In 1962 Wallace “Wally” Amos Jr. became the first Black talent agent with the William Morris Agency of New York representing legends such as Diana Ross & the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, and Simon & Garfunkel.
Born on July 1, 1936, in Tallahassee, Florida, Amos Jr. lived with his Aunt Della Bryant, who often baked homemade chocolate chip and pecan cookies. “We certainly had no monetary wealth, but Aunt Della’s home was always rich in the principles and qualities vital to a child’s upbringing. And it was filled with the aroma of her delicious chocolate chip cookies,” he said.
Amos’ liking for cooking led him to enroll at the Food Trades Vocational High School, where he studied culinary arts for two years. He later spent four years in the U.S. Air Force, returning to New York in 1957.
According to his biography, he worked in the stock room at Saks Fifth Avenue, and in the mailroom at the prestigious William Morris Agency. In 1962, following a number of promotions, Amos became the first black talent agent in the history of the William Morris Agency.
He would send his clients homemade cookies using the famous family recipe that he learned from his aunt.
To achieve his dream of owning an agency, Amos moved to Los Angeles, CA but things did not turn out as he’d imagined. Hence, he channeled his efforts to his love of baking cookies.
Amos started the ‘Famous Amos Cookies’ with a $25,000 investment in 1975. The company sold $300,000 in cookies that year, and by 1982, revenue reached $12 million, according to The New York Times.
The company became very successful and opened several outlets. Amos became a celebrated figure so much that his hat and shirt were included in the Smithsonian Institution’s advertising collection.
He was presented with one of the first Awards of Entrepreneurial Excellence by President Reagan in 1986.
However, times changed for the successful business man. Being a high school dropout who at the end of the day earned a general equivalency diploma, Amos’ little knowledge on business saw his company lose $300,000 and his revenue slid to $10 million in 1985.
Reportedly, Amos failed to hire managers to help run his business. Even though the business was thriving, Amos lacked the skills he needed to run his growing business.
He was lagging behind on the mortgage for his house in Hawaii. ”I was in Salt Lake City doing some promotion and I discovered that day that my house had been auctioned off,” he told The New York Times.
He had his house back with the help of a friend. ”If you sit around starting to feel sorry for yourself, and blaming everyone else for your position in life, it is like being in quicksand,” he said.
”In quicksand, if you start flailing all about and panicking with each movement you go in deeper, but if you just stay calm and look about, chances are you’ll see a twig or something you can reach to pull yourself out. Or, if you stay there long enough someone will come and rescue you.”
He sought help to save the company. According to Amos, several investors stepped in but never stayed long enough to turn the company around. In 1988 the company lost $2.5 million, and the Shansby Group purchased it for $3 million.
Amos had lost control of Famous Amos, the cookie company he founded and had even lost the right to use his name or the famous. He became a paid spokesman for his own business.
Not able to contain his new position as a spokesperson, Amos left after a year. He then made efforts to start a Chip & Cookie company using his famous recipe but was sued by Famous Amos over trademark infringement, so he changed the name to ‘Uncle Noname’.
”I’d lost the company really because I didn’t use to listen to people a lot because I was Famous Amos,” the founder now acknowledges. ”The first couple of years after I left Famous Amos, I didn’t even make cookies anymore, and I used to always make cookies at home. I didn’t even want to talk about chocolate-chip cookies, really. I shaved my beard and stopped wearing hats.”
Shansby Group sold Famous Amos to President Baking for $61 million in 1992.
Again, Famous Amos was purchased by Keebler in 1998. Keebler decided to bring Amos back as the face and spokesperson of the Famous Amos brand.
Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur, Mr. Amos changed to a line of low-fat and fat-free muffins. With his new deal with Keebler, he has regained the right to use his name and he sells the muffins as Uncle Wally’s.
Today Wallace “Wally” Amos, Jr., 83, is known as an American TV personality, entrepreneur, and author from Tallahassee, Florida. He is the founder of the Famous Amos chocolate-chip cookie, the Cookie Kahuna, and Aunt Della’s Cookies gourmet cookie brands, and was the host of the adult reading program, Learn to Read.