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10 iconic TV commercial characters

Some actors have made a healthy living portraying venerable TV commercial characters hawking household products, snacks and beer -- in some cases it is their most identifiable role.

Click through this gallery to watch commercials featuring 10 of the most iconic characters who appeared on TV screens, and the actors who made them immortal.


"Mr. Whipple" for Charmin bathroom tissue

Yes, supermarket store manager Mr. Whipple was a hypocrite -- castigating ladies who squeezed his stock of bathroom tissue, only to sneak in some squeezes of his own when he thought no one was looking.

Before the Charmin campaign launched in 1964, British-born character actor Dick Wilson appeared in such TV series as "Wagon Train," "The Untouchables," "The Twilight Zone" and "McHale's Navy," and later in the Don Knotts comedy "The Shakiest Gun in the West." Wilson starred in hundreds of Charmin commercials in a span of more than two decades. (Some ads featured a stockboy, Jimmy, played by Adam Savage, a future co-host of "Mythbusters.") In the '90s, Mr. Whipple came out of retirement -- he just could not keep his hands off that squeezably soft toilet paper.

Wilson died in 2007 at age 91.

"Josephine the Plumber" for Comet cleanser

Former child actress Jane Withers' film credits included "The Farmer Takes a Wife" and the Gene Autry western, "Shooting High." But she is most remembered for her role of Josephine the Plumber, who began telling people in the 1960s how to best clean stubborn stains in their sink -- with Comet cleanser. In style and temperament, Josephine can be seen today in the character of Flo, the Progressive Insurance Saleswoman.

This commercial co-stars Robbie Benson, who would grow up to become the voice of the Beast in the Disney animated musical, "Beauty and the Beast."

"Madge the Manicurist" for Palmolive

Jan Miner was a radio actress (she played Perry Mason's secretary, Della Street), who for 27 years portrayed Madge the Manicurist, who alarmed her customers by informing them that she was subjecting their long-suffering hands to soakings in dishwashing liquid -- but not just any dishwashing liquid!

When she wasn't fooling women about their hands, she played Dustin Hoffman's mother in the Lenny Bruce biopic "Lenny," and was featured in "The Swimmer," "Willie & Phil" and "Mermaids." On stage she appeared in plays by Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw and Eugene O'Neill. Miner died in 2004.

"Mother Nature" for Chiffon margarine

During the 1970s Dena Dietrich portrayed Mother Nature, who lets loose whenever she's informed the sweet, creamy spread she's enjoying is not butter, but something unnatural -- margarine!

Dietrich also appeared in the TV series "Karen," "The Practice," "The Ropers," "Santa Barara," and "Philly."

"Juan Valdez" for Colombia Coffee Growers

Since 1958, the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia has used a fictional coffee grower, Juan Valdez, to distinguish their coffee from beans grown in other lands. Among the actors to portray Valdez was Carlos Sanchez (an artist and former coffee grower), who starred in commercials from 1969 to 2006. After Sanchez's retirement, Carlos Castañeda was named the new Juan Valdez.

"Motormouth" for Federal Express

He set the Guinness World Record for fastest-talking human (120 words a minute) at age 12! John "Motormouth" Moschitta, Jr. turned his gift for rapid-fire speech into an award-winning turn as a business executive who has no time to waste -- especially when it comes to overnight deliveries.

Moschitta also voiced the robot Blurr in the "Transformers" cartoon series.

"Maytag Repairman"

Jesse White, a character actor who appeared in the films "Death of a Salesman," "Million Dollar Mermaid," 'The Bad Seed," and "Marjorie Morningstar," introduced the Maytag Repairman, the "loneliest guy in town," in a long-running series of commercials for the washing machine company.

White was succeeded by Gordon Jump, formerly of the sitcom "WKRP in Cincinnati."

"Fred the Baker" for Dunkin' Donuts

"Time to make the donuts" is one of the most famous of TV commercial catch-phrases, thanks to the performance of Michael Vale ("3-2-1- Contact") as Fred the Baker for Dunkin' Donuts. From 1981 to 1997, Fred would get up before the crack of dawn to get those donuts done.

When the character was retired, Fred got a proper send-off celebration, with a free donut given to every Dunkin' Donuts customer in America. Six million donuts were said to have been handed out.

"Where's the Beef Lady" for Wendy's

Clara Peller actually flubbed her line (it was supposed to be "Where's all the beef?" when she examines a suspiciously small burger on a very large bun), but her reading of "Where's the beef?" became a popular phrase beyond the world of fast food chains.

The 82-year-old's newborn notoriety would lead her to appearances on "Saturday Night Live," "Amazing Stories," and the film "The Stuff." Peller even cut a record, "Where's the Beef?" by Nashville songwriter Coyote McCloud.

She died in 1987, at age 85.

"The Most Interesting Man in the World" for Dos Equis

Beginning in 2006, Dos Equis ads featured Jonathan Goldsmith as the debonair "Most Interesting Man in the World" -- a Hemingwayesque adventurer who succeeds at life on every single level, and then some, by living it in the most interesting way possible. By selling a lifestyle ideal rather than the brew itself, the ads would put all non-Dos Equis-drinking men to shame.

Goldsmith was a character actor on TV and films whose biggest claim to fame had been being shot in the head by John Wayne in "The Shootist." (Now THAT'S interesting!) But The Most Interesting Man in the World would bring him worldwide renown.

Dos Equis recently retired the character, with one last "most interesting" ad, in which he is rocketed on a one-way trip to Mars.

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