If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, then one used-car salesman’s colorful legacy will endure in numerous parodies in movies, television programs, music and even a video game.
Calvin Coolidge “Cal” Worthington, whose commercials for his Worthington Ford dealership in Long Beach were West Coast television staples, died on Sunday, Sept. 9 at his home in Orland, Calif. at the age of 92.
The white-cowboy-hat donning pitchman was perhaps best known for his ubiquitous “Go see Cal” radio and TV ads, in which he was often accompanied by his “dog Spot,” who was nearly anything but an actual canine. “Spot” appeared as a tiger, a seal, an elephant, a chimpanzee, a bear, a hippopotamus and even an airplane, on the wings of which Worthington stood while it was airborne in one of his zany commercials.
Though auto dealers who promote their merchandise on television are known for their theatricality and quirkiness, Worthington, being in the Los Angeles area, was perhaps more favorably situated to gain celebrity status.
The Oklahoma native was an occasional guest on The Tonight Show and appeared as himself in the 1973 Jack Lemmon film Save the Tiger and the 1991 B-movie Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! His commercials were featured in the 1972 Bill Cosby crime-drama Hickey & Boggs, the 1974 action film Gone in 60 Seconds, the 1978 horror film Dracula’s Dog, the 1985 John Landis-directed comedy Into the Night and the 2000 drama Memento, among others.
Although his TV spots peppered the backdrops of various Hollywood productions, it will perchance be Cal Worthington parodies that make the most indelible mark on pop culture. Characters who are clearly inspired by him show up in cinema, television and gaming, beginning at least as far back as the early 1970s and continuing into the present day.
The 1974 adult-targeted animated film Down and Dirty Duck features a car salesman enduring his foot being bitten by his uncooperative dog while shooting a commercial. Marty Feldman’s 1977 comedy The Last Remake of Beau Geste has a used-camel salesman singing “See Hakkim, see Hakkim, see Hakkim” in a manner similar to the “Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal” jingle of Worthington’s ads. Not surprisingly, a character shown in a TV ad in the 1980 Kurt Russell comedy Used Cars is a salesman of the titular merchandise, and he also wears a white cowboy hat. In the 1988 Tim Burton horror-comedy Beetlejuice, Michael Keaton portrays a cowboy-like salesman in a late-night commercial advertising a bio-exorcist. The late-1990s animated children’s show Histeria! also parodied Worthington’s ads with a character named Loud Kiddington and his dog Fetch in a commercial for Wheel-o-Rama, during a playful segment about the invention of the wheel; that spot’s tagline is “Go see Loud, go see Loud, go see Loud.” More recently, a character named Kall Worthaton can be found in the Blizzard Entertainment video game World of Warcraft peddling car-like “trikes.”
Before selling cars, which Worthington did from 1945 up until his passing this week, he saw combat in World War II as a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot, flying 29 missions over Germany. He was awarded the Air Medal five times, as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross. He also trained pilots who would become some of the country’s first astronauts.
In an emailed statement to the Signal Tribune, Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster sent his condolences regarding Worthington’s death. “I am sorry to hear about the passing of Cal Worthington,” Foster said. “Cal’s iconic jingle and sense of showmanship defined him, and I will miss his exuberance and humor.”