Mr. Coffee and Joltin' Joe DiMaggio

Vincent Marotta, the man who created Mr. Coffee, also convinced baseball great — and noted java drinker — Joe DiMaggio to become its spokesman. Marotta tells Linda Wertheimer the story of the device that replaced the percolator.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

When Joe DiMaggio retired from baseball in 1951, he had every intention of leaving public life. After a brilliant career with the Yankees no amount of cajoling could nudge him back to the camera. But in 1973, the whiff of automatic drip coffee brought Joltin' Joe back into America's living rooms. Mr. Coffee and Mr. DiMaggio became one. Vincent Marotta is the inventor of Mr. Coffee, and he joins us from Cleveland.

Could you just remind me of what kind of innovation Mr. Coffee was?

Mr. VINCENT MAROTTA (Mr. Coffee Inventor): Well, prior to Mr. Coffee, you know, the favorite way of drinking coffee was through the percolator. Perk up the stem, you know, and it would recycle the coffee and then over the grounds again and again and again. It was really an outmoded way of making coffee.

WERTHEIMER: What made you think of Joe DiMaggio? Was it hard to get to him and to convince him to do this?

Mr. MAROTTA: Well, I searched around Cleveland for Mr. DiMaggio's unlisted telephone number. He lived in San Francisco. And I found a fellow who knew his unlisted number, and I rang Joe DiMaggio up on a Saturday morning. It was about 11:00; I shall never forget this. He answered the phone and I told him who I was, and of course, he said, `What's the name of that product?' And I said, `Mr. Coffee. You haven't heard of it, Mr. DiMaggio, 'cause it's brand-new.' And he said, `Well, I have heard of it.' He said, `Yes, I was playing in a golf tournament last week. I won one as a prize.' And I said to myself, `Hallelujah, hallelujah.' I said, `Well, that's it, Mr. DiMaggio. I'd like you to be my spokesman.' And he said, `Well, I don't think so,' OK?

WERTHEIMER: Right.

Mr. MAROTTA: Now the next day was Sunday. I asked my wife if she was willing to fly to California with me on Sunday, and she said, `Yeah.' My wife likes to travel. So we went to California and rang him up again. This time when he answered the phone, he said, `Well, hi! How you doing? How's the weather out there?' He had a whole different attitude. I didn't know whether he talked to somebody. I really never did find out. Even after all the years he'd been with me--I never asked him that question. And he came to have lunch with me at the Fairmont Hotel, and he listened attentively. He had his broiled salmon, which he likes. You know, they're a fisherman family, the DiMaggios.

WERTHEIMER: Right. Right, of course. Yes.

Mr. MAROTTA: And when I got all finished, he put out his hand and shook hands. He said, `I'm going to go with you.' That was it. And he ended up being with me for almost 15 years.

WERTHEIMER: How did Joe DiMaggio take his coffee?

Mr. MAROTTA: He had a small ulcer and he tried to stay away from anything that might affect his ulcer, but he did drink decaffeinated coffee--Sanka, and that's what he drank.

WERTHEIMER: Vincent Marotta is the inventor of Mr. Coffee, speaking to us from Cleveland. Mr. Marotta, thank you.

Mr. MAROTTA: Well, you're very welcome. Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: It's 22 minutes before the hour.

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