Christos G. Nahatis, famous for his Saladmaster TV ads, dies at 95
The Saladmaster signature moment — the cookware piece de resistance — came nearly halfway through the 90-second TV commercial when Chris Nahatis looked straight at the camera and told viewers: “Saladmaster, friends, is guaranteed as long as you live. Look at this for abuse.”
With four swift slams, he banged a Saladmaster saucepan against an aluminum Brand X pot, which caved inward. And the product Mr. Nahatis was hawking? Nary a scratch. “Saladmaster wins every single time,” he noted in his rapid-fire pitch, one word tumbling into the next.
Mr. Nahatis was 95 when he died Friday of acute myeloid leukemia. He had lived in Manchester-by-the-Sea his entire life, from his hardscrabble childhood to his successful reign as Mr. Saladmaster.
A pioneer of the infomercial, he chanced upon the move that made him famous — whacking pans against each other — early on while performing TV advertisements live.
At WBZ-TV’s studio on Soldiers Field Road one morning in the early 1950s, “I started banging the two pans together,” Mr. Nahatis recalled in a 1995 Globe interview.
“And holy cow, all the cameramen came running to see what was going on,” he added. “They thought it was fantastic, and that’s how I started banging the pans.”
That clanging echoes in the memories of generations of TV viewers, particularly in New England, who watched his Saladmaster ads from the 1950s onward from Western Massachusetts to Maine and throughout the country.
Along with selling Saladmaster sets of pans and “the amazing Saladmaster machine” — a Cuisinart precursor that he promised would chop, peel, or grate — Mr. Nahatis dispensed homespun advice.
“Obviously he was a leader,” said his son Charles of Manchester-by-the-Sea. “And one of the things he said to me was, ‘If you want to be a leader, make sure you’re not the caboose.’ ”
No one mistook Mr. Nahatis for someone who trailed behind the pack. Years before demonstrative fast-talkers began to light up TV commercials, Mr. Nahatis squeezed a novel-length description of the Saladmaster into 90 seconds or less.
He made his TV debut on WJAR-TV in Providence in the early 1950s. While looking for ways to boost sales beyond going door-to-door, Mr. Nahatis landed an interview on one of the station’s programs. He arrived armed with raw produce and a Saladmaster.
“My wife and I got into my 1939 Plymouth and we drove down,” he recalled in 1995.
“When I got in the studio they said, ‘Now remember, this is just an interview.’ I said, ‘I understand, I understand,’ ” he added. “So a lovely old lady with white hair said, ‘This afternoon, ladies and gentleman, we have a man by the name of Chris Nahatis of Saladmaster. Mr. Nahatis, what is a Saladmaster?’ Well before she could stop me, I grabbed a potato out of my pocket, a piece of cabbage, a carrot, slapped the machine down and started cutting up just as fast as I could. This was live TV, now. The next day I got 186 letters.”
Mr. Nahatis was also savvy about his target audience. He knew women cooking at home weren’t the only ones who would be receptive to his pitch.
“See, Frank Sinatra was a man’s man. Clark Gable was another man’s man. Men love Clark Gable. John Wayne is the same. I appeal to the men,” he told the Globe, adding: “You’d be surprised how many men buy cookware for their wives for Christmas.”
That demographic was borne out at many of home shows he attended, giving demonstrations that drew crowds. “At the Boston Home Show last year, 26 men asked me for an autograph,” he said in 1988.
Christos G. Nahatis was born in Manchester-by-the-Sea on Oct. 27, 1922. His parents, Constantinos Nahatis and the former Johanna Alexopoulos, were Greek immigrants who married after moving to Massachusetts. They split up when Christos was a boy, and Constantinos returned to Greece. As a single parent, Johanna raised her three children and cleaned houses of the town’s wealthy residents.
Mr. Nahatis “came from very meager beginnings,” said his son Arthur of Midlothian, Texas. “He determined he was going to make something of himself.”
As the middle child, young Christos worked at a local grocery market to help the household’s finances. He also began selling a number of items, including Zanol household products.
“He used to take his little cart and go around selling,” said his daughter Stephanie Nahatis Senecal of Manchester-by-the-Sea, who worked with Mr. Nahatis for many years. “He always had something going, he always had jobs, and he instilled that work ethic in us.”
When Mr. Nahatis was a teenager, he met Alice Mitchell, whom he married in 1946. “I never could get over his energy. Unbelievable energy,” she told the Globe in 1988.
He graduated from Story High School in Manchester-by-the-Sea, and in addition to his fledgling sales work, Mr. Nahatis used a drum set his father had given him to launch the seven-piece ensemble Chris Nahatis and His Swing Band. His group performed at venues throughout the North Shore until World War II began. Mr. Nahatis enlisted in the Marine Corps and served stateside.
After the war, he struggled with various enterprises, including making bleach water in his basement and working as a wholesale grocery salesman. “I was so poor I couldn’t pay attention,” he joked in the 1988 interview.
One day, he spotted an advertisement in a magazine and interviewed in Springfield for a job selling the Saladmaster, which is made by a company based in Texas.
“He was always for the underdog,” Charles said, adding that when he and his father watched sports on TV, “he’d say, ‘Who’s the underdog? OK, let’s root for them,’ because he came up the hard way.”
Mr. Nahatis, who last year self-published the memoir “What-A-Hell-Ova-Way To Make a Living,” was involved as a parish leader with Assumption of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church of Ipswich for years. He also was a member of numerous Manchester-by-the-Sea organizations.
To all he encountered, Mr. Nahatis had a ready phrase to encourage optimism, even in trying times.
“He’d say, ‘You get more from honey than from vinegar,’” Stephanie recalled. “People would say, ‘What a lousy day,’ and he’d say, ‘Try missing one.’ ”
In addition to his wife, Alice, and their children Charles, Stephanie, and Arthur, Mr. Nahatis leaves two other daughters, Christina Nahatis Barrett of Manchester-by-the-Sea and Johanna Kadra of Hamilton; eight grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.
A funeral service will be held at 9 a.m. Saturday in the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church in Ipswich.
“I feel so very, very blessed to have had him as a father,” Stephanie said. “I go to the office and sit at his desk sometimes.”
His Saladmaster success didn’t stop with his TV ads and the countless home shows he attended in New England and beyond. Mr. Nahatis also became an international distributor for the company, and to the end, he kept an eye on the business, via his daughter.
When she spoke with him by phone the night before he died, “I asked him how he felt,” Stephanie recalled. “The last thing he said was, ‘What were your figures for the day?’ That was him.”