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Sunday, November 30, 1997
By Paul Ford
Save our children from this encroaching horror.
Oren, Utah.The Combined Effect Center for Treatment of Compulsive Disorders today announced a new program for breakfast foods addiction, meeting a growing concern over what United States Secretary of Health Don Winelgrad recently called "the cereal problem."
"Quite honestly, this is something we should have done many years ago," said Edward Bayliss, director at the Oren, Utah-based center. "We haven't had the resources to treat this properly, and this new center provides us with those resources."
At a press conference, Tony the Tiger, who lobbied for legal recognition of Exaggerated Sugar and Starch Response Syndrome (ESSRS) as a medical condition as early as eight years ago, read a prepared statement via satellite from his home outside of Bombay: "For about sixteen years, to feel the confidence I needed, I ate the cereal I was paid to promote. In the late 1980's, on the set for commercial shoots, I'd eat sixty to seventy bowls before tape rolled. My self-reliance and pride disappeared. The message we sent to America's children is horrifying to contemplate. I want to congratulate the Combined Effect Center for its revolutionary work in treating this condition."
Mr. Tiger has since left his lucrative commercial career and returned to his prior occupation, savagely attacking villagers in India.
Other workers in the industry tell similar stories. "I wouldn't trade my new life for anything," said the Trix Rabbit, interviewed for this article at his home in Neptune, New Jersey. From 1975 to 1994, he was one of the most highly paid commercial talents in food promotions.
"Money! Amazing money! But how do you think they got me into that frenzy for every commercial? Every day I got a regular payola injection of Trix cereal, and before shooting they'd take me off the injections for a week. By the time the cameras rolled I was crazy for the cereal, absolutely off my gourd to get some. And they'd pay those bastard kids to keep it from me. 'Trix is for kids. Trix is for kids. Trix is for kids.' A living hell, with cameras rolling."
Mr. Rabbit, whose real name is Dwayne Schlaussenberg, is currently suing the General Foods corporation for emotional and physical distress; the trial will begin next October. "The day I filed my lawsuit, Ellis Martin died of an overdose. I took it as a sign that I narrowly missed my own death," said Mr. Schlaussenberg. "That was a wake-up call for the entire industry." Martin, considered one of the most talented performers in breakfast cereal commercials, was better known for going "cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs" than for his short-lived Broadway stage career, in which, for a run of six months during 1967, he concurrently played Oliver Twist in Oliver! at the Imperion theater, and Anne Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank across the street at the Royal.
"But the payoff for commercials was too great," related Mr. Schlaussenberg, "and Ellis figured the chances on Broadway were limited for a bird, so he went over to Kelloggs. At first, it's exciting, meeting all the big names, like the Corn Flakes Rooster, but once you're trapped. You're getting in on the ground floor with a big name like Cocoa Puffs, but you might as well be in prison."
While fondly remembered by many, Mr. Martin lived a life of excess "that put the members of [rock group] the Who to shame," said Count Chocula, at home on Fire Island, NY with his companion, Frankenberry. Chocula, who retired from General Mills last year, related that Mr. Martin would "show up with cartoon characters from Ralph Bakshi movies and beat up the Sugar Smacks Frog. It was worse than anything in Midnight Cowboy. He would just go crazy, eat six boxes of those goddamned puffs and lose control."
The Combined Effect center will "address the underlying issues that lead to this extreme behavior," said Dr. Bayliss. Awareness is raising in other quarters, as well. A two hour drama about ESSRS aired last June on ABC. "Purple Horseshoes," starring Matthew Broderick, followed the life of Donald O'Leary, the Lucky Charms Leprachaun, from the slums of Ireland to the commercial animation studios of Los Angeles, to a sad downfall in which Mr. O'Leary allowed perverted thrill seekers to urinate on him in exchange for the brightly colored marshmallows on which he was dependent.
On another front, ESSRS testing is making its way into medical textbooks, a sign that, despite the propaganda efforts of the cereal cartel, the medical community sees this condition as genuine. "Admitting the problem takes one closer to a solution," said Mr. O'Leary, now a social worker for the Combined Effect center. "It's the only way to resolve the issues. My own story proves the dangers of a life of addiction, but it also proves that there's a way out. The Combined Effect center should show many suffering individuals a glimmer of hope at the end of that dark and winding tunnel of dependence."
More information on ESSRS can be received by sending email to Combined Effect Center for Treatment of Compulsive Disorders.