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Feature Stories

'Go See Cal' Legend Dies

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 19
9/20/2013


By Alison Keiser


Worthington Ford

Cal Worthington, a legend in the Western United States for his car dealership’s wild commercials, died September 8 at his Northern California home at the age of 92.

Calvin Coolidge “Cal” Worthington was born November 27, 1920, and named after newly elected Vice President, Calvin Coolidge.

Growing up one of nine children in a tiny, now obsolete town called Bly, Oklahoma, Worthington’s childhood was tough. “We were starving and barefooted,” Worthington told the Los Angeles Times in 2010. “I had a very awful childhood.”

Worthington enlisted in the United States Army in 1942 and began a career as a pilot. After flying 29 missions in Germany during World War II, Worthington left the army with the rank of Captain.

Though Worthington wanted nothing more than a career as a pilot, he discovered his natural talent was being a salesman. He found the auto dealership industry more lucrative than aviation.

After opening his first dealership in 1964 on Bellflower Blvd., Worthington was inspired by competitor Ralph Williams’ commercial co-starring Williams’ dog.

The series of “My Dog Spot” commercials made Worthington famous and infamous. The wild TV ads featured Worthington with “Spot” the dog as a tiger, gorilla, chimpanzee, bear, hippo, skunk, pig, cougar, snake, an elephant, octopus, but never actually a dog.

Worthington’s company had 29 dealerships throughout the west in the 1970s. Most were located in Southern California, Worthington regularly visited the other locations in six states. Most were sold decades ago, with Worthington’s name attached to the remaining four.

Being a local celebrity in Southern California, Worthington became a national celebrity. Worthington was frequently a guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and made cameo appearances in several films. There have also been countless parodies of the over-the-top salesman for decades.

Worthington was married and divorced four times. He is survived by his three sons, Calvin Jr., Coldren, and Rod; his three daughters Barbara, Courtney, and Susan; as well as nine grandchildren.

alison@longbeachcomber.com