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Car Dealer Famous for Outlandish Ads Dead at 92

Cal Worthington and his 'dog Spot' appeared in California commercials

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Sep 10, 2013 12:52 PM CDT
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(Newser) – Cal Worthington, famous in Southern California for the outlandish TV commercials advertising his car dealership, died Sunday at age 92. Worthington, who bought his first LA-area dealership in 1950, started making the commercials in an attempt to drum up business because his location wasn't so hot, the New York Times reports. He starred in the ads, which sometimes aired as many as 100 times a day, often performing stunts such as standing on a biplane's wing as it flew, riding a killer whale, or driving around in a golf cart with a tiger. Often the ads—at one point, as many as 40 of them were filmed per week and they aired 50,000 times per year—would feature his "dog" Spot, who was never actually a dog. (He was played at various times by a gorilla, a lion, a bull, and a penguin, among other animals, the Los Angeles Times reports.) All the while, his jingle played in the background: "Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal." (Interestingly, Worthington himself never owned a car, he just borrowed one from his lot.)

Worthington was born in Oklahoma and grew up in poverty, eventually leaving school at 13 to sign on with the Civilian Conservation Corps and later enlist in the Army Air Corps during World War II, during which he flew B-17 Flying Fortresses. He couldn't become a commercial pilot because he didn't have a college degree, so he bought a gas station in Texas and tried his hand at selling used cars there before ending up in California. In addition to the ads, Worthington once had his own live TV show two nights a week; "Cal's Corral" featured performers including Johnny Cash. Worthington's notoriety led to Tonight Show appearances and even roles in one film and a TV show—and, of course, a lot of cars sold. Worthington estimates he sold more than a million; at one point he had a multi-state empire of 29 car dealerships. But "I never much liked the car business," he once said. "I just kind of got trapped in it after the war."

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