Gordon Jump, 71; Was ‘Maytag Man’ in Ads, ‘Big Guy’ on ‘WKRP’ TV Series

Times Staff Writer

Gordon Jump, the avuncular television actor best remembered as “the Big Guy” boss Arthur Carlson in the television series “WKRP in Cincinnati,” and as “Ol’ Lonely,” the hapless repairman with nothing to do on Maytag commercials, has died. He was 71.

Jump, according to his family, suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, which causes scarring of the air sacs in the lungs, leading to heart or respiratory failure. He died Monday at his home in Coto de Caza.

In 1989, Jump replaced Jesse White as the highly recognized spokesman for Maytag. White had originated the role of the serviceman who feels lonely because the company’s appliances are so reliable that owners never call for help.


White portrayed the uniformed Ol’ Lonely, one of the longest-running characters in advertising history, from its inception in 1967 until Jump took over.

Jump was the Maytag man in television and print ads, on billboards and at about 40 store openings and trade shows annually until July, when he relinquished the role to character actor Hardy Rawls.

Wherever Jump went for the Iowa manufacturer, however, he was always remembered as the bumbling Carlson of “WKRP in Cincinnati.” The sitcom about the fourth-rate radio station, which also starred Howard Hesseman and Loni Anderson, ran on CBS from 1978 to 1982 and enjoyed many years in syndication.

In a well-remembered episode, it was Jump’s well-meaning Carlson who conceived a WKRP promotional stunt to drop live turkeys from a helicopter at Thanksgiving; when disaster followed, it was he who uttered the oft-quoted line: “God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”

Jump was one of only three of the ensemble cast who returned for a syndicated revival, “The New WKRP in Cincinnati” from 1991 to 1993.

The actor unknowingly had prepped for his best-known role as Carlson in his real life. Born in Dayton, Ohio, just up the highway from Cincinnati, he wanted to be an actor from the time he saw his first B-western movie as a kid. But he began his career working in small radio and television stations.

Jump majored in speech at Kansas State University and worked at stations in Topeka, Kan., and in Ohio -- hosting a children’s show, delivering weather reports, writing and producing.

But he never abandoned his yearning to act -- despite the continuing protestations of his father, a failed actor who had directed him in high school plays. In 1963, already into his 30s, Jump moved to Los Angeles to pursue the dream.

He landed a few roles in small theaters, then a commercial, and in 1965 a guest spot on the television series “Daniel Boone.” Roles followed over the years in such series as “Get Smart,” “The Brady Bunch,” “Baywatch” and “Seinfeld.” In 1983, in a daring career turn, he portrayed a child molester in the series “Diff’rent Strokes,” in a personal effort to raise awareness of the problem.

Jump also was in motion pictures -- remembered as the auctioneer in the 1972 “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” and as a fellow doctor of Walter Matthau’s in the 1978 “House Calls.” He also made educational films and documentaries for his Mormon church, and worked at odd jobs such as being a tour guide at Forest Lawn.

But before “WKRP” made him a household face, and long before he took on Maytag ads, he maintained a steady income by doing more than 100 commercials.

“The commercial is to the television actor what summer stock is to the stage actor,” Jump told Associated Press in 1980, when he was well into the sitcom. “That’s where you sharpen your craft. That’s where I learned camera technique.”

Jump is survived by his wife of 10 years, Betty; four daughters, Cindy, Kiva, Maggi Jo and Laura, and a son, Chris.

Funeral arrangements are pending.