Ken Bannister Isn't Just One of the Bunch When He Slips into His Favorite Banana Suit

updated 11/12/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/12/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

Ken Bannister wears a banana tie, fancies a yellow banana jumpsuit (with lapels made like peels), keeps two yellow tuxedos in his closet, each festooned with three-foot bananas, hangs banana wind chimes over the banana doormat in front of his Arcadia, Calif, home, drives a Mercedes with a "THE TB" license plate (for the Top Banana, natch), runs a banana museum, has a self-awarded "Ph.B. in Bananistry" and is the top banana in his own banana republic: an international club with 6,000 members. "Bananas keep people smiling," says Bannister, 45. "Would you join a raisin club?"

A successful commercial photographer and part-owner of a company that makes light-reflecting umbrellas, Bannister first went bananas 12 years ago. His secretary's husband, a stevedore, had just left a dock job with about 10,000 Chiquita Banana stickers. Bannister began handing them out to cheer up glum associates at sales conventions. Turned sideways, the stickers looked like smiles, explains Bannister, adding that the ploy was "a great way to get attention."

No kidding. Before long Bannister came to be known as the "Banana Man" and in 1972 founded the International Banana Club. Its members(from 45 states and 13 countries) pay $10 each for a banana pin, bumper sticker, four-inch Velcro-backed banana patch, membership card and an invitation to an annual picnic (this summer 400 showed up in Arcadia, Calif, to play banana checkers and a bunch of other banana games). They receive visiting privileges to Bannister's museum in nearby Altadena, which houses the 11,000 banana artifacts that members have sent him. Among the bananabilia: a petrified banana("tastefully mounted"), assorted banana toys, postcards, pictures, needlepoint, recipes, stained glass, sculptures and clocks. Bannister does not collect banana jokes, however, insisting that "most are off-color, and there's nothing dirty about this thing."

Bannister, who pronounces his name Bananister, counts his wife of 23 years and his three teenage daughters as club members and says he doesn't worry about the small loss he takes on the operation every year. Not only is he promoting the world's best fruit ("there are no bones, it comes in its own wrapper and it's good for you"), but also the perfect food for a world that "needs a little laughter."

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