Human-size tater called racist, gets the boot

Time to kill your childhood dreams Mr. Potato Head has been branded a racist.

At least, that’s the fate of a 6-foot-tall Mr. Potato Head statue in Warwick, R.I., erected as part of a tourist campaign and meant to honor its native company, Hasbro. Now the statue has been dismantled in disgrace because of complaints that the grinning, brown-skinned figure appeared racist. The “Tourist Tater” was painted dark brown to appear suntanned and wore an ill-fitting Hawaiian shirt, glasses and a hat. The fiberglass figure had been on display since May, but no one had complained until its photo appeared Thursday in a newspaper.

“The whole Potato Head campaign is supposed to encourage people to visit. Obviously, we did not intend to offend anyone,” Mayor Scott Avedisian said.

State Economic Development Corp. head Tom Schumpert, who is directing the Mr. Potato Head campaign, said the statue seemed more offensive in the photo. “If I saw it first, I would have said, We need to correct this’,” said Schumpert, who is black.

Meanwhile the hapless Tater artist, Kathy Szarko, said she meant no ill will. “He’s a potato. That’s why he’s brown.”

Art critics can look up the controversial root at

BOY, THAT SHOULD CLEAR THE ATMOSPHERE: Maybe James Cameron thinks his position as “king of the world” makes him a natural to be considered for a trip to Russia’s Mir Space Station. Bloomberg reports that the director has been negotiating with Netherlands-based MirCorp, which is 60 percent owned by the company that built and runs the station, for the $20-million trip.

“MirCorp has been in discussions with a number of people interested in paying for a trip to Mir, including James Cameron,” said press secretary Jeffrey Lenorovitz. Cameron couldn’t be reached for comment. The company has already OK’d space tourist Dennis Tito, chief executive of California-based Wilshire Associates Inc., and CBS wants to bring their Survivor concept to the floating barge.

CHARGE FILED AGAINST SINGER: As expected, officials on Hawaii’s Big Island have filed formal marijuana possession charges against singer Whitney Houston. She could face 30 days in a Hawaiian jail and a $1,000 fine for allegedly possessing half an ounce of marijuana, discovered by security staff at Keahole-Kona International Airport, police said. Prosecutors and Houston’s Honolulu attorney, Brook Hart, had earlier agreed to set an arraignment and plea hearing for Oct. 26. Houston has until then to turn herself in, First Deputy Prosecutor Charlene Iboshi said. If she doesn’t, prosecutors say they will seek the judge’s permission to have an arrest warrant issued. The warrant would not mean much, however, unless the singer sets foot in Hawaii. Officials have said they will not seek to extradite Houston.

DIVERSITY HONORED: Nine people will be honored at the eighth annual Multicultural Motion Picture Awards ceremony Oct. 23 in Beverly Hills. The line-up includes actors Jimmy Smits, Billy Dee Williams, James Coburn, Halle Berry, Omar Epps, Diane Ladd and Greg Kinnear and directors Todd Solondz and Miguel Arteta. Williams is being given the lifetime achievement award.

“These honorees bring with them a vast array of talent, diverse perspectives and symbolize all that is right this industry,” MMPA President Jarvee Hutcherson said. The MMPA comprises cinematographers, writers, directors and actors devoted to broadening the industry by promoting diversity and providing opportunity for aspiring filmmakers.

IS PRE-IMPEACHMENT POSSIBLE: Jerry Springer is confusing his civic duty with karmic retribution. The former Cincinnati mayor and 1982 candidate for governor said in a speech Thursday at the Ohio AFL-CIO’s convention that he may run for public office in 2002 if the timing seems right.

Springer admitted his TV talk-show’s parade of incest lust, maladjusted cross-dressers and multicultural trash might make him less palatable to the voting public. “If people focus on the show, the answer is no. If they focused on issues, then maybe,” he said. Why should the public be held to a higher standard is obviously beyond him.

Today’s People Column was compiled by Vera H-C Chan from staff and wire reports. Comments? Write to us c/o the Times, P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596-8099. Or call 925-943-8262, fax 925-943-8362, or e-mail


Lawsuit settled: By former middleweight boxing champion Joey Giardello and the makers of the of the film “The Hurricane.” Giardello alleged the film inaccurately showed him being “relentlessly pummeled” by Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in a 1964 title fight. Terms weren’t disclosed. “What we’ve essentially done is agree to disagree about that matter,” said the boxer’s lawyer.

Birthdays: Actress Deborah Kerr (79), actress Angie Dickinson (69), singer Cissy Houston (67), singer Johnny Mathis (65), rock singer-musician Dewey Martin of Buffalo Springfield (58), singer Marilyn McCoo (57), pop singer Sylvia Peterson of The Chiffons (54), singer Deborah Allen (47), actor Calvin Levels (46), actor Barry Williams (46), actress Fran Drescher (43), country singer Marty Stuart (42), actress Crystal Bernard (39), actor Eric Stoltz (39), rapper-producer Marley Marl (38), rock musician Robby Takac of Goo Goo Dolls (36), actress Jenna Elfman (29), actor Ashley Hamilton (26), tennis player Martina Hingis (20), Olympic gold medal gymnast Dominique Moceanu (19).