Actor Dick Wilson, R.I.P.
Actor Dick Wilson, who appeared in over seventy different films and television series between the mid-1950’s and 1987, passed away Monday, November 19, at age 91. His family plans a small private service in which Wilson’s remains will be wrapped in polyethylene plastic and squeezed gently into a casket.
Wilson was a familiar face in shows as diverse as “Bewitched,” “Hogan’s Heroes,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Fantasy Island,” and “Disneyland,” yet he became an American icon on the strength of his portrayal of Mr. Whipple, the obsessive-compulsive control freak grocer who seeks to prevent customers from squeezing the Charmin bathroom tissue, yet who cannot resist getting in a squeeze or two himself.
Mr. Whipple reportedly was ranked the third best-known American in a 1978 survey conducted by Charmin brandlords Procter & Gamble, right behind Richard Nixon and Billy Graham. I’m not sure whether that is more a testament to the character’s popularity coupled with the power of modern American merchandising, or an indictment of American popular culture.
Me, I hated Mr. Whipple. His hypocritical “do as I say, not as I do” attitude may have been played for laughs, but it rubbed me the wrong way. Perhaps I could see some of the eventual implications of that mindset becoming more acceptable in the broader society:
Mr. Whipple: “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin.”
George W. Bush: “Please don’t increase the Federal deficit.”
Jim Bakker: “Please don’t fuck the women you aren’t married to.”
Obnoxious as those ads were, however, they got the job done, creating indelible brand recognition. And you gotta feel for Dick Wilson, who (as Laurence Simon puts it) “will forever be associated with a product people wipe their asses with.”
And since the subject of abstergents - products people wipe their asses with - has occupied these Electronic Pages all too often, I needs must salute Dick Wilson.
Mr. Whipple’s job as wipesperson for Charmin bathroom tissue has long since been taken over by the Charmin Bears. All too easy, sez I: For some perverse reason, bears and bunwad form a natural mental association. Grocers, not so much. Yet that is a challenge that Dick Wilson surmounted...with his own inimitable style.
His body of work - over 500 television commercials - will ensure that his memory is never wiped away, that we shall always remember him as an actor flushed with success.
R.I.P.ple, Mr. Whipple. Bye-bye, Baron o’ Bunwad.