If you want a better buy, go see the salesman known more throughout Southern California for his commercials than what he actually sells.
While I was here in New Jersey having a very New York media market childhood, my husband was on the west coast, having a very Los Angeles media market childhood. When I originally wrote about today’s subject in a Retroist artist (lost to the interwebs in 2019), I had asked him if he remembered the topic. He said he did, and even remembered the jingle…or at least, what people thought the jingle was.
This week, Throwback Thursday and Flashback Friday pay tribute to our childhoods on opposite coasts – today is his, tomorrow is mine. I was actually inspired to look at today’s subject out of reinterest in writing something new about it, as well as sharing a little tidbit of information I found out from a recent Oddity Archive episode.
After all, it was an episode of Oddity Archive a few years back that ignited my need to even research this a few years ago.
Allow me to introduce our pitchman of the day – Cal Worthington, and his dog Spot!
Sung to the tune of “If You’re Happy And You Know It,” the jingle tells you all about you could “go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal!” (or pussycow, as the kids in Southern California heard) to find a better deal on a car. Among the variations on the lyrics was “If you want a car or truck, go see Cal, if you want to save a buck, go see Cal,” though there were other versions. And “Spot” was never a dog, but many different animals, among them a tiger, a seal, a chimpanzee, goose, Killer Whale, a hippo, carabao (Water Buffalo), a skunk, rhinoceros, and a bear.
He even did this!
Forget the car pitch, I wanna watch this for five minutes!
But alas, after the jingle ended, Cal Worthington, proprietor of the Worthington Dealership Group, would tell viewers about his latest offerings in the new and used car market, in the type of pitch movies and television shows fashioned as a result of his delivery style. He always informed viewers that his dealerships were open until midnight seven days a week, all in his slick style.
And always while dressed as a California Cowboy.
Though Worthington began advertising his car dealerships prior to the 1970s, it was that decade, as well as the 1980s, where Worthington would shine. His advertisements aired predominantly in the overnight hours on four of the seven Los Angeles-area television stations. Those networks ran overnight movie marathons from midnight until six am, and Worthington bought out the airtime to peddle his new and used cars. His commercials were styled after another Los Angeles area car dealership owner, Chick Lambert, who did commercials with his dog “Storm” (actually a dog) by his side in the 1960s. When those commercials ended, Worthington picked up the slack to fill that void, keeping the “Spot” marketing ploy (also the name of Worthington’s advertising agency, which spent a whopping $15 million total on these commercials) alive until the mid-1980s.
Those post-“His Dog Spot” commercials just aren’t the same, the real gem is seeing what Spot was going to be in the next commercial you saw!
Following his service in World War II, and discharge from the Army as a Captain, Worthington got his start selling cars in a Corpus Christi, Texas post office parking lot, and later a dirt lot. He had aspired to be a commercial pilot, but couldn’t, as he didn’t have a college degree. He sold his personal car for $500 and purchased a gas station, but was unsuccessful in his first business venture, so he sold it for what he paid for it.
When he finally made the move to owning a dealership, his first was sold Hudson Motor Cars in 1949. Worthington purchased three hours of programming time on KTLA in Los Angeles every Saturday and Sunday, which allowed him to advertise his dealerships. When this model of show sponsorship became unfeasible, a trend that began happening as television became more sophisticated, Cal Worthington became a Ford dealer and settled for 30 second and 1-minute commercials, though I’ve seen ads that were longer than that.
At its peak, Worthington operated 29 dealerships in Anchorage, Alaska; Phoenix, Arizona; Carlsbad, Claremont, Folsom, Long Beach, Sacramento and South Gate, California; Reno, Nevada; Houston and Sugar Land, Texas; and Federal Way, Washington. Most of these were sold off, but the Long Beach, California dealership still operates today. As for Cal Worthington, he passed away in 2013 at the age of 92, a salesman right up until the very end.
Oh, and he never owned a car – he just borrowed the ones he had for sale. And he also hated selling cars, as he felt he got trapped into the business after the war.
But man, his legacy! He was a natural!
The legacy he left behind, especially for countless kids growing up in the Los Angeles area, is mired in his commercials. Forget the fancy pitches about cars and low down payments, the salesman who will do a stunt (it was said he would eat a bug or stand on his head for a sale) or wrestle a tiger posing as “his dog Spot” is the one that gains customers and sells cars.
Headstands help too.
Compiled for your pleasure from the archives of the YouTubes, this is an impressive playlist of Cal Worthington’s finest moments of wrestling tigers, riding carts pulled by ostriches, Killer Whales as cuddly pets named “Spot,” and even an interview with Cal himself from around his 90th birthday in 2010.
Your wife will love you all your life, all because you saw Cal.
Tomorrow, an entry from my very New York media market childhood! But until then…
Have a great Throwback Thursday!