 2002, People magazine published their infamous OMG! R They Totally teh Ghey? issue, and Mister Peanut was near the top of the list. This time, he was merely amused, and has a framed copy of the famous cover with him and Tom Cruise on his wall.
In recent years, he's been somewhat less active, "Taking it easy," as he says. He lives with his wife, Xantho, in their home in Logo Heights, a suburb of Toontown, California. They have also purchased a beautiful villa on the Spanish island of Ibiza, where they spend long holidays, lazing in the sun or playing jazz at the local nightclubs (Ibiza is a popular hangout for bohemian types from all over the world). "After all that time on Ibiza, I get mistaken for a native ... I feel like a real Spanish peanut." he says.
P B & J appears almost every week at Chester Cheetah's famous Trademark Room in Logo Heights (1330 Nast Boulevard at the intersection of Rapidograph Road). The current lineup includes Peanut (clarinet), Charlie (bass, trumpet), "Aunt" Jemima Harris (vocals and piano), and Alexander Clean (percussion, saxophone).
At nearly 100 years of age, Mister Peanut is still the beloved spokesnut for Planters and still has time for his devoted fans, and many still remember the 'monocle' sign (fan makes a circle around their eye with thumb and forefinger) and he says that scarcely a day passes that some fan doesn't make the monocle sign to him somewhere.
Or that's how I imagine it. The actual character of Mister Peanut was created in 1918 based on a character created for a contest. Still, anyone who can get away with a monacle, tophat and spats in the 21st Century deserves all kinds of kudos.
Thanks to Sally, Joan, Suzi, Joel, Chris and others for bad puns, good conversation and support!