November 27, 1920 |
|Known for||A long-standing series of offbeat television commercials featuring "my dog Spot"|
Calvin Coolidge "Cal" Worthington (born November 27, 1920) is an American car dealer well known throughout the West Coast of the United States, and to a more limited extent elsewhere due to minor appearances and parodies in a number of movies. He is best known for his unique radio and television advertisements for the Worthington Dealership Group. In these advertisements, he was usually joined by "his dog Spot," except that "Spot" was never a dog. Often, Spot was either a tiger, a seal, an elephant, a chimpanzee, or a bear. In one ad, "Spot" was a hippopotamus, which Worthington rode in the commercial. On some occasions, "Spot" was a vehicle, such as an airplane that Worthington would be seen standing atop the wings of while airborne. "Spot" was officially retired in the mid-1980s; however he is mentioned in some commercials today.
According to a profile published in the Sacramento Bee in 1990, Worthington grossed $316.8 million in 1988, making him at the time the largest single owner of a car dealership chain. His advertising agency, named Spot Advertising, had Worthington as its only client and spent $15 million on commercials, the most of any auto dealer at the time. He has sold automobiles since 1945 and owns a 24,000-acre (9,700 ha; 37 sq mi) ranch located in Orland, California, north of Sacramento.
Calvin Coolidge Worthington was born on November 27, 1920 in Shidler, Oklahoma. Worthington grew up in a family of nine children and dropped out of school at the age of 13. His first job was as a water boy on a road construction crew for 15 cents an hour. He joined the Civilian Conservation Corps at the age of 15.
World War II
Worthington served in the United States Army in World War II, flying for the Army Air Corps. He served as a Second Lieutenant and was the aerobatics champion at Goodfellow Field in San Angelo, Texas. During the war, he served as a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot with the 390th Bomber Group, flying 29 missions over Germany, and was discharged after the war as a captain. He was awarded the Air Medal five times. He was also a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, which was presented to him by Jimmy Doolittle.
Worthington's military service was revisited during the 21st century in articles in aviation magazines, for his role in having trained individuals who later became some of America's earliest astronauts.
After leaving the Army, Worthington wanted to be a commercial pilot, but was stymied by the requirements at the time for a college degree. He sold his car for $500 to purchase a gas station, which proved a failure. He was able to sell it for the same amount he paid, an indication of future success in sales. He began to sell used cars in front of the post office in Corpus Christi, Texas by making a folksy pitch to people who stopped to pick up their mail. He moved to a dirt lot rented for $25, where he made a $500 profit one week by selling three cars. By this point, he decided that this would be his career.
Move to California
In 1949, Worthington moved to Huntington Park, California, with a Hudson Motor Car dealership. Early on, he entered the nascent field of television advertising, purchasing time for a three-hour live country music TV show every Saturday and Sunday on Los Angeles TV station KTLA, which eventually was entitled Cal's Corral. When television became more established and sponsorship of entire programs subsequently became unfeasible, he became a Ford dealer with 1 minute and 30 second commercials.
By the 1970s, Worthington was saturating the commercial breaks during the overnight hours on four of the seven television stations in Los Angeles, which had agreed to fill their overnight schedules by playing movies. Worthington's commercials could be seen breaking into old movies overnight, from midnight to 6 o'clock.
One of Worthington's rivals in the early 1960s was Chick Lambert, a well-known salesman with Brand Motors Ford City. As the dealership's television pitchman, Lambert always introduced "my dog, Storm" (a large German Shepherd dog) as a prop in the commercials. Storm would be seen either lounging on the hood of a car, sitting behind the wheel, or walking with his owner along the rows of cars. By the mid-1960s, Lambert had taken his dog act to Ralph Williams Ford (previously Leon Ames Ford), becoming well known for Storm and his intro, "Some people call this a commercial; I call it an invitation." Worthington livened up the commercial wars by countering with the first of his "dog Spot" ads, a gorilla that roared. The response was so positive that a new campaign was born, featuring "Cal Worthington and his dog Spot!" (see below for more information).
Expansion across the West Coast
The physical reach of the Worthington Dealership Group would eventually cover a large portion of the American Southwest and West. The company at its peak had 29 dealerships. Among the markets served by Worthington included Anchorage, Alaska; Phoenix, Arizona; Carlsbad, Claremont, Folsom, Long Beach, Sacramento and South Gate in California; Reno, Nevada; Houston and Sugar Land in Texas; and Federal Way, Washington. The company has since sold most of these dealerships; it still operates the Anchorage, Carlsbad, and Long Beach outlets.
The company entered the Anchorage market at a frenzied time in 1976, during the height of the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. In fact, the appearance in Alaska of a well-heeled California businessman coincidental with oil-related prosperity often entered the consciousness of Alaskans during those years, though Worthington was not the only businessman who fell under this category. Worthington purchased an existing dealership, Friendly Ford, from the Stepp family, who continued to operate the city's Lincoln–Mercury dealership for many years afterward.
He was one of the first to abandon the traditional stand-alone dealership in favor of "auto malls."
As of 2002[update], he also owned three shopping centers and one office tower, grossing $600 million a year.
"My Dog Spot" ads
For nearly a quarter-century, from the 1960s until the 1990s, Worthington ran a series of offbeat television and radio advertisements for his auto dealerships patterned loosely after the pioneering "oddball" advertisements of Earl "Madman" Muntz. They were known as the "My Dog Spot" ads because each commercial would introduce "Cal Worthington and his dog Spot!" However, the "dog" was never a dog. In most cases, it was an exotic animal being led around on a leash, such as a tiger or elephant. These commercials began as a parody of a long-running series of commercials produced by salesman Chick Lambert, who worked for multiple Los Angeles-area Ford dealers over many years. These commercials invariably began with "I'm Chick Lambert, Sales Manager here at Ralph Williams Ford, and this is my dog, Storm." Storm was a German Shepherd, who was usually lounging on the hood of the first car to be featured in the ad.
Worthington's commercials were seen on every television channel in Los Angeles throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, mostly through saturation advertising during the overnight hours. The commercials would be accompanied by a jingle set to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It" with the lyrics re-written to the refrain of "If you want a car or truck, go see Cal, if you want to save a buck, go see Cal" or "Give a new car to your wife, she will love you all your life", with "Go see Cal" repeated numerous times. When the idea of a jingle was first pitched to him, it was conceptualized as slow with a big roll up of drums; Worthington disagreed and felt the song should be fast and wrote the lyrics and recorded the song himself. The jingle was successful. In the years following, Worthington discovered that there were children who thought that his name was "Go see Cal."
Among the many creatures that were featured as "Spot" were a killer whale from SeaWorld, a lion, an elephant, a goose, a tiger, various snakes, a rhinoceros, a skunk, a bear, a roller-skating chimpanzee, a carabao (water buffalo), and a hippopotamus. In addition to the many animals that were featured, one of Cal Worthington's "Spots" was Deacon Jones, at the time one of the "Fearsome Foursome" of the NFL's Los Angeles Rams, who sang the "Go See Cal" jingle. Worthington made deals with two local circuses to obtain animals for the commercial shoots. He also made use of individual owners who commonly leased their animals to film and television shoots in nearby Hollywood.
In some commercials, Worthington would claim he would do a stunt for a sale, such as eating a bug or "stand upon my head 'til my ears are turning red." According to a spokesman for the Television Bureau of Advertising, Worthington "is probably the best known car dealer pitchman in television history."
In 1979, Worthington divorced his wife of 37 years, Barbara, and married Susan Henning. That marriage ended badly seven years later. In 1995, he married Bonnie Reese, a 35-year-old radio personality. That marriage ended in 2002. In April 2011 Cal married Los Angeles-based Icelandic jazz singer Anna Mjöll Ólafsdóttir. In December 2011, it was reported that Anna Mjöll filed for divorce from Worthington.
In addition to automobile dealerships, Worthington owns ten ranches. Among these are his Northern California headquarters in Orland, California and the PX ranch in Nevada, which was once owned by The Salt Lake Tribune owner Thomas Kearns and later by Bing Crosby.
In May 2010, Worthington appeared in a political advertisement for California State Assembly candidate Larry Miles. The commercial, a throwback to the "My dog Spot" days, featured Worthington and "Spot" with Miles.
In popular culture
Worthington made numerous appearances over the years on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. In one particularly memorable appearance, Worthington appeared with "Spot," in this instance a goose which ruined host Johnny Carson's suit. Worthington also appeared as a car dealer in the 1973 film Save the Tiger
The "My Dog Spot" ads were spoofed at the start of the animated film Dirty Duck; a car dealer shoots his dog at one point. Worthington's ads were also parodied in Marty Feldman's 1977 comedy feature film The Last Remake of Beau Geste. A desert battle scene is interrupted by Ed McMahon announcing a "commercial break." Following is a "commercial" by "Honest Hakkim" (played by Avery Schreiber), a used camel salesman who gave specifics about the deals he was offering on particular camels in the same manner that Worthington would tout specific cars in his ads. The ad in the movie ended with Hakkim promising to "stand upon my fez 'til my face is such a mess" and then singing "See Hakkim, see Hakkim, see Hakkim" to the same cadence as was used to sing "Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal" in Worthington's advertisements.
Worthington and his commercials made brief appearances throughout the movie Into the Night. A Worthington commercial also appears in the original Gone in 60 Seconds. A short excerpt from one of Worthington's radio ads is featured at the end of Robert Calvert's track "Phase Locked Loop," from the album Lucky Leif and the Longships. They are also sen in Fried Green Tomatoes 2 and in Memento.
Cal Worthington and his dog "Spot" was referred to as Loud Kiddington and his dog Fetch in a parody skit from the animated show Histeria! telling the story of Hannibal crossing the Alps with elephants, which Hannibal rented from Kiddington.
- Hemmings Classic Car, August 1, 2007 (reprinted on hemmings.com)
- Hintzberger, John. Seattle Times April 15, 1986, "Trustworthy or Trustless? Poll rates people in the public eye"
- Rivenburg, Roy. Los Angeles Times June 3, 2002, "Spot's Co-Star"
- Stanley, Don. Sacramento Bee January 14, 1990, "The Dealer: By Golly, Cal Worthington Went From Dirt-Poor Ranch Hand to Millionaire Car Czar"
- Woodroffe, Pam. Seattle Times April 6, 1986, "Cal Worthington's 'depressed'"
- Darcy Leigh Richardson (November 23, 2010). Cal Worthington (YouTube video). Long Beach: Gazette Newspapers. Retrieved March 10, 2011.
- "An auto icon gives up his keys: Worthington closes the sale of Folsom dealership, the last of his local car lots". The Sacramento Bee. September 15, 2006. p. D1.
- Van, Torey. "Capitol Alert: Cal Worthington and his 'dog Spot' hit the airwaves in AD5 race". Sacbee.com. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- Emergency!: Behind the Scene - Richard Yokley, Rozane Sutherland - Google Books. Books.google.com. 2007-07-15. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- ""Beetlejuice," shooting script, by Michael McDowell; and Warren Skaaren". Dailyscript.com. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
||This article needs additional citations for verification. (September 2012)|