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The Surprising Lives of Famous Pitchmen: Charmin's "Mr. Whipple"

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Like many nosy grocers, Mr. Whipple had a life not many knew.

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It's hard to imagine a time when a mustachioed grocer with finicky store policies and a tendency to fondle was actually beloved by millions. But for more than 20 years, kindly old Mr. Whipple graced our television screens and magazine ads as the spokesperson for Charmin (PG) bathroom tissue.

In the TV spots, he would berate the female customers for irresistibly squeezing the Charmin packages -- pointing at a large sign and exclaiming, "Ladies, please! Don't squeeze the Charmin!" Surprisingly, his repeat customers shrugged and walked away without so much as a scowl.

But could you imagine being chewed out by a supermarket merchant for, of all things, squeezing a roll of tissue only to see that hypocrite do the very same thing moments later? What a creep!

Though somehow, actor Dick Wilson made it work. The ornery shopkeep charmed consumers and, by appearing in more than 500 commercials, Mr. Whipple is one of the most prolific and widely known celebrity pitchmen. However, not many people know the man behind the toilet paper.

Dick Wilson was born in Lancashire, England, in 1916. Four years later, his family moved to a city near Toronto, Canada. Wilson dabbled in radio in his teens and eventually became an acrobatic dancer in New York after serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II. By 1954, he moved to California to pursue a life of acting in TV and film.

For more than 30 years Wilson was immensely successful as a character actor. He's appeared in a gamut of classic sitcoms like McHale's Navy, I Dream of Jeannie, Get Smart, The Partridge Family, and had an ongoing role as a comical drunk in Bewitched. Years later, Wilson commented on his relative anonymity among viewers outside of the Charmin ads.

"I've done 38 pictures and nobody remembers any of them. But they all remember me selling toilet paper," he said.

But even so, the discrepancy had paid off in spades. According to Canada's Hamilton Spectator, Wilson was earning $300,000 per year and working a paltry 12 days per year. If that meant being typecast as a grocer with busy hands, so be it.

Although Wilson was reticent to get into the ad game, he never took his role for granted and soon respected the art. He once said, "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."

After his retirement in 1985, Wilson didn't think much of modern cinema or accept many roles -- aside from a stint on PBS kids favorite Square One TV as, yes, a grocer. He told the Associated Press, "The kind of pictures they're making today, I'll stick with toilet paper."

Wilson passed away in 2007 at the age of 91. Although his role as Mr. Whipple made him a household name for millions, his unsung work in TV and film entertained even more.

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