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NECCO's 'King of Hearts' Speaks on Life, Love, and Pieces of Sugar Candy

By Rima Arnaout and Jane Yoo
STAFF REPORTERS

No Valentine's Day celebration would be complete without the NECCOcandy hearts given to friends and loved ones which include such playful sayings as "Love Me Tender" and "Yeah Right."

NECCO hearts are one of the most popular Valentine products in America. The New England Confectionary Company, a quick jaunt from MIT on the way to Random Hall, makes 100,000 pounds of hearts a day, and it takes them all year to make the 8 billion hearts consumed during Valentine's Day. That's 20 million pounds of candy hearts, which, if laid back to back, would stretch for 32 thousand miles.

There are over 100 different sayings on the NECCO hearts; some of the most popular ones, like be mine,' be true,' kiss me,' marry me,' and sweet talk' have been around since the 1890s.

Walter Marshall, Vice President of Logistics and Planning at NECCO, also has the job of creating sayings for the conversation hearts. His favorite flavor of hearts are the pink cherry ones.

"Eight or nine years ago a reporter from Cincinnatti, Ohio, called wanting to do a story" about NECCO and the candy hearts. "I sort of became a spokesperson for the hearts and sort of befriended them, sort of took them under my wing."

"After the article was written, the reporter gave me a nickname King of Hearts.'"

Marshall and NECCO have gotten a lot of publicity for the conversation hearts. Media including People Magazine, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, CNN, and the Today Show have all featured Marshall and the NECCOheart-making process in the past. Last year, Rosie O'Donnell invited Marshall to appear on her Feb. 13 show.

"I used to field the questions about conversation hearts and about NECCO, and it seemed that these little candies were very attention getting."

Ten to twelve years ago, "we started to add some [heart messages] and delete some that did not have the same meaning" as when they were started.," Marshall said. Messages like Solid,' Dig Me,' Groovy,' and UR Gay' slipped into history.

"In the days that it came out, [UR Gay] meant you were a happy guy, a happy person. Now it has another connotation so we took it out," Marshall said.

The 1990s gave way to a new set of sayings, this time based on the technology that defined this decade. "Our first high-tech saying we added was Fax Me.' That got a good response, so next year we added Email Me' and Page Me,'" Marshall said.

Ten new sayings were announced for Valentine's Day 1999. "For 1999, we thought we'd get a little bit of nostalgia from gone-by days, but not so far gone," Marshall said. The sayings included My Way,' Let it Be,' I Got U Babe,' Love Me Tender,' and Walk on By.'

Marshall's inspiration for heart messages comes from many people. "It's a little piece of candy," Marshall said, " so it's hard to be creative." His two granddaughters, Rachel and Sarah, came up with You Rock' and I Wonder,' respectively.

When he was featured on the Rosie O'Donnell Show, Rosie suggested the saying Let's Do Lunch,' and one of the writers for the show came up with "As If.' Both can be found on NECCOhearts today.

Marshall is already in the process of picking messages for next year. New sayings must be ready by March 1st for next year, Valentine 2000. NECCO will announce the new mottos in January 2000.

NECCO hearts are not only a part of Valentine's Day at MIT, but they're a part of Valentine's Day across America. As Marshall said, "You're not alive today if you don't remember those hearts."

Beyond the walls of the NECCOfactory, people at the Institute are also preparing for Sunday, Feb. 14.

The MIT Undergraduate Association is once again sponsoring Heart-to-Heart, a free compatibility match service this year. Students have the opportunity to fill out a questionnaire located on the web at http://uac.mit.edu/heart by noon, February 12th.

The data submitted by students is then entered into a program which serves to match the individual with ten compatible mates at MIT. The results are then e-mailed to participants on February 14th.

In addition to this service sponsored by the UA, the Muses and Logs are delivering serenades today, and the Class of 2000 is selling flowers in Lobby 10 to be delivered on places around campus on Sunday.

MIT Medlinks also took part in organizing Valentine's Day festivities yesterday with a program called Keeping Intimacy Safe and Sensual, or KISS.

"KISSis done once a year," said Devangini V. Gandhi '01, a Medlink and member of the Campuswide Activities of the Medlinks Steering Committee. "We because we want people to know that having sex is not the only way, but if you do you should practice safe sex."

The Medlinks handed out several types of condoms, as well as contraceptives for oral sex, in Lobby 10. They also hung up posters and pamphlets about gay and lesbian intercourse.