Mr. Whipple? Not Mr. Whipple!

>> Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mr. Whipple is dead. Or, to be more precise, Dick Wilson, who portrayed Mr. Whipple in several million television commercials for Charmin™ toilet paper, has passed away. (True fact: the first TV commercial for Charmin™ toilet paper aired during the very first television broadcast on June 13, 1872, immediately before President Ulysses S. Grant gave the first televised Presidential speech in American history! The President was even sober for this momentous occasion, at considerable personal sacrifice!)

The essentially surreal nature of the Charmin™ campaign is captured, I think, in this comment from Associated Press:

Wilson made more than 500 commercials as Mr. George Whipple, a man consumed with keeping bubbly housewives from fondling toilet paper. The punch line of most spots was that Whipple himself was a closeted Charmin-squeezer.

Think about it: what traumatic event in Mr. George Whipple's life led to his undeniable obsession--no, paranoia--with preventing the "fondling" of a consumer paper product intended to clean the nether regions of offending residues? Or was he merely a concerned retailer, worried that over-excited housewives might somehow damage the toilet paper rolls inside the plastic packaging? Perhaps at some point, early in his career, an angry customer returned to his store demanding a partial refund because the Charmin™ rolls she purchased earlier in the day would not properly unspool when placed on the roller beside the toilet. Concerned, Mr. Whipple returned the woman her money, but then began to research the problem. After much thought, having gone through piles of legal pads and scores of pens, he came upon a testable hypothesis: what if the spooling problem was caused by lopsided cardboard cores at the centers of the toilet paper rolls? But what could cause that? He must have made a personal visit to the Charmin™ factory, assuring himself that it wasn't a manufacturing problem. From there, he rode in the delivery trucks, satisfying himself that the men who delivered Charmin™ from the factory to the store exercised the greatest diligence and caution imaginable. So, at last, he reluctantly set up a blind near the Charmin™ display--only to discover that many of his own customers squeezed the Charmin™! (Customers? No doubt some of the miscreants came into his store and squeezed the Charmin™ without even making a purchase! Not even a pack of gum!)

But there was more to Mr. Wilson than Mr. Whipple, evidently. A scroll down his IMDB page reveals that he played an insurance adjuster in the classic Twilight Zone episode "Escape Clause." I would love, at this point in the blog entry, to include a YouTube or Google Video link to the episode--it really is a good one. But the most you can find on either site is a two-minute clip, and while it's an entertaining clip, it's doesn't have Mr. Wilson in it, so what's the point of sharing it here? (A third site had the whole episode at some point, but pulled it when someone--Viacom, presumably--sent them angry law-talking letters. Not to begrudge Carol Serling or the Serling kids anything, but it's a fifty year-old TV episode we're talking about here. And I suspect they don't see a whole lot from it anyway, once Viacom takes its piece out.)

So, I suppose you'll just have to remember Mr. Wilson as Mr. Whipple, and have to think uneasy thoughts about the latter's toilet paper fetish. Did the fictional character ever bleed into the actor's life, one wonders? Did Mr. Wilson stand alone in his bathroom sometimes, squeezing the Charmin™, only to remind himself with a start that he was Dick Wilson, not George Whipple?

I guess it's too late to ask him.


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