I never questioned whether or not history was written in stone until I had my eyes opened by a cheerleading coach in my senior year of high school. No, I wasn’t in the cheerleading program, Coach Gordon also taught World History at my school. During the one semester I spent in that class there were a couple of things he really opened my eyes to, one being the definition of the word usurp, and the other was the concept of revisionism. Mr. Gordon was the only teacher I knew that ever questioned the content of the textbooks we all had to use, and at one point he taught us that the content of these books, especially ones centered on history, are written with a point of view and an agenda to impart specific teachable facts. He wasn’t a complete conspiracy nut, he was just trying to open our eyes to the idea that there’s more out there to learn and that just because something is passed off as a fact doesn’t mean it’s the full truth, it’s just the version that was put to paper.
With that in mind I’d like to ask a question. Who invented Jelly Bellys? Well, I don’t know about you, but the first place I’d look for the answer would be on the Jelly Belly website, and more specifically on the company history page. Go on, check it out and I’ll meet you back here in a few minutes. Alright, according to the official company history it seems that the man responsible for bringing the world Jelly Belly jelly beans would be Herman Goelitz Rowland Sr. Well actually the history lists Rowland and an unnamed marketing guru, but really Herman seems to have been the man with the plan. Well that’s that, right? Well, maybe not…
Most of us have heard the fairytale about Jack, his cow, and a bag of enchanted beans, but it wasn’t until this past week that I first got a chance to experience a real life variation of the story about a man named David who, instead of selling a cow, sold his bag of magical beans. Candyman: the David Klein Story is a documentary about the eccentric genius who invented America’s first gourmet jelly bean called Jelly Belly. Directed and edited by Costa Botes (co-director of Forgotten Silver), the film features David Klein and his son Bert (an animator for Disney and the Simpsons) as they take a look back at the Klein’s life, the creation of the iconic confection that was championed by none other than former President Ronald Regan, and how Klein was more or less erased from the legacy of Jelly Belly. The documentary follows David on a short tour around a lot of the southern California locations where he worked and developed his passion for making and marketing candy. The journey is peppered by interviews with friends, family and industry professionals (including some super funny witticisms from Weird Al) reflecting on Klein, Jelly Belly, and his love/obsession with making people happy at any cost.
What really struck me was Klein’s son Bert (who also produced the film with his wife) and how he was sort of using this documentary portrait of his father to set the record straight, not so much to stick it to Jelly Belly, but to validate Klein’s legacy and passion. David Klein had the idea to take the ordinary maligned jelly bean (brilliantly described as Easter basket packing material by Weird Al Yankovic in the doc), and transform it into a natural, high-quality, great-tasting candy. He got the ball rolling, contacting the Goelitz Candy Company and getting them to manufacture his ideal bean, and then took to the road telling everyone that would listen about his creation. There were local publicity stunts, visits to national TV talk shows where Klein was truly decked out in the part of the proverbial candy-man, and zany photo-shoots, all in the hopes of getting the world to notice these amazing Jelly Belly beans. It was as if he stepped out of the pages of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. For four years Klein was the face of Jelly Belly and is a huge part of the candy’s success.
Costa Botes does a wonderful job of shinning the spotlight on Jelly Belly, Klein and his family, touching on the sadness of the tale without getting too mired in the ennui of corporate shenanigans and unresolved family issues. The documentary is as much about celebrating Klein’s eccentricities and ideas as it is about being written out of the history of a pop culture phenomenon. From his use of paper plates as notepads (hard to lose and easy to throw), to his later insane confection creations (my favorite being yellow liquid candy sold in urine sample jars), Klein has led a wacky and truly interesting life and it makes for a very entertaining film. All in all I think this portrait is the perfect way to remind us that there is always more to the story.
I wanted to mention that though I did receive a copy of this documentary on DVD for review purposes, I’ve also purchased one with my own funds that I’m going to give away here at Branded. I’m certainly not biased because of an access to review materials, but I also want to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak, and I enjoyed this film enough to do just that. So if you’d like to win a copy of Candyman: the David Klein Story, send me an email with the subject line “Candyman DVD” and a description of your favorite flavor of Jelly Belly jelly beans by February 17th at 12:00am est. I’ll pick one e-mail at random to win a copy of the DVD.
The film is currently available via the Indiepix website on DVD, On Demand, or to Download. You can also see a trailer for the film at the above link. If you’re curious about what David Klein is doing these days, check out his candy company Sandy Candy!