TAMPA — Ann Turner Cook, whose cherubic baby face was known the world over as the original Gerber baby, has died. She was 95.
Gerber announced Cook’s passing in an Instagram post on Friday.
“Many years before becoming an extraordinary mother, teacher and writer, her smile and expressive curiosity captured hearts everywhere and will continue to live on as a symbol for all babies,” the company said.
Seeking a face for its baby food advertising campaign, Gerber held a contest in 1928. Artist Dorothy Hope Smith submitted a charcoal sketch of her 5-month-old neighbor, a “tousle-haired, bright-eyed cherub of a baby with endearing pursed lips,” according to the company’s website.
Smith noted in her entry that she would complete the sketch if it won. But there was no need.
Judges preferred the sketch as it was. The Gerber Products Co. adopted the image as its official trademark in 1931, and it since has adorned almost every product the company has sold.
“The image of this happy, healthy baby was soon to become the face that launched a brand,” the company wrote on its site, “a face recognized and loved across the globe.”
For decades, the identity of the baby was kept secret, spurring rumors about who it was with guesses including Humphrey Bogart and Elizabeth Taylor.
Cook’s face first appeared in Connecticut, where she was born in 1926. But she spent most of her life in Florida, attending junior high and high school in Orlando. She received her master’s degree in English education from the University of South Florida.
A longtime high school English teacher, Cook retired from Hillsborough High School in 1989 to devote herself to writing.
She wrote a series of mystery novels about Brandy O’Bannon, a newspaper reporter and amateur sleuth.
Florida’s waterways and coastlines provided the settings for many of her books.
“All of my stories and articles take place in Florida, the out-of-the way places, the small historical towns,” she told the Tampa Bay Times in 2003. “That appeals to me.”
Cook told The Associated Press in a 1998 interview that her mother had told her when she was young that she was the baby in the illustration.
She said, “If you’re going to be a symbol for something, what could be more pleasant than a symbol for baby food?”
As for the image itself, she said, “All babies are appealing. The reason that drawing has been so popular is the artist captured the appeal that all babies have.”
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Tampa Bay Times archives were used in this report.