A Candy-Coated Life: Lemonheads, Fireballs And Song

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Anyone who's ever puckered up after sucking on a Lemonhead candy or fanned the mouth wildly after popping in an Atomic Fireball has Nello Ferrara to thank. Ferrara was the man behind those sweets, and he died in the Chicago suburb of River Forest on Feb. 3, at age 93.

All Things Considered host Audie Cornish talked with Ferrara's son, Salvatore Ferrara II, about his father's legacy. Salvatore says his father loved his family deeply — and, on at least one occasion, found inspiration for candy in them.

"I share this story — sometimes reluctantly — but he claims that when I was born, I came out with the shape of a lemon head," he says. "Which, if you ever met me, you'll know my head is not in the shape of a lemon. He claims that the first thing he said when he saw me was, 'Oh my God, I have a lemonhead for a son.' "

Lemonheads later became a staple of Ferrara Pan Candy, the company Nello inherited from his father.

Ferrara says his father loved candy and was a strident defender of it. He even challenged Ralph Nader to a "teeth fight" 30 years ago when sugar was being demonized.

"So my father sent him a message saying that 'I eat candy every day and I have all of my teeth.' And he did — he picked up a 100-pound bag of sugar one time with his teeth. He held a bag in his teeth and was able to get it off the ground," he says.

Singing Was A Second Passion

Ferrara says his father's other passion was singing, and he sang everyday. His favorite songs included "Wind Beneath My Wings" and "Send in the Clowns."

He says Nello also had no qualms about singing in public, no matter whom he was with.

"His whole life, he would get up in any restaurant and the next thing you know he was going table to table serenading the people in the restaurant," he says. "Occasionally people got upset because, 'You're interrupting my meal,' you know, and 'Who are you?' But 99 percent of the people ended up with a big smile on their face — they watched this man, who they had no idea who he was, bring all of a sudden this unexpected, unprovoked enjoyment into their lives.

"He was really something."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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