Compton, Calif (AP)- Before he suddenly surfaced in the race for mayor of this hardscrabble Los Angeles suburb, Rodney Allen Rippy’s name was likely to evoke that question inspired by that class of former child stars who didn’t die young, end up in jail or a celebrity rehab series: “Whatever happened to that guy?”
Rippy was just 3 in 1972, when he became the toast of a generation as the pint-sized TV pitchman for the Jack In The Box fast-food chain. When he picked up a hamburger that looked as a big as a hubcap and tried to cram it into his mouth, America was entranced. When he finally said, “Too bigga eat!” a national catchphrase was born.
Soon the cute, chubby-cheeked youngster with the Afro as big as his head was hanging out in Hollywood with Michael Jackson. He made movie cameos and recorded a hit album called “Take Life a Little Easier.”
Then the 1970s ended, and so did Rippy’s career.
More than 30 years later, he resurfaced as a candidate for mayor in a city known variously over the years as the birthplace of gangsta rap, the murder capital of the country and the home of the drive-by shooting.
Although he got only 75 votes, finishing 10th among 12 candidates. The final results in the primary election, released Thursday, show that Aja Brown beat long-time Mayor Eric Perrodin, and will now compete in a run off with former Mayor Omar Bradley, who is currently facing corruption charges.
But Rippy’s earnest but futile campaign raised the inevitable question of where he had been.
Rippy never strayed far from Hollywood, it turns out. He simply stepped away from the cameras.
When his Jack In The Box career ended about the time he was finishing high school, he went to college and earned a marketing degree.
“I wanted to continue to act, but at the time acting was a thing that unless you were really burning hot, you better have something on the back burner,” he said recently over lunch at a Compton restaurant down the street from City Hall.
Seeing how the adults around him had turned a cute little kid from Long Beach into a national star, he decided marketing was the way to go.