Video: Will Americans have to say 'Bye-bye birdies?'

By Bob Faw Correspondent
NBC News
updated 11/1/2006 7:26:22 PM ET 2006-11-02T00:26:22

Amid a flock of craning necks, Gayle Hoehle doesn't just play "Where Flamingos Fly." In her Silver Spring, Md., home, flamingos are on anything and everything: the bathroom, the dining room ...

"Our theme here is flamingos, with elegance," Hoehle explains as she shows off her dining room. Her "neck count?" Several thousand flamingo facsimiles.

"They're just so fun," she explains. "It's almost like God is showing his sense of humor."

And as a birthday surprise, a flock of flamingos greeted Father Dave Krolczyk recently in Sauk Village, Ill.

"I mean, they're awful," Krolczyk says. "They're so bad, they're good, right?"

Twenty million of them have been sold since 1957, when Donald Featherstone designed the very first one in chilly Leominster, Mass.

"Tropical elegance, for less than $10," Featherstone says, laughing. "Hard to beat."

But so much "elegance" sprouted up in so many woebegone places, that plastic flamingos, like velvet Elvis paintings, became a symbol of tackiness and. ..

"... cheesy kitsch," says Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University. "The pink flamingo has spent well over half its life as a gag."

Which helps explain why the Union Products plant, which once cranked out 5,000 flamingo pairs every day, is shutting down.

"It's just not feasible for me to make them any more, economically," says Union Products President Dennis Plante.

Question is, does the end of the line here suggest that taste in 21st century America has evolved? Has somehow gone high-brow? Are you kidding? Several companies are negotiating for the molds. Production could resume next year. And why not?

"They make you feel happy," says Gayle Hoehle. "It's hard to be unhappy when you see all these strange-looking creatures looking at you."

After all, says the song, "When the sun hangs low, in a ruby sky..." some will "... always go, where flamingos fly."

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