By Brian Roulston
Toilet paper: it’s not something we think about every day, yet we use it daily. Most of us don’t make a career out of selling it either.
Dick Wilson did just that. He was born in Lancashire, England on July 30,1916. His family moved to Hamilton later that year and they lived in the Corktown District of Hamilton. His Father Randolf was a vaudeville performer, his mother Veronica a singer. We remember Dick Wilson today as that lovable store clerk Mr.Whipple: “Please, Don’t Squeeze the Charmin!!!”.
Dick attended Queen Victoria Public School and Sacred Hearts Public School. Like so many young boys he even had a Hamilton Spectator route and got his start in showbiz at CHML radio when he was just 15 years old.
Dick attended and graduated from the Ontario College of Art & Design in Toronto where he studied sculpture. Afterwards, he became a comic dancer in vaudeville and taught himself how to fly. Then he took a job as a bush pilot flying mining supplies to camps in the Canadian North. His flight experience in turn led him to military flight training where he was enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air-Force and flew as a bomber pilot during W.W-II. After serving in the air force Dick moved to the U.S and became an American citizen. For a brief time he was an acrobatic dancer in New York then headed to Hollywood, California in 1954 to pursue a film and television career.
While waiting in the doctors’ office, Wilson met his future wife Meg. They were both there to get their immunization shots before heading to Korea on an ISO Christmas tour. Meg was an actress who had two show credits, one being on The Ed Sullivan Show and the other The Eddy Cantor Show. Two weeks later while in Korea he a told her he was going to marry her. She basically told him to back off but he didn’t. A year later they were married for a lifetime, a rarity in Hollywood.
Just after their first child, Meg appeared in My Fair Lady for Warner Bros, The Andy Griffith Show and Wives & Lovers. Meg then put her career on the back burner to raise her family. Dick and Meg Wilson had 3 children, 2 daughters Melanie and Wendy and one son Stuart. Melanie Wilson is an actress best known for her costaring role as Jennifer Lyons-Appleton in Perfect Strangers. She also appeared on the A-Team, Simon & Simon, Family Matters and Step by Step. His son Stuart is a Stunt co-coordinator, a physical trainer, teaches martial arts and boxing in the L.A area. Stuart also did a bit of acting, but no creditable roles.
Dick made multiple appearances as a character actor in every major television show during the 1950’s, 60’s and into the 70’s. Programs such as Bewitched, Adam-12, Get Smart, Petticoat Junction, Bob Newhart, Hogan’s Heroes, I Dream of Jeannie and Fantasy Island to name a few. He also did movies, The Shakiest Gun in the West with Don Knotts (1968) and Get Out of my Room with Cheech and Chong (1985).In all he made 37 movies, 9 Broadway appearances in addition to his television appearances. Unfortunately, no one really remembered him in those rolls.
Dick then went to a casting call like so many actors do. This time it was for the Charmin Toilet Tissue role. At the time Dick thought it would be a one-time deal. However, after 10 months Proctor & Gamble signed him on for another year. Then 5 more years, after that another 5 years. Mr.Whipple appeared on the small screen for the next 25 years. The original series of commercials 504 in all, put Dick Wilson in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest running TV commercial.
At first the Charmin people wanted a gruff Mr.Whipple. But he couldn’t play it like that. So, over the years he honed Mr.Whipple using his flexible face to show exasperation, frustration and embarrassment where he ultimately created the lovable, endearing character in which television audiences around the world loved. He had Whipplenism!!
Mr.Whipple was so well known in the mid 1970’s that he was the third most identifiable American behind then U.S President Richard Nixon and the Rev. Billy Graham. He also made Charmin toilet tissue the number one most identifiable brand in America. He was so popular people were stealing the Mr.Whipple display posters right out of the stores. However, like many famous actors he became stereotyped, too closely identified to his character as Mr.Whipple, it all but wiped out his acting career. Dick didn’t complain though, it allowed him and his wife to raise their family in financial security. Plus, they got a lifetime supply of toilet paper every month, which probably came in handy.
In 1989 ad executives for Charmin decided to try alternative advertising ideas, such as playful kittens and cartoons. However, these ideas never achieved the popularity of Mr.Whipple. Dick Wilson and his wife then moved to Henderson, Nevada(Southeast of Las Vegas) where he worked as an accomplished artist, taught acting, performed some of his old vaudeville acts in seniors homes throughout the valley as well as charitable work. He also made personal appearances across the country as Mr.Whipple.
Dick Wilson eventually had to give up artistry due to failing eyesight as a result of an accident , on a gusty windy day in Los Angeles while entering a hotel the wind caught the door and he went with it. While doctors where trying to relieve the pressure in his brain he suffered two small strokes.
In 1999 Dick was 82 years old. Proctor & Gamble came knocking again and asked him to reprise his role as Mr.Whipple and do another series of commercials. He did it for another year and at 83 he felt he could no longer do the commercials and was hoping that his son Stuart could pick up where he left off as he looked just like him. They actually used him in a couple scenes during the last run. However, Proctor & Gamble never carried on.
Dick passed away in the hospital with his family at his side of natural causes. He was 93 years old.