Monday, November 29, 2010

'Candyman': How One Angeleno Created -- And Then Lost -- The Jelly Belly Empire

Candyman: the David Klein Story (trailer) from Jennifer Klein on Vimeo.

There's something quite depressing about stories of genius inventors who wind up selling their creations too soon and for a paltry sum -- only to watch from the sidelines as it explodes in popularity.

The documentary "Candyman: The David Klein Story," currently running on the Documentary Channel, is one such tale.

In 1976, David Klein came up with the idea of a gourmet jelly bean -- an idea that came to him while watching "Happy Days."

Klein came up with an initial eight flavors and started selling Jelly Belly beans at Fosselman's in Alhambra.

Given the price and the novelty factor, it took a while for Jelly Belly -- which he named -- to take off. But after some crafty marketing stunts (including staging fake customers in front of a wire reporter), the idea caught on.

Soon David was appearing on chat shows like "Mike Douglas" as the "Candyman." People magazine wrote about him. He appeared destined for fame and fortune.

But as Jelly Belly hit it big, the vultures came out. First, Fosselman's itself tried to take away the Jelly Belly trademark -- but Klein was able to outsmart the ice cream shop.

Klein wasn't so lucky in 1980, when he was strong-armed by the manufacturer that produced Jelly Belly. Klein who wound up selling the company and accepting chump change (under $5 million, split with a partner).

Jelly Belly, of course, went on to become a mega success story. And Klein, who has had to fight regret and other demons these past 30 years, hasn't been able to come up with a new product that might rival the Jelly Belly phenom.

"Candyman" explores that sad footnote (Jelly Belly refuses to even mention Klein by name in its company history ). But it also serves as a tribute of sorts to the eccentric Klein, who has put people before business on many occasions, and who still puts on an upbeat, brave face despite what happened.

Glendale and Atwater Village are also prominently on display in the doc. And "Weird Al" Yankovic also makes an appearance.

Here's more info from the channel:

The idea for the "Candyman" documentary was hatched by David Klein's son, Bert, who enjoyed the fruits of his father's "Jelly Belly" creation in his early childhood, but soon struggled with his father's lost candy empire during his teen and early adulthood years.

Bert's long-suffering relationship with his father, combined with his 20-year career in the film business and the birth of his two children, gave him the incentive to create a film that could repair his father-son relationship and reunite the family.

"I wanted to make ‘Candyman' so my kids Emily and Aaron would know who their grandfather was and what he did for the world," explains Bert Klein. "Having lived through the adventure first hand, I knew it would be very entertaining and inspiring. This film is about far more than just ‘Jelly Bellies.' It is an amazing story about an extraordinary man living in extraordinary times. It is a Shakespearian tragedy through the eye of a jelly bean."

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