“He was mesmerizing,” Mel Korey, his first business partner, told the New Yorker in 2000. “There were secretaries who would take their lunch break at Woolworth’s to watch him because he was so good-looking.”
After dropping out of the University of Illinois after 18 months, Popeil worked the fair circuit. He claimed he cleared $1,000 a week, a fortune in the 1950s, and did it by talking 10 to 12 hours a day, almost nonstop.
When a friend told him that he could produce a commercial for about $500 at a Tampa, Florida, television station, Popeil made a two-minute spot in the mid-1950s for the Ronco Spray Gun, a high-pressure nozzle that was one of the few products he sold that he did not help create.
He bought whatever time he could find cheaply on local television stations and sales soared.
“TV made the way for me,” Popeil told Inc.com magazine in 2009. “It put me in the big world.”
A few years later, he starred in and filmed another commercial for the Chop-O-Matic — another product invented by his father.
The Chop-O-Matic was so successful that it led to the reimagined Veg-O-Matic, which was largely responsible for sales growing from $200,000 to $8.8 million in just four years, according to Popeil’s memoir. Yet he insisted his relationship with his father always remained strictly business.
The first contraption that Popeil created himself was the smokeless ashtray. After noticing the need to cover his own bald spot, he came up with a spray formula to cover thinning hair and baldness and named it GLH for “great looking hair.”
For some time, he and his father ran separate public companies that sold similar merchandise.
When his father died at 69 in 1984, his obituary in the Los Angeles Times noted that his second wife, Eloise, had been convicted of trying to have him murdered. After she served a 19-month sentence, the elder Popeil remarried her.