FOCUS – See Cal Profit

Cal Worthington and his dogg SnoopCalvin Coolidge “Cal” Worthington was a bad ass. I mean, we’re talking about a man who braved Southern California heatwaves wearing a polyester cowboy leisure suit. For decades, he stood on top of biplanes in midair, rode charging hippos and wrassled bears and tigers. Just to get you to go see him. And it all paid off… a profile in the Sacramento Bee (published in 1990) stated that ol’ Cal grossed $316.8 million in 1988. Okay, now add inflation. That’s a lot of Fords, my friend.

Cal was one of the very first car dealers to appear in their own TV ads as a wacky character, promising if he couldn’t give you the best price that he would stand on his head or eat a bug. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any youtube videos of Cal eating bugs so I’m unsure if he ever actually ate any. But he did an awful lot of other stunts for rolling cameras, as evidenced below. (Turn your speakers down if you don’t want to be humming his theme song all day.)

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From the first link:

Mr. Worthington came to Southern California in 1948 after a much-decorated military career piloting B-17 Flying Fortresses on 29 combat missions over Germany. He made enough selling used cars to start trading in war surplus. That’s what brought him to California, where it took him nearly two years to sell a ship full of corroded welding equipment he’d bought. He cleared $13,000, which was enough to buy a Muntz dealership.

Mr. Worthington became an early believer in the power of television advertising. Rather than buy ad spots, he produced entire programs. Every Saturday and Sunday night, he was host of a three-hour variety show broadcast live on a Los Angeles station from Cal’s Corral at his dealership. The show featured a who’s who of country music stars, including Johnny Cash, Buck Owens and Roger Miller. The rising cost of television time eventually forced Mr. Worthington to focus on shorter ads in which he praised specific cars on his lot while wearing a 10-gallon hat and a garish western suit from Nudie Cohn, the rodeo tailor.

One day a rival dealer appeared in commercials with his dog, named Storm. As a joke, Mr. Worthington started countering with ads featuring “my dog Spot.”

“Only Spot was never a dog,” he said with an infectious, off-kilter grin. “It was always a chicken, or a possum, or a duck or something. But it was never a dog.”

Over the years it became a signature gimmick. Mr. Worthington appeared with a zoo’s worth of creatures, including a lion, an elephant, a water buffalo, a gorilla, a tiger, a rhinoceros, assorted snakes and even a killer whale (which he rode) at Sea World.

Mr. Worthington, whose formal education ended with the ninth grade, said he had only one occasion to rue his lack of schooling. “I wanted to be an airline pilot after World War II, but the airlines wouldn’t take you unless you had a college degree,” he said.

Cal is 88 years old now and his son voices most of his current commercials. In addition to automobile dealerships, it’s said that the Worthington family owns ten ranches as well as three shopping centers and one office tower, grossing $600 million a year.

So really… there’s a big life lesson in this, people. Especially during hard economic times like these, if you really want to succeed in life sometimes you’ve just gotta just quit whining, take a deep breath, get up some courage and do something crazy to get yourself noticed. It might just pay off. Bug eating and bear wrestling (or trying out for a reality show, for that matter) isn’t original anymore so you may need to get a little more creative, though. Be a bad ass.

When the going gets tough, just think to yourself… WWCWD?

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6 Responses to “FOCUS – See Cal Profit”

  1. Engine Ed says:

    Hey, loved your comments about Cal. He’s a great guy and a national automobile Icon! I loved your quote, “sometimes’ you’ve just gotta quit whining, take a deep breath, get up some courage and do something crazy to get yourself noticed.” I really wish people would quit whining and start making their own way. Thanks for the great little spotlight on Cal. He is a self-made man who came out of the depression, was dirt poor and made something of himself. Way to go Cal!

  2. C. Listerman says:

    I remember going to Cal’s Coral with ny mother and father, ants and uncles and of course all the kids.
    They would dance to a live band,” whoop it up ” and the kids would run and fun all day long, those kind of days we will never see again, gone but not forgotten!
    Thanks Cal, for the memories.

    End of the Trail…………. C. Listerman

  3. Johnny Naked says:

    Great article! As someone who didn’t grow up in LA, it’s fantastic to get the whole story on one of my favorite local TV ad men!!!

    And in regards to your article’s closing editorial comments, I offer you this:

    http://www.NakedSlave4Art.com

    Best,

    The Artist Johnny Naked

    :)

  4. Diana says:

    I can’t believe I’d forgotten Cal! His commercials were a huge hit with little kid me, and I’m delighted to learn a little more about about him. Thank you for bringing back a memory.

  5. Jerome says:

    I loved the cat video! I miss programming like this, every now and then you see an “info” mercial, but they pale in comparison to things like this. True “Viral Video” television advertising before anyone knew the term.

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