Mr. Clean, the bald, hoop-earring’ed genie-esque character who’s represented a household cleaning kingdom for more than half a century was contrived by an ad agency in Chicago. That is, the cartoon was. This caricature, however, was an illustrative riff on a real United States Navy veteran — a military man from Pensacola, Florida — according to an unnamed and unattributed source within Procter & Gamble (see below):
That information isn’t enough for us. Not only is it shrouded, but it doesn’t include the most important of it all: the identity of the vet.
We’d like to know the vet’s name, and how his unique look inspired one of the most iconic mascots (and Halloween costumes) in American history.
If you google the query, and take the rudimentary investigation to the bowels of the internet, the majority of the results with deliver the following name: House Peters, Jr.
Which, as far as the military vet part, is true. Peters served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, in the Sea Rescue section, as a small boat operator during World War II. What’s also true is the part of about him being Mr. Clean. Kind of. Here he is, being the smooth, aseptic authority figure in the following clip:
However, he was merely acting. Because he was a Hollywood actor and, as you can see, was tasked with portraying the character for television commercials … by the ad agency that ripped the likeness from the man we’re still trying to uncover.
We’ve reached out to P&G and the remnants of the now-defunct/absorbed Tatham-Laird & Kudner (the aforementioned Illinois agency). We’ll update this post if they return our inquiries.
In the meantime, here’s some insight into the artist who rendered the original image of the strapping hairless dude — commercial artist Richard Black (he’s also responsible for wildfire prevention symbol, Smokey Bear) via his 2014 New York Times obituary:
The company envisioned a bald man with a nose ring. Mr. Black submitted two depictions of a smiling, strapping genie, one with a nose ring and one with an earring. Procter & Gamble chose the second one.
No mention of his inspiration, or for whoever instructed him to draw such a character, and their creative impetus which, as we’ve been told by P&G is indeed a picture (or memory) of an American “squid” from the panhandle.
Coincidentally, the brand is currently looking for a new model to play Mr. Clean, and are paying handsomely for it. The chosen one will get a check for upwards of $20,000.
And an earring.