Betty Crocker Unveiled

Sharron Angle
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In 1945, Fortune magazine named her the second most popular woman in America, behind that other first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt.

And, when the Betty Crocker big red picture cookbook first came out in 1950, sales rivaled those of the other big book, the Bible.

She's certainly had more than a few looks over the years, observes CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers on CBS News This Morning.

Still, have you ever wondered, just who is Betty Crocker? And where might she be?

Among the thoughts expressed by passersby to Bowers: "I think she's long dead"; "She's probably alive and like 95, hanging out, enjoying her recipes"; "Retired, with a lot of money somewhere."

Author Susan Marks first became intrigued with Betty while working as a tour guide in the Minneapolis Milling District and, she told Bowers, "I used to tell people about the history of flour milling…and how flour milling was once king in Minnesota. …And I noticed that, whenever I told people that they were standing near the birthplace of Betty Crocker, the old Washburn Crosby mill, people would start to come to life with stories about Betty Crocker."

"It was the first cookbook I got for my wedding from my mother," one woman noted at a Marks book signing.

"I have the Betty Crocker future homemaker award from the state of Wisconsin back in -- ooh, do I have to say the year? 1961," another fan chimed in.'

"And," Marks says, "the more I listen to people, the more I realize that people had a strong emotional connection to her. And I thought, 'I have to find out why.'"

So Marks went hunting, and found out that Betty Crocker was born in a mill in 1921, to proud corporate parents at the Washburn Crosby Company which, in 1928, became General Mills.

"Do you think that people still think Betty Crocker was or is real?" Bowers asked Marks.

"Oh, absolutely," came the response. "I'd say about half the people I talk to are surprised to hear that Betty Crocker's not real. And I feel bad about being the bearer of bad news. But so many people have said to me, 'Well, she was real at one time, right?' And I don't know how to tell them."

She lets readers down easy, in her new book Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food, but it still comes as a shock, even to some in the audience at the book's launch last month at Minneapolis' Mill City Museum.