Actor Dick Wilson, best known as grocer Mr. Whipple, always nervous about customers squeezing his Charmin toilet paper, died yesterday at the age of 91. Although best known for playing Mr. Whipple, Wilson's acting career spanned four decades and he was an accomplished character actor.
Wilson was born Riccardo DiGuglielmo on July 30. 1916, in England to an Italian father (a vaudeville performer) and an English mother (a singer). While Wilson was still a baby, his father moved the family to Hamilton, Ontario. Given his mother and father's careers, it was perhaps natural that Wilson was drawn to show business. As a teenager he worked at an Ontario radio station. He also was a member of the Whiz Bang Revue, a group which entertained local servicemen, and was active in local theatre. He attended the Ontario College of Art and Design. Following graduation he followed his mother and father in becoming a comic and dancer in vaudeville. With the onset of World War II he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and served as a fighter pilot. He took part in the Battle of Britain.
Following the war Wilson moved to the United States. It was here that he made his first appearance on the small screen, as one of the hosts of The Better Home Show in 1951. He made the first of many guest appearances on various TV shows as a woodsman in an episode of The Adventures of Jim Bowie in 1956. His first appearance on the big screen was an uncredited role as a jury foreman in The Tattered Dress. Throughout the late Fifties Wilson would appear in such shows as Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre, Seargeant Preston of the Yukon, Wagon Train, The Untouchables, and The Texan.
Arguably, however, the Sixties was Wilson's decade. He guest starred on such shows as Maverick, The Lawless Years, The Bob Cummings Show, The Virginian, The Twilight Zone, My Living Doll, My Favourite Martian, Get Smart, and I Dream of Jeannie. He was something of a regular on Bewitched, on which he always appeared as an unnamed drunk who always blames the amazing things he sees on his drunken state. He also had a recurring role on Hogan's Heroes as Captain Fritz Gruber. He appeared in the films Diary of a Madman, What a Way to Go, John Goldfarb, Please Come Home, and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.
It would be a job he got in 1964, however, that would gain Wilson everlasting fame. It was that year he was hired to play Mr. Whipple in a series of commercials for Charmin toilet paper. The adverts would feature customers in a grocery store eagerly squeezing the soft rolls of Charmin toilet paper, only to be chastened by cranky grocer Mr. Whipple with the words, "Please don't squeeze the Charmin." The kicker was that Mr. Whipple could not resist squeezing the Charmin himself. Wilson played Mr. Whipple in over 500 Charmin commercials, from 1964 to 1985. In 1999 Mr. Whipple came out of "retirement" as part of the promotion for a new Charmin line.
The Seventies would continue seeing Wilson playing Mr. Whipple and continue his many guest spots on TV shows. He appeared on The Partridge Family, Love American Style, McMillan and Wife, The Bob Newhart Show, and Alice. He also appeared in the film The World's Greatest Athelete. The Eighties saw Wilson's career slow down. He retired as Mr. Whipple in 1985 and made fewer guest appearances. He did appear in the films The Incredible Shrinking Woman and Get Out of My Room. His last on screen appearance (aside from Charmin adverts) was on an episode of Square One TV, where he played, fittingly, a grocer.
If there can be any doubt of Dick Wilson's talent as an actor, one need only look at his two best known roles--Mr. Whipple and the drunk on Bewitched. Mr. Whipple was uptight, fussy, and nervous, a character who took himself seriously. The drunk was a none too serious alcoholic who always swore to give up drinking when he saw one of Samantha's spells, but in the end never did. There could be two no more different characters, yet Wilson played them both convincingly. Although he was best known for playing Mr. Whipple (a role he did very well), Dick Wilson was capable of so much more.