Redintegration or not, you can't let a bowl of Wheaties sit for too long. And so it was that Richards began to go soggy after a while. The Rev. Bob began to tire of being known as Mr. Wheaties, and surveys showed that America was beginning to tire of seeing him. In 1969, in his swan song, Richards took off on a cross-country jogging and bicycle tour. Art Linkletter and O.J. Simpson, symbols of the commercial past and the commercial future, saw him off.
I look at the pretty girl playing racquet-ball on my box of Wheaties, and I still see Bob Richards. The house that Wheaties built is the Crossbar Ranch in Santo, Texas, about 40 miles west of Fort Worth. This Ewingesque spread of 10,000 acres has all the terrain of a Wheaties flake.
Out in the front yard, where other people might put pink flamingoes, is an entire pole vault ensemble: runway, pit, standards and crossbar. Also scattered around the yard are a discus, a shotput, a javelin, hurdles, a soccer ball, barbells and a bench for pressing. Over by the garage is a basketball court, down the hill is a lake filled with bass, out in back is a large swimming pool. The heavy bag is in the basement.
On the kitchen counter is an 18-ounce box of Wheaties, torn at the top as if someone couldn't wait to get inside. In the cavernous living room, the carpet is butterscotch and the curtains are almost Wheaties orange.
"Wheaties was very good to me," says Richards. "Part of the dilemma, though, was that I became so identified with Wheaties that nobody knew my name. I was Mr. Wheaties or Jack Armstrong, and it's even true to this day. I remember shaking President Nixon's hand in the White House, and he said, 'Bob, how's Wheaties?' "
Richards looks fit as a fiddle. "I did 12 feet on my 56th birthday last week," he says. "Did you know that Wheaties and I were born in the same year?" Actually, he was born two years later, but that's close enough.
Richards still competes in Masters track meets, which he helped originate. Even without Wheaties, he's a very busy man. He produces natural gas on his property and buys and sells heavy equipment. He and his son, Paul, 29, manufacture Sky Poles for vaulting in a little factory in Santo. He and his second wife, Joan, a former actress (as Kimberly Burke, she played the role of Rookie's girl friend in 77 Sunset Strip), put out a line of products under the Heart of America label—household cleaners, vitamins, cosmetics, etc. Richards is also encouraging Bobby Jr., 15, to make the Winter Olympics as a figure skater and the Summer Olympics as a pole vaulter. And there are always speaking engagements.
Richards moved to Santo from Long Beach, Calif. in the early '70s to be centrally located; most of his audience lives in the Midwest, South and Southwest. He claims, and who would argue, that he has made more speeches in more communities than anyone in history. By his own estimate, he figures he has given more than 17,000 talks in more than 9,000 gyms, ballrooms and meeting halls. "My films have been seen by 65 million people," he adds. "Gone With the Wind had 35 million the first time around." The demand for inspirational speeches isn't what it once was, but Richards is still on the podium about 100 days a year.
In his living room, he talks passionately of the lack of leadership in the country and the lack of a national youth sports program. "We give all our attention and money to a thimbleful of athletes when we should be pushing fitness for everyone," he says. "That's the kind of thing Wheaties should be behind. Wheaties needs a spokesman.
"When I was a kid, I ate Wheaties. I listened to Babe Ruth when he said I could hit home runs if I ate my Wheaties. They really are good for you. I've been studying all about vitamins and chemical bonding and DNA. Together with the calcium in milk, Wheaties gives you an outstanding combination of some pretty basic life substances. I was disappointed when I heard that a lot of the vitamin E is taken out of Wheaties in the manufacturing, but then, no food is perfect.