Book review: the rise and fall of Brownie Wise, inventor of the Tupperware party

Wise made Earl Tupper’s invention a success by moving sales out of the shops and into the home, in the process creating an early kind of social network. But it didn’t last…

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 July, 2016, 5:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 01 August, 2016, 11:04am

Life of the Party

by Bob Kealing

Crown Archetype

3.5 stars

She’s been to all your parties, knows what’s in your refrigerator and is not afraid to demonstrate a loud burp. Now you really get to know Brownie Wise.

Long before Martha Stewart, Mary Kay and other celebrated mavens of domesticity, there was Wise, the face and genius behind the iconic Tupperware party. In Life of the Party, we learn how she built – and abruptly lost – a Tupperware party empire.

Author Bob Kealing offers an unvarnished look at how Wise used post-war optimism to not only create an early social networking system to sell the home plastics products, but also to recruit thousands of women into the workforce at a time when a woman’s was usually tied her to the home.

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It was 1951 and Wise – christened Brownie by her parents for her expressive dark eyes – was a divorced mother who worked as a rep for Stanley Home Products when she caught the attention of Earl Tupper, an inventor whose plastic storage containers were collecting dust on store shelves. She insisted he market his products through parties where women invited their friends into their homes for a combined sales and social presentation.

It was she who came up with the idea to fill those Tupperware bowls with liquids and fling them across the room to demonstrate their durability. It was Wise who famously showed mothers how to “burp” the lid to force air out of the bowls and create a vacuum. In a world where women had to put shower caps over dishes to prevent food from spoiling, sales took off.

Her business savvy invented much of the corporate culture of Tupperware and soon, combined with her Doris Day looks and Dale Carnegie skills, she was a household name. And, the book reports, she started a relationship with the two-time Democratic presidential nominee and UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson.

Sadly, Wise’s ascent was matched only by her fall. Tupper, who had myriad creative differences with Wise, and perhaps fuelled by the fact she had become a celebrity, fired her abruptly in 1958. He even wrote her out of the company’s history and left her with just one year’s salary (about US$30,000 in today’s dollars). She owned no stock in the company, which was sold for US$16 million soon after her departure. Her life became modest, even messy. She died in 1992 at age 79 from cancer, and in obscurity.

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The first woman to make the cover of Businessweek (in 1954) does not have a gravestone, let alone a proper epitaph, at her resting place in Kissimmee, Florida, not far from company’s original headquarters.

The concise, conversational style in Life of the Party reflects Kealing’s impressive resumé. He is a four-time Emmy Award-winning television journalist who is the author of three books and whose articles have appeared in magazines and newspapers across the United States. His book could help restore Wise to her rightful place in the history of American business.

Originally published in 2008 as Tupperware Unsealed, this revised edition puts Wise’s life front and centre. The book has been optioned by Sony Pictures with Sandra Bullock to star as Wise. But don’t wait for the movie. Join the party now.