Movie Article

Hula's Who?

The real fathers of hoopdom -- Inspired by ''The Hudsucker Proxy,'' we get the scoop on how the Hula Hoop really came to be

It's like putting a full-frontal nude shot of Jaye Davidson on an ad for The Crying Game. There, revealed right on the poster for The Hudsucker Proxy, is the film's big secret: a Hula Hoop.

In the movie, Norville Barnes (a young exec played by Tim Robbins) is propelled to corporate nirvana when he invents a mystery doodad that turns out to be the now-famous hip-twitching toy. Audiences will note a disclaimer at the end of the film explaining that no, this is not really how the Hula Hoop was invented.

What's the real scoop on the hoop? ''The movie is not an accurate depiction of how this came about, by any stretch of the imagination,'' says Frank Kappler, a spokesperson for Wham-O, the San Gabriel, Calif., company that introduced the hoop in 1958. The true inventors were Wham-O cofounders Richard Knerr and Arthur ''Spud'' Melin, who were inspired by Australian bamboo exercise hoops. It took two or three months before they thought to twirl their plastic versions around their waists.

Wham-O chose the alliterative moniker Hula Hoop over Twirl-a-Hoop and Swing-a-Hoop, and priced the 30-inch-diameter ring at $1.98, expecting to sell a few hundred thousand units. Knerr and Melin watched in shock as 25 million hoops spun out of stores in the first three months. So fast and heavy was the demand for the hoops that Wham-O had to fire up factories in seven nations. By the time the fad had twirled itself out six months later, an estimated 100 million Hula Hoops and knockoffs had been sold.

Then came the fallow years, when you just couldn't find one. Yet the humbled toy mounted a comeback in 1967, when Wham-O put ball bearings inside it to create the rhythmic Shoop-Shoop Hula Hoop. Like The Hudsucker Proxy's Barnes, it went on to devise such variations as the striped hoop, the peppermint-scented hoop, even a 36-inch Hula Hoop for the wide-waisted.

Kransco Manufacturing — a toy and sporting goods manufacturer that bought Wham-O in 1982 — says the Hula Hoop continues to sell well, but it won't divulge current numbers. That's a secret. Though unlike The Crying Game's secret, it's about something around your waist, not below it.

Originally posted Mar 11, 1994 Published in issue #213 Mar 11, 1994 Order article reprints
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