WORTHINGTON, CALVIN COOLIDGE (1920–2013).
At one time the most recognizable face in the retail automobile industry, Calvin Coolidge "Cal" Worthington entered the world on November 27, 1920, in Bly, near Foraker, Oklahoma, and spent his formative years there in semi-poverty. In 1917 his parents, Benjamin and Vidella Worthington, both natives of the Midwest, had moved their growing family to the north-central Oklahoma oil fields for work. Five of their nine children, including Cal, were born in the Sooner State, the last in 1926. The Worthingtons moved to Kilgore, Texas, circa 1933 during the Depression, and Cal quit school at age thirteen. When the United States entered World War II, he went into the U.S. Army Air Corps. A B-17 bomber pilot, he flew twenty-nine missions over Europe and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Returning to Texas after the war, Worthington purchased a gas station in Corpus Christi and sold used cars on the side. He soon moved to southern California and parlayed a scrap business into enough money to buy a car dealership in Long Beach. In the 1960s he owned the top-selling Dodge agency in the nation. He quickly learned to use the television medium to create an empire, and he sponsored a country-western music show, "Cal's Corral," often featuring Roger Miller, Buck Owens, and other stars.
In the 1970s he filmed and fronted his own advertising spots, which had a unique gimmick. Wearing a big, white Stetson hat and a flashy Western suit created by the famous Nudie Cohn, Worthington led an exotic animal around the car lot and announced, "I'm Cal Worthington, and this is my dog, Spot." "Spot" was variously a gorilla, an octopus, a lion, a rhinocerous, a camel, or another creature, and once was pro football's Deacon Jones, but never a dog. Other stunts included eating a live bug, wing-walking on an airplane, hanging upside down from an airplane wing, and doing a handstand on a car hood. He saturated the airwaves with a hundred commercial spots a day, and viewers learned by heart his ever-changing jingle, sung to the tune of "If you're Happy and You Know It": "If your axle is a-saggin', go see Cal/If you need a station wagon, go see Cal/If your wife has started naggin' and your tailpipe is a-draggin'/Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal." Cable television stations carried his ads in most of the larger cities in America.
Worthington was the model for Dodge's "good guys in white hats" advertising campaign. Eventually he owned or operated more than two dozen car dealerships and owned three shopping centers and eight ranches. A true cultural icon, he inspired advertising stunts by car dealers all around America, including Oklahoma City's Dodge dealer Lynn Hickey. Cal Worthington never retired, continuing to work as he approached age ninety. He died on his California ranch near Orland on September 8, 2013.
Bob Cox, My Dog Spot: The Cal Worthington Story (Pasadena, Calif: Arroyo Books, 1975).
Jerry Garrett, "He Changed His Spots, but Cal's Still the Car-Sales King," New York Times, 8 April 2007.
"'Go See Cal' Legend Dies," Beachcomber 21 (20 September 2013).
William Grimes, "Cal Worthington, Car Dealer with Manic Ads, Dies at 92," New York Times, 9 September 2013.
United States, Fourteenth Census, 1920, Armstrong Township, Nowata County, Oklahoma.
United States, Fifteenth Census, 1930, Shidler, Osage County, Oklahoma.
United States, Sixteenth Census, 1940, Kilgore, Gregg County, Texas.
The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Dianna Everett, “Worthington, Calvin Coolidge,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=WO028.
© Oklahoma Historical Society.