I got a rejection Friday afternoon. A form rejection, nothing fancy. But still, the timing.
The Likely Intent: Damn, I need to make some progress with the slush pile so let’s send this out.
The Messaging: Hahahaha I hope you have a terrible weekend, bitch.
I realize there’s never an ideal time for rejection, but if I could schedule such things, I’d pick Tuesdays at noon. But since I can’t, I’ve moved on with my weekend. In the ongoing quest to write a post whenever I get a rejection, I’m going to tell you about mayo.
This all started with Lillian Hellman. A guy at the Siskel Center told me about her a year-ish ago. I was there to see a four-hour Chinese movie that was tangentially about an elephant; apparently the director died by suicide because the movie producers were going to force him to cut the film down to two hours. Jesus.
In any case. Before the movie, my spouse, his mentor, and I stole some food from an event in the back room that we hadn’t been invited to but was over so hey, free food. An acquaintance of my spouse’s mentor was also there. I say acquaintance because the mentor puts up with him, but she doesn’t seem to like him much. As we attempted to eat our sandwich wraps and mini cupcakes, this guy finds out I’m a writer and hoo boy.
See, I have this thing called a fault where I can’t cut people off if they’re talking, even if they’ve completely taken over the conversation. As a result, I learned about Lillian Hellman and how I just had to read her play The Little Foxes. Meanwhile, my spouse and the mentor were in deep talks about Chicago judges. Eventually the mentor saved me and whisked us away into the theater, where my ass fell asleep sometime after Hour 2 of the movie.
What the fuck does this have to do with mayo? I’m getting to it.
The name Lillian Hellman stuck with me, so when I got a free credit for a book from Yale’s Jewish Lives press, I picked her biography because I don’t turn down free shit. Finally, a year and a half after I learned this woman existed, I cracked the book open this weekend. The person I share a marriage license with asked me if she was part of the Hellman’s mayonnaise dynasty. I asked if such a dynasty actually existed, but he just shrugged, so I endeavored to find out.
In the prologue of said biography, I discovered her family money came from her mother’s side because they somehow grew a fat stack of cash from peddling wares in Alabama. Her father’s family was broke and had squat to do with the mayo. I probably would’ve realized this sooner had I remembered the mayo brand is spelled Hellmann‘s, not Hellman’s.
Regardless, this led me down a Wikipedia rabbit hole to find out if there really was a Hellmann’s mayonnaise dynasty, even if Lillian Hellman wasn’t a part of it. The answer is: Sort of.
This guy, Richard Hellmann, immigrated to New York from Germany in the early 1900s and opened a deli with his wife. From there, he started making and canning his own mayo to sell to people.
Folks went so wild for it, he wound up opening a factory…and then another factory and another. By 1927, he was clocking in $1 million in profits per year and sold his brand to a company that would go on to be known as Best Foods. By the time he died in the ’70s, he had 15 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren. So he obviously still has descendants around, but there’s no Paris Hellmann heiress or the like to my knowledge.
But that’s not even the interesting part.
Before Best Foods bought Hellmann’s, they were like the Tupac and Biggie of mayo except with more acquisitions and less violence. Best Foods was the kingpin of mayo on the West Coast while Hellmann dominated the mayo game on the East Coast. When they merged, Best Foods was worried it would lose its name-brand recognition if they switched to the Hellmann’s name, so to this fucking day, Best Foods mayo is sold in every state west of the Rockies, and Hellmann’s is sold in every state east of the Rockies. They have the same branding and marketing but two different names. The sheer duplication of effort still breaks my ex-bureaucrat brain.
Still, Best Foods/Hellmann’s has assured the public on numerous occasions that the mayo recipe is exactly the same, but some folks claim they taste a difference. Supposedly, Best Foods is a bit tangier than Hellmann’s. I guess they were right to worry about their die-hard fans. If people are willing to feud over Red Vines and Twizzlers, they’ll fight over anything. God, this country is fucking weird.
So now you know a little more about the history of mayo. If you’ve ever got time to kill, I suggest making your own because it is damn tasty. Here’s a recipe.
Or if the whole idea of mayo makes you ralph, find yourself the hot sauce watch from Undercover Brother:
Modern Farmer, “Hellman’s vs. Best Foods: Will the Real Mayo Please Stand Up?“, November 18, 2014
Huffington Post, “Hellmann’s vs. Best Food Mayonnaise: Is There a Difference?“, February 9, 2012, as amended
The New York Times obituary for Richard Hellmann, February 4, 1971
Wikipedia, “Hellmann’s and Best Foods,” current edition