Dick Wilson, the character actor and pitchman who for 21 years played an uptight grocer begging customers “Please, don’t squeeze the Charmin,” died of natural causes Monday in Woodland Hills, Calif. He was 91.
“He is part of the culture. He was still funny to the very end. That’s his legacy,” said his daughter, actress Melanie Wilsnon.
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 squeezer.
The first commercial aired in 1964 and by the time the campaign ended in 1985 the tag line and Wilson, a former Canadian airman and vaudeville veteran, were pop culture touchstones.
“Everybody says, ‘Where did they find you?’ I say I was never lost. I’ve been an actor for 55 years,” Wilson told the San Francisco Examiner in 1985.
Though Wilson said he initially resisted commercial work, he learned to appreciate its nuance.
“It’s the hardest thing to do in the entire acting realm. You’ve got 24 seconds to introduce yourself, introduce the product, say something nice about it and get off gracefully.”
Dennis Legault, Procter & Gamble’s Charmin brand manager, said in a statement that Wilson deserves much of the credit for Charmin’s success in the marketplace.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that the Mr. Whipple character, which Dick Wilson portrayed for so many years, is one of the most recognizable faces in the history of American advertising,” Legault said.
During his run as Mr. Whipple, Wilson also performed on the dinner theater circuit, shot occasional standup comedy shows and worked on dozens of TV sitcoms. He played the drunk on several episodes of “Bewitched,” and appeared as various characters on “Hogan’s Heroes,” ”The Bob Newport Show,” and Walt Disney productions.
After Whipple retired in 1985, he continued to do occasional guest appearances for the brand and act on television.
Procter & Gamble eventually replaced the Whipple ads with cartoon bears, but brought Wilson (as Whipple) back for an encore in 1999. The single ad showed Wilson “coming out of retirement” against the advice of his golfing and poker buddies for one more chance to sell a new, more pillowy Charmin.
Born in England, Wilson moved to Canada as a child. His father starred in a vaudeville minstrel show and his mother was a singer. He served in the Canadian Air Force during World War II and became a U.S. citizen in 1954.
Wilson is survived by his wife Meg, son Stuart, and daughters Wendy and Melanie.