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Don't Fear The Reaper, Don't Squeeze the Charmin

In a turbulent time, he was a voice of reason. When permissiveness ran wild in the streets, he took on the role of the stern father figure, ready to impose some order in our hurly-burly lives. After years of raging id, he burst onto the scene -- our walking, talking superego, come to lay down the law and kick a few rears in the process.

He didn't beg for your respect, and he didn't need your approval. He just went about his business with the expectation that you would do the same. "Follow my lead," he seemed to say, "and things will work out fine. Strike out on your own, and you take your chances." And when he was done, making you a better person in spite of yourself, he didn't even want your thanks. All he asked for was one, simple request.

Hey. Don't squeeze the Charmin.

Yes, Dick "Mr. Whipple" Wilson was more than just a product pitchman. From 1964 to late 1980s, he was the voice of reason. Mr. Whipple wasn't just about selling toilet paper -- though he did do plenty of that. He was a throwback to an earlier time, a time where order reigned and we had faith in our social institutions and the one person we never crossed was our friendly neighborhood grocer.

And the people responded. In a 1978 poll, Mr. Whipple was the third best-known American, right behind Richard Nixon and the Rev. Billy Graham. No word on whether Jimmy Carter demanded a recount.

Mr. Whipple vanished from the airwaves in the early '90s, and with him went the common ideals and simple virtues that we had taken for granted in a Whipple-rich America. Hairstyles became wild and unkempt. Children sassed back to their parents. Madonna released several albums, several of which contained suggestive lyrics.

We turned our back on Mr. Whipple. And because of that, we lost our way.

Little wonder, then, that with apprehension and uncertainty surrounding the end of the century, Procter & Gamble has brought Mr. Whipple out of retirement. A series of ads have begun airing on television where the aging grocer ends his exile, ostensibly to promote the new squeezably soft Charmin. But forgive us if we think Mr. Whipple is hawking something else: A better tomorrow. A return to values. The kind of a place where people don't just run around randomly squeezing toilet paper rolls they have no intention of buying.

Our Philip Michaels recently caught up with Mr. Whipple for drinks at Trader Vic's. Over mai tais, they talked late into the night, telling tales of Hollywood's golden days and laughing over past remembrances.

At least that's what Michaels claims. We have our doubts.


Mr. Whipple, back in our homes and our hearts after so many years. Tell me, what have you been doing with yourself since the last time you admonished shoppers not to squeeze the Charmin.

A lot of travel. And some projects around the house. I was El Guapo in the touring company of "The Fantastiks." And, of course, I spent a good deal of time cursing the names of those jackasses at Procter & Gamble who fired me.

Surprised to be back?

Frankly, yes. I mean, I'm born to be Mr. Whipple, but in the back of my mind, I was afraid they'd go for a younger actor.

Such as?

Well, Jm J. Bullock. I'm a big fan of his work. And I hear that Nic Cage was up for the role.


Why do you think the people came that came into your store were always trying to squeeze the Charmin?

I don't know. Bad manners, I guess. Look at it from my perspective. I'm there in the store spending two, three hours getting the displays just right, stacking the Charmin in just the right way. Presentation is a very important part of retail. So after hours of doing that, how am I repaid? By having some housewife from New Rochelle come in and put a headlock on the Charmin like she's goddamn Haystacks Calhoun.

Did you ever have to get physical?

No. I'm pretty physically imposing when I want to be. And I've got a price gun. People back off when they see the price gun.

This squeezing the Charmin business, sounds like it made you pretty mad.

Yeah. Pretty mad.

Mad enough to kill?

Oh, God no. I take a very philosophical approach to this. Wasn't it Sun Tzu who said, "Be able to concentrate strength decisively, anticipate the enemy, and annihilate the adversary -- that is all?"


Sun Tzu. The Art of War.

I'm really not that well read. What else has he done?


Does it bug you, not having your face on the product?

What do you mean?

Your face. I mean, you've sold a lot of Charmin over the years, and instead of your face on the wrapper, the Charmin folks have always put a baby. Does that bug you?

Not really.


Makes perfect sense really. I mean, would you want a product with my face on it anywhere near your ass?

Good point.


Which brand of toilet paper is best if you're going to go out and T.P. a home?

How in the hell would I know a thing like that?

Well, I thought since you know an awful lot about Charmin, I could maybe pick your...

Can I ask you a question? Why are we just talking about Charmin here?

It's just that a lot of people think of you whe...

Because I've done other work. You know that, right? That I've done other work?

Um, well, no actually. I wasn't aware.

I was on McHale's Navy. I had a recurring role on Bewitched. Small & Frye, too... did you catch me on that one?

No. Never heard of it, actually.

Two detectives. One of them could shrink down to just six inches.

Well. That sounds interesting enough.

It had script problems from day one. I played a drunk.

It's just not ringing a bell.

Ah. Well, no big deal.

Oh, wait! I did see you in something. The old Lucy show, right? You played Mr. Mooney.

That was Gale Gordon, for crying out loud. You're getting me confused with him?

Sorry. You look a lot alike.

Christ, don't you people do any research?


Word association time. I'm going to mention a few names. I want you to say the first thing that comes into your head. OK? Morris The Cat.


Toucan Sam.

The Trix Rabbit.

Interesting. Mr. Clean.

Big bald jackass.


The broad who sold Palmolive?


I have no beef with her.

Charlie Tuna.

A good man. A little bit out of whack because of that whole Starkist dispute. But a good, decent man.

Ronald McDonald.


Jolly Green Gi... What?

Gay. I'm not making a value judgment here. It's a simple statement of fact. The guy likes men. Does that make you uncomfortable?

No. It's just that... well, I had no idea.

It's not like it's a state secret or anything.

So does that mean, like, him and Grimace...

Oh, now you're just being juvenile.


What do you think your legacy will be?

My what?

Your legacy. When you die...

Wait a minute. I'm in perfect health here.

I'm not saying you aren't.

No, you're just saying I'm going to die. Who have you been talking to? The studio? My doctor? What have they told you?

Nothing, nothing. I'm talking hypothetically here. I'm saying if you were to... um... pass on...

Oh, God, my heart...

Er, as unlikely as that may be, what do you think people will remember you for?

Oh. Geez. The Charmin commercials, I guess. They're pretty popular from what I hear. But if I could pick, I wish it would be the stuff I did on McHale's Navy. I did some real top-flight work there.

McHale's Navy?


And not the fine work you did on the old "Lucy" program?

OK, it's time for you to go now.


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