How much of the Jerry Seinfeld movie ‘Unfrosted’ is a true story?
(Credits: Netflix)

Films

How much of the Jerry Seinfeld movie 'Unfrosted' is a true story?

Netflix comedy Unfrosted might have split the critics, but there’s no doubt this breakfast cereal satire has crunch, even if it is a little puffed up and sugary. Jerry Seinfeld’s feature film directorial debut takes its cue from a real-life battle between food multinationals Kellogg’s and Post in the 1960s over the creation of Pop-Tarts.

The film’s period setting places it against the backdrop of a Cold War space race and the rise of Madison Avenue marketing executives. But as you’d expect with Seinfeld, there’s a healthy frosting of absurd, punchline-heavy plotlines sprinkled into the story. The comedian, who co-wrote the movie as well as directing and starring in it, has admitted to “fictionalizing it” during an interview with Netflix.

His character Bob even admits at the end of his story-within-the-story that what he’d just recounted was completely made up. That’s not quite true, though. A lot of the elements of the film are firmly grounded in reality. Others are heavily exaggerated or completely made up.

So let’s separate the fact from the fiction in this tale of tart-based warfare. Which parts of Unfrosted are historical, and which are purely hysterical.

The Pop-Tart street race

As Seinfeld explains, his story “really did happen in Battle Creek, Michigan, where Kellogg’s and Post were located, and they did compete to come up with this product.”

Post came up with the idea for a flat-packed, toastable sweet cereal-based breakfast pastry first, as is depicted in the movie. And it’s true that Kellogg’s outcompeted them primarily thanks to a catchy name and superior marketing. They bought up advertising slots aimed squarely at their primary audience, in commercial breaks during cartoons like The Yogi Bear Show and The Woody Woodpecker Show.

What isn’t realistically depicted is the way Kellogg’s came to find out about the product Post was developing. In reality Kellogg’s employees didn’t have to go dumpster diving to find out about Country Squares. Instead, Post told the world through a press release, a decision they would come to regret.

In fact, at the time the two companies were competing over the development of these breakfast pastries they weren’t still based on the same street in Battle Creek, Michigan. While both companies had started out in what became known as “Cereal City”, Post moved their headquarters to New York in 1923.

Were Marjorie Post and Bob Cabana real people?

Marjorie Post really was the head of Post Consumer Foods during the period in which the film is set, having inherited the position from her father and founder of the business CW Post. However, she wasn’t the former lover of rival Edsel Kellogg or any member of the Kellogg family.

She did, though, build the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach Florida, as the film describes. She owned it until her death, and it was left to the US government in her will before Donald Trump purchased the resort in 1985.

Bob Cabana, played by Seinfeld, is directly based on the real inventor of Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts. Ironically, his real name was William Post (no relation to Marjorie). The filmmakers felt this coincidence would confuse the audience, so decided to change his name to something completely unrelated.

Tony the Tiger and the Nazi tart taster

Thurl Arthur Ravenscroft was a real Kellogg’s voice actor and the actual voice of Tony the Tiger. But this is the extent of the factual basis for Hugh Grant’s classically-trained, Shakespeare-quoting British version of Ravenscroft. Nor did the real Tony incite an insurrectionary riot of cereal mascots outside the Kellogg’s building.

On the other hand, Pop-Tart taste pilot Harold Nathan Braunhut really was the inventor of the Amazing Sea-Monkeys. He was also a neo-Nazi, as is implied in the movie, despite being of Jewish heritage.

How the Pop-Tart was named

The naming process of the real Pop-Tart did involve William Post, the real-life Bob Cabana, surveying his children for ideas. They didn’t come up with any version of its name, least of all “Trat Pops”. His son Dan did suggest that Kellogg’s initial idea for the product’s name didn’t work, though.

And so Post went back to the drawing board and came up with Pop-Tarts. He drew inspiration from Andy Warhol’s Pop Art movement, which is mentioned in the film in passing. Newsreader Walter Cronkite had nothing to do with the name in reality, and didn’t coin it by misreading “Trat Pops”, as the movie depicts.

Seinfeld’s picture is very much a mixture of reality and make-believe, then. Which is only fitting, given his track-record of creating and producing a fictionalised version of his own life to the delight of TV audiences throughout the 1990s.