First posted on October 5th, 2011 on The Retroist Retro Blog and Podcast - CW post link
Mills came from a long line of whole grain farmers living in rural Iowa, just outside of Happy Pines. The farm was a successful one supplying much of the Midwest with more wheat oats and corn then they could possibly handle but he wanted more. He wanted to make an impact on the world and he wanted it to be through the art of horror!! Like many farmers Herman had grown up watching monster movies and fell in love with the spooky art form. He wanted to be a part of that world and set about meticulously designing monsters. Monsters like the world had never seen before! He created sketches, background stories, rough film outlines…everything! He envisioned a series of films; each one showcasing the eerie goodness of one of his monstrous creations… eventually there could be crossover films that featured two of his monsters or even more! He knew in his heart of hearts that they would be a hit and with a cast like this how could he go wrong?
(Historical Sketch by: The Amazing Tom Krohne)
Count Chocula- An undead creature of the night…ageless. With the charm of an aristocrat and an undying thirst
Frankenberry- An monstrous abomination. The unnatural marriage of flesh and machine. An unstoppable force of nature.
Devastated, Mills returned to the family farm reinvesting himself into developing new and spookier ways of planting wheat fields! In 1931 Herman Mills received the most shocking blow of all. Universal studios had released a movie entitled Dracula. And the leading character Count Dracula was virtually identical to his character Count Chocula!! He had received no notice from Universal…no royalty check… Surely this was some kind of mistake…or maybe just a misunderstanding. He contacted the studio and was told they had no record of his visit to the company or of his monster movie pitch. Mills continued to hold on to the hope that the whole ordeal could have been a coinsidence. After all, as the crotchety but lovable owner of the charming local country grocery store said “stranger things have happened”
So he went about his life but the betrayal only got worse. Universal released Frankenstein; a pale (and not even pink!) ripoff of his Frankenberry character. Then the (not yummy) Mummy and the Wolf Man! In addition they released several films introducing the concept of a “ghost;” a concept wholly created by Mills with Boo Berry. Heartbroken and jaded, Mr. Mills set about the task of trying to recover from his dreams shattering before him.
It was no use…Universal Studios had taken everything. They even created a film called the Invisible Man and mirrored his character The Invisiberry Man perfectly. While not nearly as scary or well fleshed out, these “universal monsters” had effectively ended any chance that he would ever see his own characters in the spotlight. In one last desperate attempt to make it big, he pitched some light concept stuff to a young studio called Rankin Bass and since they needed some Halloween material they agreed almost immediately. The resulting film “Mad Monster Party” was released to much critical acclaim but was a box office flop and ultimately never reached anything beyond cult status. The world was apparently not ready for a stop motion vampire or a claymation werewolf.
Herman went back to the farm this time for good. He began to love the whole grains and the nourishment they provided. He knew they could be part of a balanced breakfast if eaten with toast, skim-milk and a glass of milk…and a glass of orange juice ( I mean honestly, who drink two different drinks with breakfast in two different glasses. It’s ridiculous!) Yes, Herman believed that if these whole grains could somehow be molded into interesting shapes and then put in a box of some kind why…even kids might eat it! So he devised a plan to revolutionize the breakfast world, he would call his product cereal (after the serial comic strips that he loved so well) But this “cereal” needed more than just fun shapes and a super cool rectangular box. It would need colorfully decorated cartoon boxes. Delicious flavors and catchy names…maybe even some kind of collectible toy that could provide endless nostalgia fuel in the years to come! Only the right combination of these could turn innocent children into obnoxious whining brats that would beg and scream until the product was dropped into the shopping cart by a desperate mother!
What he needed was inspiration and he didn’t have to look very far…it was the same answer he had turned to time and time again…Monsters! He got to planning a different cereal with its own unique flavor, and displayed on the box in all their glory…his creations! Anyone could see that Herman Mills was a whole grain genius! He knew how to make the best cereal on earth…and the flavoring was a no-brainer! In fact, weirdly enough, he noticed that the names of his monsters almost sounded like flavors already! With the help of his brother General Edward Mills (marshmallow hobbyist) he added that special finishing touch of the sweet spooky themed delights. After all everyone knows that marshmallows are what kids crave!
The rest, as they say is history. Herman and General Mills went on to fame and fortune, becoming sugary breakfast titans and creating one of the most beloved seasonal horror based food products in the history of the world. The characters on those cereal boxes have resulted in spin-offs such as video games, and animated series and even Mills Monsters: The Broadway Musical casting its influence into the entertainment world farther even than Universal Studios…the company that nearly ended the dream for good. The origin of Monsters Cereal really is a classic example of the American Dream. Not like Sugar Bear….now that story is weird!