Take It Off, Take It All Off!
By Tom Nussbaum
I fell in love with her in 1970. She was scurrying about her kitchen, wearing matching running shorts and a tank top. Two small children flitted around her legs. It was obvious she was married, but I fell in love with her anyway. It was OK, though. I was supposed to.
It was a television commercial and the woman was selling Hour After Hour deodorant. She had a smile that giggled and a voice like sunshine wrapped in pink cotton candy. Six or seven years later, when the actress in that commercial, the woman I had fallen in love with, was touted for Oscar nominations for her performances in both Annie Hall, for which she won, and Looking for Mr. Goodbar, I learned her name was Diane Keaton.
When I first saw that deodorant commercial, Keaton was a struggling young actress hoping for the break that would catapult her into stardom and financial security. And that thirty-second ad propelled her toward her dream. Keaton, however, was not alone. Other unknown actors and models, too, found fame after being cast in commercials that captured their uniqueness and turned their name or their character’s name into household words.
Farrah Fawcett was seen in a plethora of 1970s commercials before she became one of Charlie’s Angels and ultimately a gifted, Emmy winning actress. Virginia Christine and Dick Wilson were successful working actors, but unrecognized by the public until they became the Folgers’ coffee-hawking Mrs. Olson and the charming Charmin pusher, Mr. Whipple. Clara Peller found late-in-life fame grunting, “Where’s the beef?” and turned a simple line into an unforgettable catch phrase. And there was the European beauty unknown to American audiences: Swedish model Gunilla Knutson purred the double-entendre, “Take it off. Take it all off.” to sell Noxzema shaving crème to a nation of fantasizing men.
All these commercials were created by imaginative advertising agencies who opted to make memorable commercials with unique people and not rely on familiar, attractive, popular celebrities in cliché commercials to get the viewers’ attention. They opted to take a risk and follow the more uncertain fork in the road. Today, in the tradition of Mrs. Olson, Mr. Whipple, and Clara Peller, we have Flo selling Progressive Insurance. While I at times find her to be rather annoying, I do remember the name of the product and can see that actress Stephanie Courtney is quite talented. And she has found success, fame, and financial security.
But Flo is the rarity today and that brings me to my point. While there are many things about television today I find irritating, my TV pet peeve is the glut of identifiable, glamorous, wealthy, well-liked celebrities earning huge paychecks for making commercials struggling actors could use to launch their careers. Why is Jennifer Aniston the spokesperson for Aveeno when there are countless beautiful, talented unknown actresses who could use the gig? Does Aniston need the money? Certainly not! The contracts she had for Friends and the residuals for the syndicated reruns have made her set for life.
Does Matthew McConaughey really needs to sell Lincolns? Surely there is a comparable unknown actor with a unique quality and mellifluous voice who could close the deal. Is it necessary for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who has more Emmys than Old Navy has stores, to shill for them? And what about Diane Keaton? Oh, I still love her, but does she need to represent L’Oreal on television? Has she forgotten how excited she was when she was cast in that Hour After Hour commercial? Couldn’t she pass that thrill on to an unknown actress, like she was in 1970, a starlet with a special smile and a one-of-a-kind voice.
To paraphrase Gunilla Knutson, I ask, why don’t advertisers and ad agencies take them off, take them all off the casting lists for commercials–all those A-list celebrities– and replace them with struggling, quirky, talented, attractive unknown actors and give them a chance to be the next generation of A-list celebrities?