The Many Lies of Joe Isuzu

IceManNYR via YouTube
IceManNYR via YouTube

Of the many Japanese car manufacturers dominating the domestic auto market in the 1980s, Isuzu wasn't the most recognizable. The company, which arrived in the U.S. in 1981, had an ad budget that was less than a tenth of Toyota’s. Even if there had been more money to spend, television spots for vehicles were notoriously cookie-cutter. There were always long shots of sedans on swerving roads, quiet cabins, and relaxed drivers. It was hard for consumers to tell one from another.

That all changed with Joe Isuzu, one of the most dishonest, unethical—and successful—car salesmen of all time.

From 1986 to 1990, actor David Leisure played the fictional automotive dealer who lied through his plastered-smile face, turning the modest car company into a household brand name. Making outrageous claims about the abilities of his cars with a “He’s Lying” disclaimer flashing onscreen, Leisure became instantly recognizable as an amusing send-up of the shady salesman cliché.

The only problem: Joe Isuzu was so popular that people forgot he was trying to sell cars.

The Isuzu campaign was developed by the ad agency Della Femina, Travisano & Partners, who had been tasked by the carmaker to boost their profile in the U.S. With a limited budget, the firm decided to focus on a salesman who never met a tale too tall. Isuzu boasted about cars costing $10.80 (he moved the decimal point), able to drive up mountains, or getting 300 miles to the gallon.

Jon Lovitz was the firm’s first choice for the role, having perfected insincerity as the Pathological Liar on Saturday Night Live. But the agency eventually went with Leisure, an actor who had bit parts in the Airplane! films and enjoyed a measure of success in a series of phone book ads in 1983. (Prior to that, he lived in his car—a Volkswagen.) He filmed just one Isuzu spot before being called in to do six more.

Despite dealerships being apprehensive over a parody of their own sales staff, the spots were an immediate hit. Isuzu hit a reported 18 percent spike in sales during the rest of the year, with Leisure achieving the kind of spokesman recognition reserved for cereal mascots. As Joe, he filmed a cross-promotional commercial for Burger King in 1988; four years later, he pushed A&W root beer. In a speech, Ronald Reagan compared Isuzu's huckster demeanor to that of Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega.

But Isuzu’s popularity had a troubling consequence. After the 1986 spurt in sales, the company sold roughly the same amount of vehicles in the first half of 1987. (Actually, 50 fewer.) Both Isuzu and advertising industry experts expressed concern that Isuzu was such an entertaining persona that people were actually paying more attention to him and less attention to the product he was selling—the car.

Isuzu attempted to highlight more product features in subsequent ads. Leisure, however, remained the focal point in the eyes of the audience. In 1990, after more than 40 appearances, he received a first-class letter telling him the company was retiring the campaign.

While Leisure found work in sitcoms like Empty Nest, a struggling Isuzu shifted its focus to trucks. In 2001, they resurrected Joe to push their new Axiom, but it did little to impact their modest sales. By 2008, just 7000 of the more than 16 million cars sold in the States bore an Isuzu label.

Leisure reprised the role a handful of times, most recently for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Owing to Isuzu exiting the U.S. sedan market in 2008, he’s one of the few corporate mascots to actually outlive the corporation that employed him. Speaking on the character’s fame in 1987, the actor was prophetic. “Maybe people love the commercials,” he said, “but don’t know much about the cars.”

8 Enlightening Facts About Dr. Ruth Westheimer

Rachel Murray, Getty Images for Hulu
Rachel Murray, Getty Images for Hulu

For decades, sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer has used television, radio, the written word, and the internet to speak frankly on topics relating to human sexuality, turning what were once controversial topics into healthy, everyday conversations.

At age 90, Westheimer shows no signs of slowing down. As a new documentary, Ask Dr. Ruth, gears up for release on Hulu this spring, we thought we’d take a look at Westheimer’s colorful history as an advisor, author, and resistance sniper.

1. The Nazis devastated her childhood.

Dr. Ruth was born Karola Ruth Siegel on June 4, 1928 in Wiesenfeld, Germany, the only child of Julius and Irma Siegel. When Ruth was just five years old, the advancing Nazi party terrorized her neighborhood and seized her father in 1938, presumably to shuttle him to a concentration camp. One year later, Karola—who eventually began using her middle name and took on the last name Westheimer with her second marriage in 1961—was sent to a school in Switzerland for her own protection. She later learned that her parents had both been killed during the Holocaust, possibly at Auschwitz.

2. She shocked classmates with her knowledge of taboo topics.

Westheimer has never been bashful about the workings of human sexuality. While working as a maid at an all-girls school in Switzerland, she made classmates and teachers gasp with her frank talk about menstruation and other topics that were rarely spoken of in casual terms.

3. She trained as a sniper for Jewish resistance fighters in Palestine.

Following the end of World War II, Westheimer left Switzerland for Israel, and later Palestine. She became a Zionist and joined the Haganah, an underground network of Jewish resistance fighters. Westheimer carried a weapon and trained as both a scout and sniper, learning how to throw hand grenades and shoot firearms. Though she never saw direct action, the tension and skirmishes could lapse into violence, and in 1948, Westheimer suffered a serious injury to her foot owing to a bomb blast. The injury convinced her to move into the comparatively less dangerous field of academia.

4. A lecture ignited her career.

 Dr. Ruth Westheimer participates in the annual Charity Day hosted by Cantor Fitzgerald and BGC at Cantor Fitzgerald on September 11, 2015 in New York City.
Robin Marchant, Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald

In 1950, Westheimer married an Israeli soldier and the two relocated to Paris, where she studied psychology at the Sorbonne. Though the couple divorced in 1955, Westheimer's education continued into 1959, when she graduated with a master’s degree in sociology from the New School in New York City. (She received a doctorate in education from Columbia University in 1970.) After meeting and marrying Manfred Westheimer, a Jewish refugee, in 1961, Westheimer became an American citizen.

By the late 1960s, she was working at Planned Parenthood, where she excelled at having honest conversations about uncomfortable topics. Eventually, Westheimer found herself giving a lecture to New York-area broadcasters about airing programming with information about safe sex. Radio station WYNY offered her a show, Sexually Speaking, that soon blossomed into a hit, going from 15 minutes to two hours weekly. By 1983, 250,000 people were listening to Westheimer talk about contraception and intimacy.

5. People told her to lose her accent.

Westheimer’s distinctive accent has led some to declare her “Grandma Freud.” But early on, she was given advice to take speech lessons and make an effort to lose her accent. Westheimer declined, and considers herself fortunate to have done so. “It helped me greatly, because when people turned on the radio, they knew it was me,” she told the Harvard Business Review in 2016.

6. She’s not concerned about her height, either.

In addition to her voice, Westheimer became easily recognizable due to her diminutive stature. (She’s four feet, seven inches tall.) When she was younger, Westheimer worried her height might not be appealing. Later, she realized it was an asset. “On the contrary, I was lucky to be so small, because when I was studying at the Sorbonne, there was very little space in the auditoriums and I could always find a good-looking guy to put me up on a windowsill,” she told the HBR.

7. She advises people not to take huge penises seriously.

Westheimer doesn’t frown upon pornography; in 2018, she told the Times of Israel that viewers can “learn something from it.” But she does note the importance of separating fantasy from reality. “People have to use their own judgment in knowing that in any of the sexually explicit movies, the genitalia that is shown—how should I say this? No regular person is endowed like that.”

8. She lectures on cruise ships.

Westheimer uses every available medium—radio, television, the internet, and even graphic novels—to share her thoughts and advice about human sexuality. Sometimes, that means going out to sea. The therapist books cruise ship appearances where she offers presentations to guests on how best to manage their sex lives. Westheimer often insists the crew participate and will regularly request that the captain read some of the questions.

“The last time, the captain was British, very tall, and had to say ‘orgasm’ and ‘erection,’” she told The New York Times in 2018. “Never did they think they would hear the captain talk about the things we were talking about.” Of course, that’s long been Westheimer’s objective—to make the taboo seem tame.

Back to the Future Fan Theory Changes the Meaning of a Famous Line

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

No matter how many times you've watched the 1985 sci-fi classic, there's always something new to look for in Back to the Future. Writer-director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriter Bob Gale packed the movie with thoughtful details, from Doc Brown's foreshadowing of Back to the Future Part II to a subtle homage to Stanley Kubrick. As Express reports, one of these easy-to-miss details is a short dialogue exchange during the climax, and once you start paying closer attention to it, it could change the way you watch the rest of the movie.

Redditor amanwhodrinks recently laid out his observation in the r/FanTheories subreddit. According to him, Doc's decision to heed Marty's warning from 1955 and take steps to save his own life in the present isn't the abrupt character change it seems to be.

In the past, Doc worries about how time travel might affect the future, and he refuses to hear what the future has in store for him out of fear he might disrupt the space-time continuum. In the present, Marty finds that Doc ended up listening to him after all. When he asks what made him change his mind, Doc responds, "I figured, what the hell."

The Reddit post argues that we see the exact moment when Doc has his change of heart. When Doc is preparing the DeLorean for time travel, Marty explains how his dad won over his mom by standing up to Biff, something he’s never seen his father do before. Doc responds, “Never?” while looking at the restored picture of Marty and his siblings. Marty says, “Yeah, why?” and Doc says “Nothing,” before returning to the task in front of him.

On first viewing, this exchange may not seem important enough to justify a pause in the action so close to the climax of the film, but according amanwhodrinks, it’s there for a good reason: “My theory is that Doc had a major epiphany in this scene. At that moment, when he saw the restored picture of Marty and his brother and sister, he realized that you can completely change the past and still have a positive and congruent outcome on the future without destroying the space-time continuum.” If this hypothesis is accurate, Doc’s decision to influence his own fate at the end of the film is part of a developed character arc, rather than a snap decision made just for the hell of it.

This interpretation is tame compared to some of the theories that have been built around Back to the Future. Some creative fans think that the trilogy is an elaborate chiasmus and others say that Doc Brown is suicidal.

[h/t Express]