Sam Behr’s Untiring Commercial Appeal
Tires ain’t pretty. But the onetime pitchman’s TV ads about them were beauties.
Sam Behr, at 83, is “still the character he always was.”
Photo By Norma Lopez Molina
The flotsam of commercials bobs endlessly across my flat-screen TV. Hamsters sing hip-hop. Bears caress toilet paper. An animated advertising circular named “H.H.’’ screeches about electronics. Men act like idiots (can’t cook, can’t clean, can’t cogitate). And that gecko . . .ah, that damned gecko.
Where have you gone, Sam Behr?
As the TV pitchman for Allied Discounts Tires from 1980 to 1994, Behr delivered real entertainment to Orlando viewers —standing in front of a giant newspaper tire ad and spouting nonsensical tirades about tires in a down-home drawl of butchered grammar and syntax that left you in stitches (Ain’t much to say about tiirres!). The more he rambled, the funnier he was.
And still is.
“I thought everybody’d done forgot about me,’’ Behr says as he sits in his New Smyrna Beach condo just before Christmas. He’s 83 now, his once-curly head of white hair thinned to a wisp, a couple of heart bypass operations having slowed him down. But, as wife Joanne says, “He’s still the character he always was.’’
Behr did hundreds of commercials for Allied, and a couple of them have been posted on YouTube, where one viewer left this comment: “This guy was pure comic genius.’’ Behr scoffs at that suggestion, but consider this: The man whose ads became classics never needed a script. Just a martini.
Behr was the down-to-earth owner of a downtown Orlando shoe store when, in 1980, his good friend and golfing buddy, Stanley Hanin, decided to buy TV time for his fledgling tire business—although Hanin wasn’t sure what he wanted to say or who he wanted to say it. Until one day, Behr started railing about something or other, and a light
“As he’s talking, I’m looking at him and I said, ‘You’re the guy!’’’ recalls Hanin, 74. “I said, ‘I want you to be the spokesman for Allied Tires!’’’
And so every few months, they met at a studio to tape a series of ads. To loosen up, Behr would sip a martini provided by Hanin, then stand in front of the camera and launch into his fiery, arm-flailing, ad-libbed sermons about tires.
“I’m not much of a drinker but if you get a little bit high, you can do a lot better commercial,’’ Behr says. “You don’t give a doggone. You get up there and just say what comes out.’’
What came out during that first taping was Behr’s signature phrase, “Tires ain’t pretty.’’ Over the years he spoofed everybody from Michael Jackson (wearing a glove and saying “We’re bad!’’) to a pregnant Demi Moore (remember the Vanity Fair cover?). And, most famously, Oral Roberts. In 1987, after the evangelist announced that unless he raised $8 million quickly God was going to “call him home,’’ Sam Behr delivered a doozy.
“I just got a message from upstairs,’’ Behr solemnly told his TV audience. “You know what that message said? It said, I gotta sell, or we gotta sell, 80,000 tires in the next month—or I’m gonna die. (Pause.) Go to Allied Discounts Tires. Please.’’
That spot was pulled for a time after some protests from religious groups, but it illustrated the key to the Allied commercials’ success: letting Sam be Sam, without a script.
“What a guy, huh? He really was ahead of his time,’’ says Pete Barr Jr., an Orlando native who heads the Fry Hammond Barr marketing and ad agency. “He predated what we’re seeing on television now with people like [attorney] John Morgan or Appliance Direct’’—local spots focusing purely on personality.
As Behr ranted, Allied profited. When he began to pitch for Hanin, the company had four stores and annual sales of $5 million. Eight years later, that had grown to 38 stores and $40 million a year.
Hanin sold the company to Dunlop in 1989 and has been enjoying his good fortune ever since, living on a boat in South Florida. “Sam’s been one of the major reasons for the successes I’ve had,’’ Hanin says. “I have been blessed to have him as
Behr got a contract extension with Allied for a few more years. But the new owners wanted him to follow a script, and the “Tires Ain’t Pretty’’ era soon ended. Behr eventually sold his shoe store and the
These days, he enjoys a beautiful ocean view from his condo. He quit playing golf a few years ago because “I couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with a banjo.’’ He and his wife do play a lot of bridge, as they have for decades—Joanne is a championship level competitor, no less.
Behr claims he never watches tapes of his Allied spots. But “I’ll walk down the street today and I’ll see kids. They weren’t 10 years old when I was doing those commercials but they still remember, you know? Even today. Every day. They come up and say, “ALLIED!’’
Bringing back memories of good times?
“Yeah,’’ the pure comic genius says, then smiles. “But I’ve had a good time every day of my life.’’
Check out some of the Sam Behr commercials: