How Wally Amos won his fame & lost his fortune

How Wally Amos won his fame & lost his fortune

The year Wally stopped selling cookies, he shaved his beard and stopped wearing hats. His house had been reposed by the bank. His company had lost millions of dollars for several consecutive years.

?Being famous is highly overrated anyway,? Wally Amos, author of ten books, friend of Simon & Garfunkel, and inventor of the Famous Amos cookie, told an AP reporter in 2007.

Image for postSource: Huffington Post

In March of 1975, Wally Amos launched The Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookie Store in Los Angeles. The cookies were an immediate sensation; 2,500 people to his store?s opening party.

The Sunset Boulevard set couldn?t get enough of the Cookie Man?s magic mix. The shop cleared $300k it?s first year. Franchises followed. By the early 80?s, America?s cookie baron was clearing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, drawing national attention for the Literary Volunteer of America, and winning kudos from Ron Reagan for his free-market hustle.

?Here was proof,? Wally later wrote, ?that a black high school dropout from a broken home in Harlem could make it in this country.?

Wally was the only child in a loveless and impoverished Tallahassee marriage. When his parents divorced, Wally was booted to Aunt Della?s in Harlem. He quit high school, joined the Air Force, got his GED, and landed a clerical job in New York. With hard work and easy charisma, Amos worked his way into a role as a talent scout with William Morris Agency. He was the first black talent scout in America.

By the time Amos started his own LA talent agency, his roster was chockablock with sixties swagger: Diana Ross & the Supremes, Sam Cook, and Simon & Garfunkel were all friends. He began serving cookies to clients, inspired, depending on the account, by either Aunt Della or a back-of-package Nestle recipe. Friends clamored for a store. And so Wally, relentlessly optimistic, raised a little cash from Marvin Gaye and a few other friends and set up shop.

?Like all sugar-induced highs,? Wally later wrote in Watermelon Wisdom: Seeds of wisdom, slices of Life, ?it didn?t last.? In the mid-80?s, the company began churning through owners until Amos was demoted to a figurehead, then bought out entirely by a foreign banking conglomerate.

Image for postSource: Jerry Wong

When Wally tried to start a new company?Wally Amos Presents: Chip & Cookie?a federal judge told him he?d sold away the rights to use his name. Wally Amos was a walking, breathing brand who couldn?t seem to cash in on his own success.

?In financial terms,? Wally wrote in 1996, ?all I?ve done since is amass debt and miss payments.?

Around the time Wally lost ownership in his company, his career took perhaps it?s most remarkable turn. Amos?by then, on his third wife, kid, and cookie company, began selling self-help.

To Wally, setbacks were burnt cookies??sacrifices on the alter of carelessness.? In nine books, hundreds of speeches, and countless baking metaphors, Wally pours half-full glasses. His stern mother was ?full of life?. His declining financial fortunes taught him ?that there is truly a Higher Power in the Universe than myself.? Even his soured relationships have been for his ultimate betterment: ?Now I can see all of the good that has come out of my two divorces and from walking out on my three sons,? he wrote in 1996.

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Other biographers spin a sadder story. His son Shawn called him ?a bearded, amped-up Willy Wonka? whose mother used to beat him with an electrical cord, angry at Wally?s father?s infidelities, their poverty, and at the structural strains of the Jim Crow South.

A Spirit Magazine reporter who visited Wally in 2013 nonetheless found the 77 year old in good spirits. His fourth and longest marriage had collapsed, as had his business, with $108,000 in unpaid rent, but Wally was not deterred. Amos greeted passerbyes with smiles and cookies from his latest enterprise; they responded with an affectionate ?Uncle Wally!?

?If you flow with the universe, it opens spaces for you,? Wally told the reporter as they parked his car?a watermelon-green SUV that looped Disney?s ?It?s a small world?. ?All you have to do is drive into them.?


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