L’erin Dobra wasn’t trying to start a media firestorm when she used personal injury attorney Morris Bart as the theme for her son’s second birthday party.
And Bart, though hardly publicity-shy, wasn’t expecting his name to go worldwide when he sent an autographed photo and trinkets to help little Grayson celebrate the occasion.
“That is insanity,” Dobra said when she learned that one website’s account of the story had, by late last week, received 177,000 page views, a number that had grown to 477,193 by Monday morning.
And that’s just one website.
Within two days after The Advocate story’s on Grayson’s party appeared on its website, L’erin Dobra had been contacted by the Wall Street Journal, the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Mashable.com, NBC’s “Today” show and others. National Public Radio approached her a day later.
Links to The Advocate’s story or other accounts of Grayson’s party appeared at People magazine, CNN, Inside Edition, the New York Daily News, Time.com, Salon.com, E! Online and numerous other sites as far away as Australia and New Zealand.
An online petition asks that Grayson and Bart be introduced to each other on Ellen DeGeneres’ television show.
“I have sat here for the last 48 hours in amazement and watched as this story has gone viral and spread throughout the U.S. and jumped the Atlantic and gone over to Europe and then spread throughout Europe,” Bart said Friday. “There are texts that have come in from Canada, Britain, Italy, Brazil, Dubai, Sarajevo. It’s just extraordinary, and there’s no end in sight.”
To recap: Grayson has been so transfixed by Bart’s TV commercials that nothing could shake his attention when he saw them.
Bart’s trademark slogan — “One call, that’s all” — was among the toddler’s first words, and he’d often say it and Bart’s name. He even likes to watch the commercials on YouTube.
So, instead of something more traditional, his mom created what may well be the first child’s birthday party with a personal injury lawyer as its theme. It included a T-shirt, a cutout and a cake adorned with Bart’s image. Though invited, Bart was unable to attend, but it hardly mattered. He sent an autographed photo, which young Grayson keeps on his bedside table.
The party was a big hit with the youngster.
But not as big a hit as it has been with people around the world. It’s impossible to calculate how many people have seen or heard about Grayson’s party, but it is almost certainly in the millions. Comments posted on Internet sites carrying the story are mostly positive, though occasionally bewildered.
“I thought this was hilarious, good for the little guy, I hope he had an awesome birthday!” wrote Cindy on the Yahoo! parenting site. “Better to watch that than some of these cartoons on TV nowadays.”
“I can’t decide who is most awesome here,” wrote Savannah Pennington on Buzzfeed. “The mom was pretty genius. The little boy is adorable, and you can see how thrilled he is in these pictures. I think I am most impressed with the attorney’s office, though. It’s not every day this kind of request comes up, and they answered it admirably.”
“Hilarious!” wrote KonaKathie on Salon. “Makes me think of my brother’s first word — ‘Nabisco!’ — because that meant ‘Howdy Doody’ was beginning on TV.”
Bart can relate to that other little boy, and he thinks it partially explains why Grayson’s story has resonated. Having grown up in New Orleans, he remembers local television commercials personalized by men like Al Scramuzza, of Seafood City; Dick Bruce, for McKenzie’s bakery; and Tony Campo, “The Appliance Giant.”
“I also think it’s a story that every single person, whether they admit it or not, really relates to, because when we’re kids, there’s always the local commercial, the local TV pitch man that everybody was just enthralled with, and you whistle or you sing the different jingles for the company,” Bart said. “So, I think there’s a lot bigger connection going on than people will admit to.
“It’s just such a joyous story. I still haven’t talked to the family or met them, but it’s very flattering for me,” Bart said. “He’s just an adorable kid from a beautiful family, and it’s just one of those stories. It took off. It went viral, and there’s just no stopping it. People can’t get enough of it.”
Dobra said Bart’s office has asked her to let them know when the Prairieville family, which includes her husband, Ionel, will be in New Orleans so Bart can meet them. She told the New York Daily News that she might use the prospect of that meeting to motivate Grayson in his potty training.
“One of the interviewers asked me, ‘Do you have plans for his third birthday party?’” Dobra said. “I said, ‘Not yet. He might just keep on getting Morris Bart birthday parties until he says, “OK, that’s enough, Mom. You can stop now.” ’ ”