They Crossed The Finish Line: Cal Worthington
Cal Worthington was best known on the West Coast, but he was also well known in other parts of the country. Worthington had minor appearances and parodies in a number of movies and because of his over-the-top stage persona; he was the butt of plenty of jokes. He was best known for his unique radio and television commercials for the Worthington Dealership Group.
In his advertisements, he was usually joined by “His Dog Spot” who would be a tiger, a seal, an elephant, a chimpanzee, a bear, a hippopotamus or an airplane. Worthington’s antics earned him more than any other single dealer in the country during his heyday.
Worthington never owned a car; he would borrow one for sale from one of his dealerships. He said in 2007 that he disliked selling automobiles, but “just kind of got trapped in it after the war”. Funny thing; Cal Worthington may not have liked selling cars, but his commercials changed the face of local dealer advertising. He paved the way for bold, kitschy advertising which would transcend automobiles, but enter into all kinds of products.
His sales antics with his “His Dog Spot” drove a career that took him from a three-car lot on a patch of Texas dirt to a multi-make dealership empire that grossed billions of dollars and stretched from Southern California to Alaska. His old-time carnival flair built one of the most successful car dealerships west of the Mississippi.
Worthington was among the last of the television pitchmen who used something other than pictures to sell cars. He would outlive such figures as 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 served in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1942-1945. During his tour of duty, he earned the Air Medal (4 Oak Leaf Clusters) and the Distinguished Flying Cross. On September 8th, 2013 Mr. Worthington left this life peacefully on his ranch at the age of 92.
California State University would call on Worthington to be a guest speaker from time to time. He regaled them with stories of his dirt poor upbringing and military exploits. In one of his speeches, he said: “Every person is better at one thing than everyone else in the world, but few of us ever discover that one thing”. One thing Cal Worthington was good at was doing things big. The most humble beginnings can have the biggest results.