Betty Crocker is perfect. She bakes
flawless pies and gives sage advice, such as: "A fricasse without
dumplings is like a wedding without a bride." Also, unlike another
domestic goddess that we know of, she’s never been in the slammer. It’s
easy to be the perfect woman, though, when you don’t actually exist. An
invention of General Mills, Crocker was created to sell flour and serve as
the company’s face.
Susan Marks, on the other hand — a Minneapolis-based writer and filmmaker — is quite real. In her book, Finding Betty Crocker, she tells the history of
Betty Crocker and the person who was largely responsible for creating her
image—Margerie Husted, a woman who was anything but the typical image
of Betty Crocker. A company exec who married late and never had
children, Husted served as Betty’s voice on her popular radio show.
She endeavored to empower women by validating domestic work and later
lectured about issues such as the inequality of pay and recognition for
women in business.
Marks has since moved on from Betty Crocker, however; and her new project takes our homespun peppermint rooms into much darker territory. As her mother says, she has gone from Devil’s Food to the dark side. Marks is filming a
documentary about murder. And dolls.
When Corinne May Botz’s book The
Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death first came out, Marks devoured
it and then wanted to know more. Her new documentary, Our Wildest
Dreams: A True Crime Documentary of Dolls and Murder explores the
story behind the Nutshell Studies, a series of dollhouses built by
Chicago heiress Frances Lee Glessner in the 1940s. Each dollhouse
depicts a murder scene in minute detail, from the blood spattered
candy-striped wallpaper to the victim’s stockings (knit by Glessner on
a pair of straight pins). The dollhouses were built in order to train
police officers and are still used for this purpose today. Susan’s
documentary is currently in production with the king of campy noir
himself, John Waters, providing the narration.
At first it may seem a bit odd that Susan should go from studying
strudel recipes to examining miniature murders with a magnifying glass.
When you talk to Susan though, she’ll tell you that the stories of
Betty Crocker and Frances Lee Glessner have more in common than one
might think. Both involve women who yearned to do something outside of
the role that society had prescribed for them, and both succeeded in
doing so by taking their "womanly" interests, flipping them upside down,
and then climbing right up on top of them in order to succeed in the
male-dominated realms of business and forensic science. However, if you’re
still left wondering what the hell a fricassee is, I’ll bet
Susan Marks knows.