A schoolteacher and writer, Cook’s face had been printed on billions of labels to sell products, but she wasn’t allowed to publicly acknowledge that the well-known (trademarked!) face was hers, even though she had not consented to the use of her face. Until 1978, that is, when the product company allowed her name to be known. The product customers had speculated whose face it was: actor Humphrey Bogart? Actress Elizabeth Taylor? Senator Bob Dole? Nope: Ann Turner Cook was the famous Gerber Baby.
When she was a baby, Cook’s neighbor, Dorothy Hope Smith, had made a quick charcoal sketch of her face, and entered it into a contest for an advertising campaign. Smith told Gerber she’d be happy to “finish” the sketch, but the company like it as-is — they liked it so much, in fact, that it became the “face” of the company, adorning every jar, can, and box of baby food. It was the seal on child life insurance policies the company sold through a subsidiary; its child clothing line, every advertisement, and more. “Many years before becoming an extraordinary mother, teacher and writer, her smile and expressive curiosity captured hearts everywhere and will continue to live on as a symbol for all babies,” the company said in a statement.
Indeed she had a life after babyhood: she and her husband, a criminologist for the county sheriff’s office, had four children. She was an English teacher in Tampa, Fla., moving from an elementary school to a junior high school, and then to Hillsborough High School, where she was well liked by students. Once she retired from that, she wrote several Florida-based shadowy mystery novels featuring “amateur sleuth Brandy O’Bannon.” (Trace Their Shadows, 2001; Shadow Over Cedar Key, 2003; Micanopy in Shadow, 2008 *) In a 1998 interview, Cook confirmed that her mother had told her as a girl that the ubiquitous baby food face was hers. “If you’re going to be a symbol for something, what could be more pleasant than a symbol for baby food?” she said. “All babies are appealing. The reason that drawing has been so popular is the artist captured the appeal that all babies have.” As she grew older, her fame spread — slowly, usually as birthday commemorations. The only irony, perhaps, was that her sketch was made by a neighbor, rather than her father: Leslie Turner drew the syndicated comic strip Captain Easy for 26 years. Mrs. Cook died at her home in St. Petersburg on June 3. She was 95.