Finding Fockers, finally!

Universal's contest hit a snag in U.S.

December 30, 2004|By John Woestendiek | John Woestendiek,SUN STAFF

The movie is called Meet the Fockers, but finding true-blue American Fockers - as Universal Studios found out - is no simple task.

Before the movie's highly successful Christmas-weekend opening, Universal's publicity people came up with the idea of holding a "Focker Family Reunion" - inviting anyone in the country who shared the "unfortunate" last name of the movie's central character to enter a sweepstakes.

Twenty-five Focker families, the movie company said, would be chosen for an all-expenses-paid weekend and "reunion" at Universal Orlando Resort.

As they waited, and waited, for entries to flood in it became clear that somebody had, uh, messed up. There are few, if any, real Fockers in America.

To sidestep a public-relations fiasco, the movie company was forced to alter its original sweepstakes rules and allow entries from Canada, where the only significant concentration of Fockers in North America lives. Universal ended up inviting about 20 Fockers from British Columbia, and a Cleveland family whose name was close - Foecking.

Those lucky Fockers, and the Foecking family, were treated to airfare, lodging and an early screening of the movie, which Terri Focker of Sussex, British Columbia, said is even better than Meet the Parents, despite its repeated mispronunciation of the name.

It's FOH-ker, she says, not FAH-ker.

Meet the Fockers is the sequel to Meet the Parents, released in 2000. Ben Stiller stars in both as male nurse Greg (real name Gaylord) Focker. Throughout both films, the last name is a running gag.

In the first film, Focker meets his soon-to-be in-laws; in the second, his fiancee and her family meet Greg's parents, played by Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand.

Despite those big names, Universal decided to give the move an extra push, scheduling a Focker Family Reunion for the week before the film's release.

In its five-page listing of sweepstakes rules, Universal said only legal residents of the United States could enter, and only those whose legal surname was Focker, spelled exactly that way. The winners and their families would receive three-day passes to Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure while at the reunion, held Dec. 17-19.

Contestants had one week to enter online - but few did.

"It's not as popular a name as we had originally thought," explains Susan Storey, senior public-relations representative for Universal Orlando.

The oversight is understandable. Fockers can be found in many American phonebooks, both hard copies and Internet databases. Several Internet phonebooks list nearly a dozen Fockers nationwide, a third of which, strangely, share the first name Gaylord. Maryland boasts one Gaylord Focker, in Temple Hills, but he didn't answer or return phone calls.

There's a Gaylord Focker in Galena, Ohio; in Florence Ala.; in Plano, Ill.; in East Lansing, Mich.; and on Fake Street in Fresno, Calif. - none of whom was reachable either.

Then there's the listing for Gaylord Focker in Eclectic, Ala. - a number that was answered by a woman who explained that no Gaylord Focker lives there.

Raquel Bridges, a 37-year-old medical records transcriber, says she has long used fake names for her telephone book listing because it is cheaper than having an unlisted number. Most phone companies charge extra for unlisted numbers. "The phone company doesn't care. When the bill comes, it's in my real name," she says.

Bridges says she is a big fan of Meet the Parents, but that - after a year of "harassing phone calls all hours of the night and day" - she changed the listing from Gaylord Focker to another fictional name.

Eclectic is a real place, a rural Alabama community 75 miles northwest of Hatchechubbee, 30 miles northeast of Montgomery, where Bridges will most likely go to see Meet the Fockers.

"I'm dying to see it," she says.

LexisNexis, an online provider of databases, lists - though some of them are repeats - about 75 Gaylord Fockers in America, most, if not all, of whom got there as a result of phony phonebook entries like Bridges'. All are entries recorded since 2000, when Meet the Parents was released.

In real life, though, there are few if any Fockers in America, and no Gaylord Fockers.

A check of Social Security death records showed no dead Fockers - and only two dead Fokkers - in the country since 1962. But Universal didn't know that when it dreamed up the reunion. "When we set out, we didn't know how many there would be," Storey says.

Few of the entries that trickled in were from actual Fockers. One was from a man whose bowling team was named the Fockers; one from a college student nicknamed Focker because of his resemblance to Stiller.

"But when it came to born-and-bred Fockers, there just weren't any," she says.

For genuine Fockers, one must, like Universal, go to British Columbia, where all 18 Canadian Fockers reside. All are members of the same family - one that began moving there from Holland in 1952.

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