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The Drama of Hot Dogs

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Celebrities can be hot dogs, especially when they're famous for being the former champion of a frankfurter-eating contest. Japanese eating champ Takeru "The Tsunami" Kobayashi was arrested Sunday for charging the stage at this year's Coney Island Fourth of July hot dog contest while Joey "Jaws" Chestnut was winning the title.

In a country that cut its ties to the British monarchy 234 years ago, it's fitting that a food as unpretentious as the hot dog inspires such drama and devotion. As more and more franks are dropped onto grills this summer, it's worth remembering some examples of this doggone drama.

William Paley methodically built CBS into a television and radio behemoth. When a small New York City park was built in his honor, the broadcast executive was just as precise in shaping decisions about the park's hot dog stand. Paley sampled dozens of different frankfurters, but rejected all of them. He ordered that a new dog be created and then told employees how to cook it.

Humphrey Bogart was unapologetic about his fondness for franks. "A hot dog at the ballpark is better than steak at the Ritz," the actor quipped. A lot of Americans seem to agree. Last year, an estimated 21 million hot dogs and other sausages were sold to fans at major league ballparks.

Hot dogs were on the menu when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain attended a picnic hosted by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in 1939. The king willingly ate a hot dog with his hands, like an American, but the queen chose to use a fork and knife. Interestingly, the original picnic menu listed hot dogs "if weather permits." And it did.

Babe Ruth called hot dogs "weenies," but his appetite was gargantuan. A witness estimated that Ruth once ate 18 hot dogs in a row while riding a train.

When Lyndon Johnson was Senate majority leader, his diet went out of control. After a lunch of hot dogs and beans, he thought he had indigestion. In fact, it was a heart attack.

Yet even when franks aren't the source of major drama, they seem to play a supporting role.

Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac met his first wife, Edith Parker, at Lou's Deli in New York City. They ordered hot dogs with sauerkraut, and Kerouac later told Parker that he fell in love with her while watching her devour five hot dogs.

Ginger Rogers fondly recalled her romance with George Gershwin, including their date spent at a football game. "We screamed, yelled, cheered, ate hot dogs, got mustard all over us, and had the best time," said the actress.

Bruce Willis reportedly proposed to actress Demi Moore in the parking lot of Pink's hot dog stand in Los Angeles.

Pop culture has seized on the hot dog as an image or icon. The bizarre plot of Tom Robbins' first novel, Another Roadside Attraction, is built around a hot dog stand near Seattle that is decorated with the mummified body of Christ.

In 2006, Billboard magazine reviewed the "Live in Brooklyn" album by the rock group Phish and felt it worth noting that the album was recorded on a stage amid "greasy hot dog stands."

From time to time, the frankfurter cannot escape America's political debates and firestorms. Writing from Alabama in 1963, Virginia Foster Durr -- the civil rights activist and confidant of Eleanor Roosevelt -- informed a friend that segregationist fervor "is now directed to motels and hot dog stands."

In 1969, the administration of President Richard Nixon faced a lot of tough decisions: the Vietnam War, inflation and, of course, hot dogs. When government officials created a rule for the appropriate fat level of a hot dog, Nixon himself weighed in. "I'm with you 100 percent on the hot dog issue," the president told his special assistant for consumer affairs.

Life magazine called Nixon's dog-driven declaration "possibly the most decisive statement he has made on anything so far."

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