Cal Worthington, wild TV car ad pitchman, dies

8:11 PM, Sep 9, 2013   |    comments
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Cal Worthington, a car dealer in California, with his dog "Spot" (Photo: uncredited)


Cal Worthington, whose crazy showmanship style made him one of the nation's best-known auto dealers, has died at 92.

For decades, Worthington was one of a handful of cars dealers around the country who dominated TV advertising on nights and weekends, standing out with their crazy antics. He died at his Big W Ranch near Sacramento, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Worthington was among the last who came up with ways of attracting attention beyond showing pictures of cars with prices (although the tradition continues in Los Angeles, where Worthington made his name, with dealers' Spanish-language TV ads).

Towering more than 6-feet, 4-inches in his trademark cowboy hat, Worthington promised to "stand on my head to make you a deal," a claim he would back up by demonstrating on a car hood. He was always showed off "my dog Spot." Spot was a tiger, lion, gorilla, hippo (which he rode on the back of) or any other animal other than a dog. Even his voice was instantly recognizable because of his Oklahoma twang. Banjo music with his "Go see Cal! Go see Ca!" refrain always played in the background.

Worthington was among the last of the TV pitchmen from the 1950s to the 1980s. In Los Angeles, they included Earl "Madman" Muntz ("We buy 'em retail and sell 'em wholesale. It's more fun that way") and Ralph Williams (who sold cars at "One-five-800 Ventura Boulvard -- in the heart of Encino.")

Worthington outlived the others and became a local celebrity. He made appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. His dealership network grew as well, with lots in several cities.

At California State University, Long Beach, a few blocks from where Worthington had his Ford dealership, Worthington drew some of the biggest crowds as a speaker with his motivational messages. (We were there covering them as a college student reporter.) He talked about growing up poor in Oklahoma, flying B-17 bombers in the Army Air Corps and finding that he wasn't particular talented at anything -- except selling cars. Every person is better at one thing than everyone else in the world, Worthington would say, but few ever discover that one thing.

He considered himself lucky to have found that one thing.


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