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
Loading... Please wait

(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."

View 1 image
More From Newser
My Take on This Story
To report an error on this story,
notify our editors.
Car Dealer Famous for Outlandish Ads Dead at 92 is...
Show results without voting
You Might Like
Showing 3 of 11 comments
Sep 11, 2013 1:09 AM CDT
The down payment he'll arrange!!!....go for a 10 day trial exchange!!!...go see Cal...go see Cal..go see Cal.. It never occured to me all those years ago how surreal it was to always have that extraordinary figure in my living room....his tv spots sometimes went on for what seemed like at least half an hour...he just yammered away for an eternity about practically every car he had on the lot. He had this quality and personna like Roy Rogers. He was the real deal; an Oakie selling cars to the inhabitants of Southern California from the 60's generation, and yet it all seemed so natural and matter of fact!! Some of you probably remember Jimmy Williams on TV from Jimmy Williams Ford...Did Cal take over his used car empire?...anybody remember?
Sep 10, 2013 6:48 PM CDT
Another southern Kalifornian gone, No loss. Only 50 million more to go.
Sep 10, 2013 4:04 PM CDT
I remember his ads well - Cal's death is the passing of another historic Los Angeles legend... There was a story many years ago - some of which I'm sure I will get wrong... Cal had recently gotten out of the Army Air Corp and was still trying to find his way, probably during his initial struggle to sell cars in Texas. He was broke, out of ideas and walking along the side of a road trying to decide what to do next. While kicking a can that lay in his way the sole separated from his shoe. Just then a limo pulled up and stopped. The back window came down and a voice said " Cal, Cal Worthington is that you?" Cal walked up to the car and looked in. Lee Iacocca, then an executive with Ford Motor Company (later Ford president), said "Lee, get in here let me give you a ride". Looking at Cal's dusty clothes and flapping show sole, Lee looked Cal in the eye and asked "How are things going Cal?" Cal replied; "they could be better". "I'm not selling any cars, I'm hungry and now my shoes are falling apart". Lee was said "Yes, I can see that" then reaching into his pocket Lee pulled out a huge wads of bills held with a rubber band. Removing the rubber band from around the bills, Lee turned to Cal and handed him the rubber band saying "Maybe this will help".