I was one of many bloggers and news organizations who noted the passing of the man who invented the TV dinner.
We were taken.
Roy Rivenburg in the LA Times says the story was punctured in 2003.
But obituary writers overlooked that revelation when memorializing Thomas this month as the genius behind the TV dinner. (Some writers also said Thomas has a spot on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Also not true.)
One of the dirty little secrets of journalism is that reporters rarely have time to investigate every claim people make about their pasts. If you want to embellish, just fool one reporter for one article, then you can use it to show other reporters that your story checked out. It also helps to adopt such accouterments as the cufflinks Thomas wore shaped like TV dinner trays.
Never mind that Swanson family members, historians and frozen-food industry officials from the early 1950s have all contradicted Thomas’ tale. Or that, in 1944, the W.L. Maxson Co. created the real first frozen dinner, which was sold to the Navy and later to the airlines. Or that FrigiDinner, not Thomas, devised the first aluminum tray for frozen meals in 1947. Or that several of Thomas’ former colleagues say he had little or nothing to do with Swanson’s product.
A former Swanson publicist, when asked about phony claims of credit, recalled a remark made by President Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs fiasco: “There’s an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.”
Indeed. The line was used in a 1951 movie, “The Desert Fox.” And the movie, in turn, swiped it from a 1942 diary entry by Benito Mussolini’s son-in-law, Count Galeazzo Ciano.
Lord knows where he got it.