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Cal Worthington, car dealer famed for TV ads, dies

Published on NewsOK Modified: September 10, 2013 at 3:08 am •  Published: September 10, 2013
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — He said he would eat a bug to get you to buy a car. He promised that he would even stand upon his head until his ears were turning red if you would just, "Go see Cal."

Whether Cal Worthington actually did those things is uncertain.

But one thing is not: In car-obsessed Southern California in the 1950s, where automobile pitchmen would slam vehicle hoods, kick tires, scream into television cameras and give themselves names like "Mad Man," adding they were crazy to make a deal, Worthington stood taller and lasted longer than any of them.

Worthington, who died Sunday at age 92, sold more than a million cars during his lifetime by his account. He was the nation's top-selling Dodge salesman in the 1960s and at one time he owned nearly two dozen car dealerships, stretching from Alaska to Texas. In recent years he had cut back to just four.

Worthington, who had remained active until his death, died after watching football with his family at his Big W Ranch in Orland, Calif., said Dave Karalis, general manager of Cal Worthington Ford in Long Beach. The cause of death has not been determined, family attorney Larry Miles said.

For decades Worthington would appear on television over and over, in commercials that seemed to air morning, noon and night. Dressed as a cowboy dandy, and wearing a giant white hat, he would display a down-home, folksy charm as he spoke in his distinctive Oklahoma twang, urging people to come on down and buy a car from him.

But the real star of the commercials was his dog "Spot," which was never really a dog.

Depending on the commercial, Spot might be an elephant or a hippo or a killer whale that Worthington was riding. Or a snake he was wrestling. Or a bear he was roller skating with. In one memorable commercial Spot was a mountain lion that tried to take his arm off when he went to pet the animal.

"Spot," he freely acknowledged over the years, was a gimmick he had stolen from a rival car dealer whose pitchman appeared on TV with his real dog, named Storm.

And though he may not have stood upon his head until his ears were turning red, the decorated World War II pilot did on occasion strap himself to an old-time biplane and have it fly upside down while the cameras rolled.

During all of these stunts, a catchy little jingle — actually a frenetic, banjo-driven version of the children's song "If You're Happy And You Know It," would play nonstop, with the lyrics changed to something like this: "If you need a better car, go see Cal. For the best deal by far, go see Cal. Buy a new car for your wife. She will love you all her life. Go see Cal. Go see Cal. Go see Cal."

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