Sep 12, 2013

Farewell to Cal Worthington, and his dog Spot

This week Cal Worthington died aged 92.

For non-US readers, Cal Worthington was the used car salesman who came to epitomise both used car salesmen and the type of funny/annoying, hard-sell, earworm-jingle TV ads that he did so well.

Cal Worthington image by Mntbloom / Wikimedia Commons

When I was nine my family moved to Los Angeles and I vividly remember Cal Worthington. He was all over the TV all the time. I am sure he was extremely annoying, but to kids (and probably my America-besotted dad) he was fantastic.  I still remember my dad calling us over to the TV when we had only just settled in LA and saying "You've got to see this guy, come and look at this!"

Australian TV ads in the 70s could be strident ("From K-Tel, record $3.99, cassette $4.99!"), but we had never seen anything like this before.

The ads started with a booming voice-over: "Here's Cal Worthington....and his dog Spot!", as Cal jogged through his car lot wearing a cowboy hat and suit and leading an exotic animal on a leash (or on roller skates, or in a sidecar). It was a different animal every time; once he even rode an elephant.

Quite rightly animal protection laws would not allow such ads these days.

The ads were also often LONG and would itemise tens of cars and deals, with Cal's sales patter throughout ("I will stand on my head till my ears turn red, to make a deal"). There was often a give-away such as steak dinners, or kids' toys, or random crap like "this umbrella hat you can wear on your head", on offer whether or not you bought a car (but I wonder how many people got away without buying a car?!)   At the time we were there (1979-1981), there were similar car dealer ads on TV, but Cal's were the best (or the worst!). I don't know whether others imitated him or if he was just part of a trend at the time, but whatever it was, he nailed it.

And the jingle.... I've had the jingle stuck in my head for the last two days:
If you want to buy a car go see Cal 
For the best deal by far go see Cal 
If you want your payments slow 
If you want to save some dough 
Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal

It was impossible not to like him. He seemed so happy and good-natured, and there's something admirable about those super salesmen who will happily and regularly make themselves ridiculous for success.

He had quite an interesting life, as I've learned this week. He was also a quintessential American success story, rising from childhood poverty to a huge business that owned multiple car lots and properties and even a studio which produced all his ads. (I was surprised to read in the New York Times article where I learned of his death, that he recently said, "I never much liked the car business. I just kind of got trapped in it after the war. I didn’t have the skills to do anything else.")

He was also part of my childhood. In 1979 Australia was a very different place - not worldly and not acculturated to the US the way it is now. So when we arrived in the US it was honestly like a different world. There was little that was familiar, so that was hard adjusting - but at the same time we all loved the outgoing, relaxed and ultra-friendly style of the culture there. It's hard to convey now how fresh and different it all seemed.

Cal Worthington was one of the defining icons of my childhood America. (He shares this honour with Peter Popoff, Phil Donahue, Geraldo Rivera and John Davidson). He personified America to us.  

Here is a tribute combination of a whole lot of his ads from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Rest in peace, Cal Worthington. My sister and I still love you!

Oh OK then, here are some more:


  1. Sadly the ads wouldn't play for me. I will check out U tube later.
    Car salesmen have a poor reputation, but I suspect some other professions have long been equally dubious. Real estate agents and politicians leap to mind...

    1. I think there's a certain type of personality that is drawn to these 'hard sell' jobs, and they're not the type of people to pay attention to pesky things like regulations...

  2. Kevin Dennis should have copied his style. Oh the nightmare of those K-Tel ads. They made the thinnest vinyl records possible.

    1. The K-Tel ads were bad! I didn't know the vinyl was thinner than normal, but I do recall records did get thinner over the years so maybe that was because we bought K-Tel! I still have the Leo Sayer album I was given for a birthday present once :)

    2. Leo Sayer? Me too!! Except mine was a Mother's Day gift.

      You make me feel like dancing.......

  3. Elephants and other animals? Possibly Cal was the inspiration for the car dealer character in the movie Made In America. Starring Whoopi Goldberg and Ted Danson. Will Smith was in it too.



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