Sleeping on the job

Leo Burnett, the Chicago ad agency, had already spent years burnishing Maytag's reputation for reliability in print ads; when the washing machines began advertising on television starting in 1967, the agency created a personality every bit as distinctive, memorable and enduring as the agency's other characters, like Tony the Tiger and The PIllsbury Doughboy. In fact, this guy was a little doughy, too:

That's character actor Jesse White as the lonely sad sack indentified only as The Maytag Repairman.   Through a succession of TV spots and ads, "Ol' Lonely" waited in vain for the phone to ring, telling him he was needed to fix a broken Maytag.  

Jesse White got the part (beating out comic actor Phil Silvers, among others) and played the character until 1989, before relinquishing the role to a succession of actors since.  In recent years, with dependability becoming perceived as more of a parity quality among competing brands, Maytag has tweaked the character and scenarios in an attempt to remain relevant. (How successful were they? Do you remember any of the new commercials?)

But what was the inspiration behind the Original Maytag Repairman personna?  It's possible that Leo Burnett was just adapting a popular television stereotype, the Inaction Figure.   The character was present in a lot of shows back then, from the sittin' and whittlin' Jed Clampett on "The Beverly Hillbillies" to Floyd the Barber on the bench outside his shop on "The Andy Griffith Show."  But this man, a fixture (in both senses of the word) on a very popular TV show from 1963 to 1970, is the patron saint of apathy and listlessness:

That's Uncle Joe and (as always) he's a'movin' kind of slow.  Could the folks at Leo Burnett have based the Maytag Repairman in part on Edgar Buchanan's Uncle Joe of "Petticoat Junction"?

(Not that Uncle Joe was ever much at fixing anything, but still...)


Paul Duca said…
Actually, Floyd the barber became a character usually sitting and doing little, only after the actor who played him, Howard McNair, suffered a stroke during the second year of ANDY GRIFFITH.

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