“Why are you making a movie about a loser?“
It’s one of the opening lines from an interview subject in “The Pez Outlaw,” a fun, breezy documentary from directors Amy Bandlien Storkel and Bryan Storkel, about super collector Steve Glew. Glew made a living illegally importing and then selling foreign candy dispensers to an army of fervent hobbyists, cementing himself as the arch nemesis of the President of PEZ U.S.A., Scott McWhinnie (a.k.a. “The PEZident”).
It’s a terrific story with many twists and turns, and it’s surprising how a little plastic could bring about one man’s downfall.
Glew portrays himself in the documentary’s many lively reenactments, and he has one doozy of a story to tell. His own wife refers to her husband as a “schemer, plotter, and dreamer,” and Glew was an absolute mastermind when it came to his grassroots entrepreneurial spirit. He knew what people wanted, inserted himself directly into the collectors market, and gave it to them — for a price.
What started out as monthly trips across the pond to Europe with visits to the PEZ factory grew into his smuggling thousands of products across the border that were never intended to be released or sold in America. Eventually, Glew took his life savings and invested them into having custom PEZ dispensers made. This was a misstep that didn’t turn out well.
As Glew’s international-only collectibles were anxiously snapped up and he began to flaunt his products and sales, he attracted the unwanted attention of Scott McWhinnie. Portrayed as a corporate man who despised collectors, McWhinnie made it his personal mission to squash the competition. His first step was to release the hard-to-find international PEZ dispensers into the U.S. market, flooding stores and shattering their value.
It eventually became a game of cat and mouse between the two men, and you can see in Glew’s interviews that he seemed to find joy in tormenting McWhinnie. He was able to stay a few steps in front of the company for years, until McWhinnie delivered the final, fatal blow. The little guy may have been able to outsmart the big company with his insights and smarts, but in the end, money, power, and massive resources proved to be crushing assets that destroyed the self-proclaimed PEZ Outlaw.
The community of PEZ collectors is small, rabid, and filled with some very unusual characters (including a woman who once spent $11,000 on one candy dispenser). The Storkels interview many who know Glew, and they each paint a different portrait of the man. While some may disagree on the order of events and who did what, it’s clear that Glew is a determined collector.
This is a truly strange story that’s entertaining and interesting, and the subject is perfect for a documentary. It’s easy to dismiss Glew based on his appearance (one subject describes him as looking “homeless”), something the man himself brings up in the film. “Looking disheveled and crazy has always worked for me,” he smiles, “because people always underestimate you.”
While Glew’s personal story may not have ended on a high note, it sure is one that will be retold and remembered among collectors for decades to come.
By: Louisa Moore