Sunday, June 28, 2009

Farewell, Billy!

Billy Mays died today.

For many, it's not a big deal, but for some of us, it marks yet another TV pitchman silenced. No, he didn't have the following that Farah had, in fact he was rather annoying. He didn't live as decadently as Michael did, but he was everywhere on our televisions.

Growing up in a small town South of Chicago in the 1950's, I came to enjoy the shrill pitchmen that graced local television. Sounds odd, but the fact that they were always there, and a bit comical to boot, was quite entertaining. Nearly every part of the country had there own "salesmen", pitching local products and businesses.

In the local Chicago market in those days, we were bombarded by the Bert Weiman commercials, featuring Lyn Burton. We learned that Bert was our TV Ford man, located at 3535.... NORTH;.... on Ashland Avenue. Every Saturday, he'd shill for Bert, in a dramatic voice, urging us to buy a new, or used car. Of course, we always got to see just one side of the car he was promoting, and had to assume the other side was there! Then there was Larry Goodman, for Goodman's Community Discount stores. The closest one to us at the time was up in Harvey Illinois, and when I got older, I had to go see one for myself. It was a total PIT, with things just thrown about by the shoppers. And who could forget Bushelle carpet cleaning (and I know I spelled it wrong) at HUDSON 3-TWO-SEVEN-HUNDRED! Or C.E.T. for television, at "Mowhawk 4-4100 Call for a free home demonstration" which featured a "Native American" and a pounding tom-tom beat, where they sold TV's using the unique "quarter meter bank" You put in a quarter to watch TV, and eventually paid for it.

Later, the ads got more savvy, such as the Long Chevrolet ads, featuring a young kid dressed as an old time paperboy named Timmy. He'd shriek "Extra. Extra, Read all About it!", and you wanted to just choke him! Of course, the pitchman that endured the longest was the "Empire Man" hawking Empire carpets at 588-2300; EMPIRE! I'll admit, we even succumbed to his pitch, and had Empire install a carpet in our old house.

TV pitchmen (and women) are an integral part of the viewing experience, whether we like it or not. They live on, no matter where you move to.
When we arrived in the Ozarks, we immediately discovered Stephanie, who hawks furniture for Furniture Factory Outlet, or a huge horse puppet who sells carpets for The Carpet Barn. Better yet, an (at least) million year old Robert Vaughn, "The Man From Uncle", shills for a local lawyer's office, urging us to "Call on the hurt line.......Right now!"
It's as much a part of Americana as anything out there. Love them, or hate them, they're with us 'til we turn the TV off.

So rest in peace, Billy, and I'm picking up some Oxi-Clean tomorrow when I go to town!

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