Tuesday, September 10, 2013
In the early days of TV he did the commercials live. Wearing a big cowboy hat and delivering his spiel in a homespun drawl Cal implored you to get down to Bellflower or Downey or wherever the hell he was and buy this Ford or Dodge or whatever car he was selling on that channel. Ten minutes later you’d switch to a different station and he’d be in South Gate or Long Beach selling some other model.
And he’d always break it at just the worst time. Bogart gets shot, he’s lying in a pool of blood – cut to Cal, grinning, chuckling, saying “howdy friends!”
No kid in Los Angeles born in the ‘50s ever saw GODZILLA without Cal Wrothington in the middle of it.
And yet, even with these intrusions, we loved him. Why? Because he never took himself too seriously.
There was a competing TV car huckster named Chick Lambert. He always had his dog, Storm with him. So Cal introduced his dog “Spot.” Except it was never a dog. It was a tiger or a lion or a monkey or a snake or a member of the Los Angeles Rams.
And he had this inane jingle – “Go See Cal.” Lyrics included “I will stand up on my head/till my ears are turning red/Go See Cal/Go See Cal/Go See Cal.” If you lived in Los Angeles for more than 24 hours you could sing that jingle.
As corny and goofy as these techniques were, he sold more cars than anybody. Make no mistake, he was a smart cookie. He understood the value of advertising, showmanship, and sound business practices. He was also a decorated war hero in WWII.
Cal was pretty much the last of our local TV pitchmen. All markets had them. They were colorful characters who sold everything from cars to carpeting. They wore outlandish costumes and had various shticks. There was some car dealer in Minneapolis whose tag line was, “Bring the wife so we can dicker.”
Of course, back in those days you had either the three networks or a few independent channels. There was no thousand channel universe. And how were these non-network stations going to fill 20 hours of programming every day? For the most part they did it with old movies. You could find John Wayne on at least one station at any given day and time. And sure enough, just when he was about to shoot the bad guy, there would be smiling Cal Worthington riding in on a pig. You don’t get that pleasure with Netflix.
Cal Worthington was 92 (I’m sure marked down from 98). He was an original and reminder of simpler more innocent times. R.I.P. Cal. Here’s a sample of his commercials (or should I say “Spots?”)
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM