In honor of David Naughton's 70th birthday (February 13, 2021), let's take a little mid-air-heel-click walk down memory lane.
Naughton first caught the public's attention thanks to a series of inspired Dr. Pepper commercials.
In 2019, he recalled that he went to a dance audition in the '70s for "three Dr. Pepper commercials," and didn't think he stood a chance — after all, it was in NYC, the home of the best dancers in the world. He aced it, and would become the brand's most IDable pitchman ever.
Leading up to Naughton's hiring, Dr. Pepper was already all-in on production-number-style spots, as exemplified by this 1974 humdinger, complete with its Helen Kane (1904-1966)/Mae Questel (1908-1998) vibe:
In the original, short spot starring lanky Naughton — whose dancing had a Ray Bolger (1904-1987) sweep to it — soft-shoes his way through the streets, a Pepper Pied Piper, swept along with one of the catchiest commercial jingles imaginable:
Buoyed by his supersaturation of the airwaves, Naughton signed up for his own sitcom, ABC's Makin' It. The disco-era series — widely panned, and sadly debuted just as disco was "sucking" — debuted February 1, 1979, and was not makin' it anymore by March 23. Naughton, however, was winning, as were his vocals on the sterling theme, which surprisingly became a Top 5 smash hit ... months after the show ended:
Here, David sits for a chat on American Bandstand in 1979. It must've been a strange time for him — his TV ads were omnipresent, his TV show was bombing, yet his single was soaring up the charts and he was filming his movie debut (1980's Midnight Madness, which went nowhere):
Below, he adorably sells the song on The Merv Griffin Show (the track is dubbed by the uploader):
By 1979, the Dr. Pepper brand — which still had him under contract — was diversifying Naughton's pitch, adding people of color and rural types to the proceedings:
In this Pepper spot (1979), Naughton adds Popeye the Sailor to his cola cult:
I get anxiety watching this 1980 version, which ups the Broadway ante by inviting Mickey Rooney (1920-2014) to join in for some hoofin'. "Anxiety" because once we see Rooney, there are no cuts, so all the moves have to work. Then again, riding high following his triumphant return to Broadway with Sugar Babies the year before, perhaps Rooney — who was only 59 after all! — did it in one take:
That year, Naughton was cast in and was filming what would become his signature performance — in the comic horror film An American Werewolf in London (1981).
He was surprised to be cast since he was naturally pretty hairless, but that's where the special effects and its Oscar-winning makeup came in:
Hilariously, the film's for-the-time shocking amount of nudity was complicated, according to John Landis (b. 1950), by the fact that Naughton is uncircumcised but was playing a Jewish boy:
The year 1981 marked the end of Naughton's Dr. Pepper contract. According to him, he decided four years was enough, so he left to pursue acting opportunities. Others said Dr. Pepper had been fizzed-off over his nudity on the big, uncut screen.
Naughton has said he did shoot a 1988 Sugar Free Dr. Pepper spot that never aired. It does exist on YouTube, however, so I'm unsure of what the discrepancy is:
Dr. Pepper moved on with this youngster — in a rather gimmicky ad set to a Thompson Twins tune:
Though he was no longer a rising star, Naughton did taste big success again with the sitcom My Sister Sam (1986-1988), which ran for two seasons, and he has worked steadily ever since, making appearances on TV shows like MacGyver (1991), Seinfeld (1991's "The Red Dot" episode), Diagnosis Murder (1994), Cybill (1997), The Mentalist (2011), American Horror Story (2015) and Granite Flats (2013-2015).
Returning to his roots, Naughton (with KISS?!) appeared in 2010 to ring the bell at the NYSE. If that isn't makin' it, I don't know what is.
Incidentally, 2010 marked my first-ever attendance of an autograph show, New Jersey's infamous Chiller Theatre. Over Halloween weekend, I met a slew of stars, among them Naughton. He was super nice and accommodating — even when a woman blurted out, "You look just the same — only all your hair went gray!"
Happy 70th to David Naughton!