How Mr. Coffee Inventor Convinced Joe DiMaggio to Be Pitchman

PHOTO: This 1977 photo provided by the Marotta family shows Vincent Marotta, left, and Joe DiMaggio sitting on a large Mr. Coffee machine in Chicago.PlayCourtesy of Marotta Family/ AP Photo
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Here's how Joltin' Joe became Mr. Coffee.

The creator of the famed coffee machines died Saturday at age 91, but one of his favorite stories was how he roped in the famed former Yankee Joe DiMaggio to be a spokesman in the mid-1970s.

"It was during the early days of Mr. Coffee and he felt he had a tiger by the tail," Sue Parente, the daughter of creator Vincent Marotta, said of her father, who died at his home in Pepper Pike, Ohio. "Sales were good, but to really make it a national brand, they needed a spokesman who people could relate to."

Marotta, who had signed with the St. Louis Cardinals but was called to serve in World War II before spring training, was a "big fan of Joe DiMaggio," Parente said. He played football briefly with the Cleveland Browns in the late 1940s and continued to play golf "very competitively through his 80s," his daughter notes.

PHOTO: In this file photo, Vincent Marotta is seen in this photo next to a Mr.Coffee machine, 1978. Courtesy Marotta Family
In this file photo, Vincent Marotta is seen in this photo next to a Mr.Coffee machine, 1978.

When the real estate market showed signs of slowing in the early 1970s, Marotta, who had six children and 11 grandchildren, began trying to determine why coffee made at home didn't taste as good as restaurant coffee. It took him two years to create the Mr. Coffee machine with his high school friend Samuel Glazer. They co-founded North American Systems and brought the machine to market in 1972.

A few years later, he went looking for a pitchman.

PHOTO: In this file photo, Vincent Marotta looks over the product packaging of Mr. Coffee, 1978. Courtesy the Marotta Family
In this file photo, Vincent Marotta looks over the product packaging of Mr. Coffee, 1978.

"He worked his network," his daughter said. He eventually learned a friend had a connection to former Red Sox player Dom DiMaggio, the youngest of the three DiMaggio brothers. When Marotta finally got the eldest DiMaggio's phone number, "He called him cold turkey," Parente said, and he was shocked that "Mr. DiMaggio answered."

"At that time, Mr. DiMaggio really shied away from the limelight," Parente said. "He was a private fellow but amazingly they got connected."

It just so happened DiMaggio was familiar with the Mr. Coffee machine because he had just won a device in a golf tournament.

"He knew it, which surprised my dad, because it was new," Parente said. "My dad said, 'I would love for you to be my spokesman,' but he turned him down. He said, 'Thank you very much, but it’s not what I do.'"

But Marotta wasn't ready to throw in the towel. The next day, Parente's parents flew to San Francisco and called DiMaggio again to have lunch.

"By the end of the lunch, they had a handshake and it was done. There were no lawyers -- just two men who agreed to do it," Parente said. "That really allowed the coffee maker to take off with Joe DiMaggio as spokesman.

"It was one of my dad’s favorite stories because he couldn’t understand why he did it. They were both two Italian-Americans and they kind of clicked."

In one of DiMaggio's commercials from 1978, the New York Yankees slugger said, "Everyone would love to have Mr. Coffee. It's America's number one coffee maker," DiMaggio said in the ad. "Mr. Coffee with 'coffee saver' brews delicious coffee fast and it saves coffee too."

Parente said that her father was "very proud of all the jobs he could create in northern Ohio."

She also recalled her father's many accomplishments outside business, including charitable contributions to the Cleveland Foundation and Cleveland Food Bank.

"He was a member of that greatest generation where they got things done," Parente said. "He started with very little but accomplished so much."

The family will have a private wake on Friday and a funeral mass on Saturday.

PHOTO:In this undated file photo, Vincent Marotta is seen with different versions of the Mr.Coffee machine. Courtesy Marotta Family
PHOTO:In this undated file photo, Vincent Marotta is seen with different versions of the Mr.Coffee machine.