PEZheads

These guys donít a give a rip about the candy. Itís all about the plastic dispensers.

Jordan goes starry-eyed giving thanks for his mentors. "I owe so much to John and Cheryl," he says, calling to mind an Oscar winner at the awards podium. "Shawn Peterson was my role model."

If there ever was an archaeologist of PEZ, Peterson is it. The 38-year-old Kansas City native has written two definitive tomes on the candy and is hard at work on a third. It centers on a California couple's million-dollar collection that, as Peterson puts it, "blew my mind.

"I've been doing this for seventeen years, and I had no idea any of their stuff existed," says the author.

So obsessed is Georgian Chris Skeene that he documented the PEZ craze in PEZheads: The Movie.
Jennifer Silverberg
So obsessed is Georgian Chris Skeene that he documented the PEZ craze in PEZheads: The Movie.

Peterson's achievements earned him an audience at PEZ, and the company now uses him to leak information to collectors. At the National PEZ Convention, he held court like a pro athlete, signing books and showing samples of future releases.

"I got a call from Europe a year ago. They'd found something — a donkey — and wanted to know if I'd ever heard of it," Peterson tells the crowd. "It turns out that John F. Kennedy was visiting Vienna, when PEZ was still based there, and the company presented the president with a gift box holding three dispensers: a Donkey for J.F.K., a Golden Glow for Jackie, and a Bozo the Clown die-cut for Caroline.

"Nobody had ever found those, and all of a sudden this old Donkey turned up in an office drawer. Unbelievable."

Peterson, who works for Hallmark Cards but dreams of a job at the candy company, can relate PEZ lore for hours. There was the married PEZ guy, for one, who went sweet on a gal at a convention and used the annual gatherings to see her again. That was, until he returned home from one reunion and found his wife holding a brown bag of pulverized plastic. "Here's your PEZ collection," said the wife, according to Peterson. "I want a divorce."

And there's the story of the Michigan man, "a Hell's Angel look-alike," who was so mad for PEZ that he made yearly sojourns to an Eastern Europe factory. As Peterson tells it, the man convinced employees to make various dispensers in the color variations he demanded.

Back in Michigan, the man piled the PEZ so high in the hallways of his home that everything collapsed in the middle of a night. "One morning," says Peterson, "he woke up and literally had to dig himself out."

Then, recalls Peterson, there was the strange call the company received from U.S. government representatives earlier this year. "They wanted to know PEZ's policy on bootleg PEZ. And PEZ was like, 'What? Why?' Apparently there's some terrorist connection — they wonder if people are making bootleg PEZ in order to fundraise for terrorist groups."

Last week Peterson planned to hang out in Kansas City with Robby Takac, bassist for the Goo Goo Dolls, who once traveled all the way to Tokyo in search of PEZ. "There's just so much to PEZ that people don't realize," Peterson sums up.

Still, why PEZ? After all, it's just a cheap piece of plastic.

"You never see a PEZ with a frown," says Kyle Jordan. "They're always so happy."

"It's the thrill of the hunt," says John Devlin.

Says Mike Chadwick, a Michigan collector who once spent $5,000 on a Maharajah PEZ: "I guess the answer is, why not?"

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