Foot and Falconetti Are TV's Most Popular Penguin Pitchmen, and It Serves Them Right

updated 08/24/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/24/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Ah, the vagaries of fate. Two years ago a pair of penguins now known as Foot and Falconetti were found aboard a Taiwanese trawler, bleeding from gaff-hook gashes in their chests, bills and flippers, destined for someone's dinner plate. Fortunately they were taken instead to Birdland, a British public aviary run by world renowned penguin authority Richard Hill. Today Foot and Falconetti are not only alive and well but famous. Starring in four diet Coke commercials—including the one featuring the Pointer Sisters—the Antarctic birds are, quite simply, the hottest penguins in the biz.

As if the rescue at sea wasn't exciting enough, their commercials, all shot in one day at a London studio, were made with plenty of backstage drama. In the most memorable of the spots, the penguins play tuxedoed waiters, delivering diet Coke on trays strapped to their cummerbunds. Trained by Hill for three weeks, the birds had no difficulty balancing the soda cans. Their only problem was that they kept pecking the plastic trays to bits. "Penguins are very strong, and the trays Coke kept giving us were too flimsy, absolutely useless," says Hill. "It was putting my birds under stress." The folks at Coke were also getting nervous, especially after Foot and Falconetti shattered 11 different types of trays. "We decided to have realistic penguin costumes made," admits Coca-Cola USA group director Mike Beindorff, "and we hired child actors to stand by." But a day before the shooting was scheduled, the platter production team came up with a peck-proof tray—strong plastic reinforced with lightweight metal—and from there it was on to glory.

No pushy stage father, Hill has no immediate work planned for the pair. Offers have been tendered, but Hill avoids projects—like those involving extensive travel—that might "put my birds under too much strain." It's not just a matter of being protective. When aggravated, Foot and Falconetti can display something of a Sean Pennguin type of temperament. "If they don't like something," says Hill, "they'll give a really good peck and draw blood." So paparazzi of the world, beware. Here are two more stars who are going to make you see red.

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