An era has ended in Chicago television- it began in the 1970s, and continued through into an new century. There can’t be anyone in the Chicago area who could not complete the jingle- “588…”-and now, the man who wrote it and made it famous has passed away.
His name was Lynn Hauldren- but you probably know him best as the Empire Carpet Man. He passed away Tuesday at the age of 89. He really hadn’t been on camera in the commercials for a while, only being represented by the animated figure of his character. I had noticed that, for the past few months, when he did the voice-overs in the commercials, his voice sounded kind of tired. Perhaps he had been ill for a while, but he continued to work with the Empire company right up until his passing.
He was actually a copywriter, and had his own ad agency. He had written spots for Empire initially, but, after the company didn’t quite like the guys who auditioned to play the carpet man, they asked Lynn to play it himself. He did- and the rest is local TV history.
He also wrote that Empire jingle- “588- two-three hundred- Em-PIIIRE!” He actually sang on it, as well- he loved barbershop harmonies, and had his own barbershop quartet, Chordiac Arrest. I had heard that, whenever the old vocal group the Arbors was in town, he worked with them. He also worked on Homemakers furniture commercials- their old jingle-basically a repetition of the word “Home- makers…” didn’t quite catch on the way the Empire jingle did.
I worked with Lynn on an Empire spot that some of you may recall- I played not only Svengoolie, but a variety of characters, including the Marx Brothers, Darth Vader, and others. The story seemed to be that- to be honest- he didn’t appreciate that I made fun of him and his commercials a lot on my “Son of Svengoolie” show-including the famed “Vampire Carpet Man” parody.
It was good natured fun, but I think it bothered him. (I think part of the idea was- if I was in the commercial, I’d stop making fun of the real thing- this logic, as most of you know, was incorrect…) Anyway, they asked me to do their commercial, which I was more than happy to do, and it was fun. I had no problem working with Lynn, and we got along fine- he never brought up anything about me making fun of him. The spot seemed to be a big success, and I think you can find it posted on various internet sites.
There was another glitch in my “Empire” relationship- I did a song parody sung by “the Empire Man” (played by me) to the tune of Tommy Two-Tone’s “867-5309” (naturally ours was “588…”) One part of the lyrics included the phrase that “you could get ripped off while putting rugs on the floor.” I’m not so sure if Lynn tattled to his bosses on me or not, but I ended up talking to the president of the company at the time, a very nice guy, who said he really enjoyed my spoofs, but felt that the line might give people a wrong idea. I apologized for that, and told him I’d make sure it never re-ran in that form- and-it never did.
In recent years, I think Lynn felt that his appearance as he aged- and , possibly, was in ill health- led to him not appearing in the actual spots, unless it was old footage, or if it was his animated counterpart. As I mentioned, he continued to do voice-overs in the spots.
I think it would be a big mistake for the company to try to cast a new Empire Man. Lynn Hauldren is so engrained in our minds as that character, they’d be wise to just use actors, as they have been, as satisfied customers- but, I’d hope they’d retain the animated version of Lynn at the end of the commercials, as a sort of tribute to the guy who made their company a household name in Chicago and elsewhere.
My “Empire Carpet Man” bobblehead will remain in a place of honor. Let’s all sing it one more time, as a final salute- “588- 2-300…Em-PIIIRE!”