Stories and insight in the world of showbiz and beyond.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

SMART BEFORE MY TIME


I saw an ad the other day for the new “Smart” car. It reminded me that I had a life BEFORE I became “Lloyd Thaxton.”

My Hollywood career actually began pitching used cars on TV. The above picture might have been me doing one of my commercials …

“This car has been designed as the car of the future with many "smart" features that address today's crowded urban traffic and rising energy prices. Don't be fooled by its charming, futuristic look, the SMART will surprise you with its handling, its stylish, roomy interior for 2 passengers, and its innovative design.”

Actually, this advertising copy is not a 1957 TV commercial. It is from a recent press release for the brand new 2006 “Smart Car.”

The picture was actually taken in 1957 and shows me as the proud owner of my very own brand new 1957 BMW Isetta. Proof that I was truly a very “smart” person, way ahead of his time.

1957 was also the year I arrived in LA. After seven years, I had quit my announcing job at hometown TV station WSPD in Toledo, Ohio, packed up my 1957 Oldsmobile with all my possessions, including a wife and three kids, joined a contingent of millions of other Horace Greeley young men before me, and went west..

“Oh I'm packin' my grip and I'm leavin' today,
cause I'm taking a trip California way
I'm gonna settle down and never more roam,
and make the San Fernando Valley my home.”

Before I left Toledo I had devised my own unique job search criteria. My plan was to not ever think of myself as being unemployed. There is a job classification called “Head Hunter.” These are people who search for other people to head companies, i.e., CEOs, managers, etc. Taking the lead from that, I designated myself as a “Job Hunter.” My job would be “to find a job.”

Once in California, I got up each morning, put on my skinny suit and tie, had breakfast, kissed the wife and kiddies goodbye, and headed for Hollywood. At the time, there was only one Freeway to Hollywood and it ended right at the Hollywood city line. So, the trek was 15 miles of city streets each way. But, hey, I had a job to go to.

My office was a bank of pay phones adjacent to the lavatories in the basement lobby of a hotel next door to the Broadway Department Store on the corner of Hollywood & Vine. Couldn’t be a more “Hollywood” office than that. With a pocket full of nickels (Nickels?), I spent the day calling various advertising agencies, radio and TV stations and the production offices of the big three networks. My goal was to set up appointments and give my job pitch.

What has all this got to do with the smart-looking car in the picture? Well, I had to consider this about my “Job Hunter” job. It paid NOTHING. And, though gas was only about 28 cents a gallon in 1957, my Oldsmobile was the Hummer of its time regarding gas consumption. I knew that, just like today, the price of gasoline could be my Achilles’ heel.

That is when I saw the ad for the BMW Isetta. “50 miles to the gallon” it touted. That meant I could go more than five times as far as with my faithful Olds guzzler. I became the first person in my neighborhood (possibly in the entire Valley) to own the car of the future.

Every morning I opened the front door of my house and entered the front door of my car (yes, the Isetta did have a front door) and headed for my “office.”

I loved that car. It not only saved me a bundle in travel expenses, it was responsible for my first laughs from California audiences - my neighbors and my fellow commuters on the Hollywood Freeway.

Speaking of that, the top speed of the Isetta created a slight problem. The Freeway speed limit was 60 mph. The Isetta speed limit was also 60mph. Most cars companies like to advertise their “0 to 60 in 15 seconds” statistics. With the Isetta it was “0 to 60 in 15 MINUTES.

Here’s my worse case scenario: There was this one stretch of the Hollywood Freeway that I would always dread. It had about a one-mile long 30-degree dip that went back up a 30-degree incline before it leveled off again. In order to keep up with the traffic, I had to really push it to the limit on the downward dip in order to keep it going with the traffic on the up-hill climb. Going home one evening I pushed it up to about 70 mph going down hill. “Woweeeeeeee,” I yelled as the little Isetta’s engine screamed and the car’s skin buffeted like the space shuttle re-entering earth’s atmosphere.

And then all hell broke. In the middle of all this shattering cacophony of sound and fury, an eerily loud and very ominous bang was heard somewhere in the subterranean bowels of my noble craft after which everything suddenly grew quiet as a cemetery. I coasted to the sidelines in disgrace.

A quick inspection revealed that the transmission had been blown completely out of the bottom of the car and nuts, bolts and gears were all laid out neatly behind. Even though I can laugh today every time I think of it, it was quite humiliating at the time to sit there and watch the rest of the world go by in their supped up gas guzzlers.

But, there’s the happy ending to this story. The last laugh, you might say. My tiny car’s equally tiny transmission cost me just 59 dollars and change (paid for and installed) and I was on the road again. Proof that everything in life is relative.

Besides, my “job hunting” job paid off and I ended up doing car commercials for the next year (for pretty good money). I continued using my little smart looking car until I had put aside enough funds to purchase a brand new all-white Ford Thunderbird Convertible with white and red leather seats (I did mention “pretty good money,” didn’t I?).

I have to think that it was my love for my little Isetta that made me so convincing and successful at selling cars on TV. So good, as a matter of fact, that I was later able to sell myself as a TV dance show host.

There is a line in Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks’s famous “2000-Year Old Man” routine. Mel, as the old man, is asked what his job was 2000 years ago. His answer, “Hitting a tree with a stick.” “Hitting a tree with a stick? What kind of a job is that?” asks Carl Reiner. “Hey! 2000 years ago, hitting a tree with a stick was a good job.”

50 years ago, “Job Hunting” was a good job; especially if you happen to have had a smart little car like mine.


Stay tuned.

9 Comments:

Blogger Gary said...

That is the ugliest, funniest looking car I have EVER seen......I WISH I HAD ONE! With the price of gas nowadays that would be perfect. Didn't go past 60? SO WHAT! Only seats two? SO WHAT! Lloyd Thaxton owned one? SO WHAT! One question.....did it have a radio? GOTTA have a radio in it for distance driving.
Gary

5:00 PM

 
Blogger Gaylel said...

Same here, Gary---I saw one of those recently about a couple of years ago...

I was wondering too about that car, Uncle Lloyd--but at least that car served that purpose in that era. But I agree with our freind Gary that this vehicle would be perfect given the gas prices--$3.00 a gallon-that's a tragegy..

--Gayle

5:10 PM

 
Blogger EV Rider said...

Once upon a time, gasoline cost less than 30 cents a gallon and BIG American V8's dominated the roads and freeways ...and because our society was in a hurry to get where they were going, we needed big fast cars that held a lot of fuel in their gigantic gas tanks. So where exactly were we going so fast and in such a hurry? No one knew for sure, but it was sure that progress drove the wheels, along with cheap gas, which society has depended on for over 100 years.

Now that the cost of fuel has risen considerably, the smartest thing any driver can do is to find a way forward that won't cost the earth. Smart cars are in.

If you'd like to find out how easy it is to build an electric car to address your gas-guzzling ways (and save your dough-ray-me), please visit Village Energy -> http://www.pleiades-enterprises.com and read about the Commuter Conversion Electric Car Class in Little San Diego (San Dieguito).

While you're at it, find out where to see the new film documentary, 'Who Killed the Electric Car?'.

With the end of fossil fuels in sight, the race to save the planet is on - From Nicola Tesla to cold fusion, magnetic motors to anti-gravity - Future Power - Where will it come from? - Energy conservation can stave off the day of reckoning, but in the end you can't conserve what you don't have. The answers are out there. But they all require one more thing of us humans who huddle around the fossil fuel fire: We're going to have to make a big leap—toward a different kind of world.

--EV Rider

5:55 AM

 
Blogger Lloyd Thaxton said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:16 AM

 
Blogger Lloyd Thaxton said...

I must pass this along. It's from my comedy writer friend Howard Albrecht regarding my Isetta. He IS good.

"I remember that car. I loved it. Especially the nice little leather case it came in.
You could put one on each foot and skate to work.
And when it got dirty, forget about car washes. You could take it into the
shower with you.
I think the Italians had there own version of the car. Only problem was,
with their's whenever you changed the oil you had to change the vinegar."

Thanks Howard. I needed that.

9:21 AM

 
Anonymous Dana said...

How long (how many transmissions later) did you keep that little Isetta, Lloyd? Assuming it's not neatly wrapped in hermetically sealed shrink wrap in your garage ... maybe it's still alive and well! I'm headed to Hot August Nights in Reno, NV in August, maybe I'll see it at the "Cool Car Show" or parading at one of the "Cruise" nights.

5:33 PM

 
Blogger Smart_AJ said...

The Smart Cars are already available in the US from ZAP www.zapworld.com ZP (NYSE). A California based company who is also planning on brining a Brazilian made car to the US, the Obvio! 828, that is a hybrid that can run on any combination of ethanol and gas. Zap is also the only car company who is selling a Chinese manufactured car in the US the 100% electric Xebra city car.

3:58 PM

 
Blogger Man From Yesterday said...

I always wondered about your behind the scenes transition ."Fight Back" was perfect for its time and very popular.

Before joining KNBC in 1966, David Horowitz was the public affairs director for WMCA, New York which at the time, was on top of the New York ratings.

David was in the middle of an exciting time for pop music and WMCA was ground zero for the Beatles, Stones and everything else between 1964 and 1966.

It's no wonder you worked well together.

Ask David about his "goodguy" days at WMCA and I'm sure he has some great stories. His boss was program director Ruth Meyer.

9:06 AM

 
Blogger mrkerb said...

It's funny. I was talking to a guy a few weeks ago who told me about an Isetta exploding on the Hollywood freeway. He was right behind Lloyd!

9:58 AM

 

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