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[whitespace] Gary Doss
Photograph by Eric Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

The King of PEZ

By Eric A. Carlson

"I was born, raised and live in Burlingame."

--Gary Doss

THE LATEST UNDERPOWERED iMac was unveiled last week by Steve Jobs, and it resembles a very large PEZ dispenser. Candy-colored computer fun for the whole family--or at least the kids. Speaking of interactive candy, a recent journey to the Museum of PEZ Memorabilia in Burlingame revealed not only the glory of PEZ, but also the glory of Burlingame, a town where real men get their hair cut at Clyde's Barber Shop and proud women walk powerful dogs and speak their mind. Burlingame is upscale, but it has enough hair on its chest to weave an Indian blanket. Even the babies look tough and confident.

In a moment that would tilt, ever so slightly, the axis of the space-time continuum, Gary Doss set up his PEZ dispenser collection inside his computer store at 214 California Dr. He quickly realized that customers were keener on PEZ than computers. In 1995, Computer Spectrum evolved into the Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia. Gary and his wife, Nancy, are co-owners, and Gary brought his mother, Pat, out of retirement to make it a family affair. The museum is chockablock with the most amazing geegaws. And when Gary leads a tour through the museum, it is like listening to Willy Wonka in the Chocolate Factory. Irresistible.

PEZ was concocted in Austria in 1927 by Eduard Haas. The name is derived from PfeffErminZ, the German word for peppermint--the only flavor available at the time. In 1952, Haas took the candy to America and marketed it as a substitute for smoking. It failed spectacularly--some say because the dispenser was shaped like a cigarette lighter. Hass remarketed PEZ as a candy for children, placing cartoon heads on the dispensers, and a legend was born. Controversy rages as to whether the first head was Mickey Mouse or Popeye. PEZ does not respond to inquiries about this--or anything else. Here is an excerpt from the PEZ company official website FAQ page. Q: "What new dispensers and flavors are coming out next?" A: "Like most consumer products companies, it is not our policy to discuss our current or future marketing plans." In other words--don't ask. Very Wonka-esque indeed.

I asked Gary if any PEZ dispensers had eluded him, "Oh yes, the 1970s pineapple is very rare." Gary spoke wistfully about this gap in his collection as he forlornly fiddled with an oversized replica of the missing pineapple. He is also in need of a 1962 Lions Club lion. But I am quite sure he has every other PEZ--and PEZ poster and PEZ-related marketing item. And I hasten to add that the museum is also a store. If you have any PEZ needs, this is the place to go. If you don't collect PEZ, you should. As Gary says, "Everyone that collects PEZ is happy."

A small display sign reads, "16 Free Presidents," and I asked Gary about it. "Oh, that was where we were keeping the Ultimate Fantasy Dispensers." The Ultimate Fantasy Dispenser, Gary explained, is a PEZ with a tiny picture frame on top that can accommodate a small photo (16 supplied with product) of a beloved president, or a photo of your own head.

The movie The Client set into motion a particularly cruel PEZ hoax. The Client depicted a character using an Elvis Presley dispenser and stirred up collectors all over the world. I refer once more to the official PEZ website. Q: "I saw an Elvis Presley PEZ dispenser in the movie The Client. Where can I buy one?" A: "There was an 'Elvis' dispenser used in the movie The Client. This was a model used for the movie, not an actual dispenser. Unfortunately, we never manufactured an 'Elvis' dispenser, nor do we have any plans to do so in the future." Nor will the company provide insight as to why there is a Bullwinkle PEZ, but not a Rocky.

Final Note: Gary has it on good faith, from reliable sources, that a new Yoda dispenser will be available with the debut of the next Star Wars movie--Attack of the Clones. I will definitely add that to my collection of Yosemite Sams and Icee Bears. The Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia is online at: www.burlingamepezmuseum.com.

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From the January 17-23, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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