Leslie Nielsen perfected the bumbling fool in TV commercials too

By T.L. Stanley on Tue Nov 30 2010

Surely you recall Leslie Nielsen's commercial career. (Insert worn-to-a-nub yet still somehow funny joke from Airplane here.) The beloved actor, who died Sunday at age 84 after starring for six decades in movies and TV, traded on the bumbling persona he perfected in the Naked Gun franchise and Airplane for a series of spots for Medicare.gov. They're fun to watch, if only to be reminded of his perfect mix of authoritarian straight man and goofy pratfall master. The star of dramas like Forbidden Planet and The Poseidon Adventure earlier in his career, Nielsen found his stride as a comedian in the '80s, which led to endorsements like Dutchtone. He'll surely be missed.

From 'Airplane' to Geico, Peter Graves was a master of deadpan

Posted on Tue Mar 16 2010

Sure, plenty of baby boomers knew Peter Graves best for Mission: Impossible, the long-running TV series about spies and spooks and such. But so many of us cherished him as the dry-quip-a-minute pilot, Capt. Clarence Oveur, in the Airplane flicks, the guy who couldn't keep his stream-of-consciousness questions to himself. That young passenger visiting the cockpit had no idea what hit him when Oveur asked, "Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?" and "Ever been in a Turkish prison?" Graves, who died in L.A. on Sunday at age 83, also lent some nonsensical gravitas to the Geico ad posted here, and since we feel compelled to dredge up every star's commercial turn when they die, here you go.

—Posted by T.L. Stanley

In a lifetime of selling, Ed McMahon never lost the magic touch

Posted on Tue Jun 23 2009

Ed McMahon, who died on Tuesday at age 86, may have been second banana all those years on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, but he was a full-fledged star in the shilling department. His early work for Budweiser included a politically suspect commercial where he and a baby-faced Frank Sinatra played cowboys roughed up by Indians (was that the dawning of the "Drinkability" message?) and one at the African-themed Busch Gardens, where tourists downed some of that beechwood-aged beer. (Alas, the '60s are long gone, and there's no brew at the Tampa park these days.) Toss in the Publishers Clearing House giveaways (you might've already won $10 million smackers!) and the recent FreeCreditReport raps and Super Bowl Cash4Gold spots (shown here), and you have a commerce-boosting career. With the latter ads, the debt-ridden McMahon joked about selling off his gold hip-replacement joint, proving that after decades of cracking up at his boss's jokes, he could also laugh at himself. Hey-yo!

—Posted by T.L. Stanley

James Whitmore, beloved pitchman for Miracle-Gro, dies at 87

Posted on Mon Feb 9 2009

It's been a rough year for celebrity spokesmen. First, Ricardo Montalban, one-time pitchman for the Chrysler Cordoba, passed away in January. Now, 87-year-old actor James Whitmore is gone as well.
  Though Whitmore had a varied career, starring in everything from Planet of the Apes to The Shawshank Redemption, many will remember him for his commercial work from 1982 until 2002 for Scotts Miracle-Gro plant food. Viewers will remember that Whitmore, an avid flower and vegetable gardener, usually shown in khaki pants and a tucked-in plaid shirt, brought a craggy intensity to the role. (His Miracle-Gro spots don't appear to be online; posted here is an ad he shot for FirstFreedomFirst.org.) Whitmore was eventually replaced by Peter Strauss, who was 55 at the time, while Whitmore was 80. To underscore the new, youthful spin on the brand, the ads began to feature the 1976 disco tune "I Believe in Miracles." As Mike Rogers, president and executive creative director at Wolf Group in New York at the time, told The New York Times: "Gardening is fun, gardening is cool, gardening is sexy."
  Perhaps that's true. In fact, it looks like Strauss may be the one to worry now, with this new, youthful competitor eyeing his job.

—Posted by Todd Wasserman



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