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Howard Fishlove, actor and head of novelty company, dies at age 76


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Updated: November 24, 2012 6:21AM

Steve McQueen told Howard Fishlove he just might make it in showbiz after Howard appeared as a terrified moviegoer who runs out of a theater in the sci-fi/horror cult classic “The Blob.”

But for many people, he might be better known as an actor who appeared in classic commercials created by ad legend Joe Sedelmaier of “Where’s the Beef?” renown. Sedelmaier liked to use Mr. Fishlove’s portly basset-hound appearance to portray astoundingly ugly women.

In one spot for Wendy’s, Mr. Fishlove played the announcer at a Soviet beauty pageant. Resembling a forbidding prison matron, he shouted out “Dayvere! Eveningvere! Swimvere!” The joke was that all the clothing was the same — but at Wendy’s, you get choices.

Sedelmaier called him “just terrific; a real pro.”

From the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, he also headed Chicago’s famed H. Fishlove gag and novelty company. Its most famous product is the fake vomit sold under the brand name “WHOOPS,” which has scarred emetophobics the world over.

Mr. Fishlove, 76, of Glenview, died Saturday at the Abington of Glenview, where he had been undergoing rehabilitation for heart issues.

His grandfather, Chaim Fishelove, and his father, Irving, immigrated to the United States from the Lubov region of Ukraine in 1914. They changed their name to “Fishlove,” said Howard’s son, Thomas. Chaim Fishlove created the Chicago firm of H. Fishlove, which billed itself as: “Manufacturers Since 1914 of Novelties that Amuse.”

H. Fishlove & Co., 720 N. Franklin, sold Yakity-Yak wind-up chattering teeth; giant sunglasses, and “Tricky Dogs,” black and white Scotty magnetic pups that attract and repel each other.

Howard Fishlove grew up on Lunt Avenue and attended Senn High School. He went on to earn two bachelor’s degrees from Drake University — speech and drama, and psychology.

He was slated to be on the crew of the 1958 movie “The Blob,” but wound up being used in the stampede scene, where a frightened crowd flees a theater to get away from the inexorably advancing ooze.

The star was McQueen, who would go on to epitomize Hollywood cool so thoroughly, Sheryl Crow wrote a song about it.

So Howard Fishlove was thrilled when the actor commented on his film debut. “Steve McQueen told him, ‘You just might make it, Howard. You’re pretty good,’ ” said Mr. Fishlove’s son, William.

He also was delighted when “The Blob” helped him achieve his goal of earning a Screen Actors Guild card.

The cult classic birthed a cinematic celebration known as “Blobfest.” Mr. Fishlove was invited to be a panelist at Blobfest, in Phoenixville, Penn., where the movie was made. Film buffs enjoyed his descriptions of historic “The Blob” locations.

After college, Mr. Fishlove worked several years in sales for Brunswick, a maker of recreational items involving bowling, boating and pool.

When his father, Irving, died in 1968, Mr. Fishlove took over H. Fishlove & Co., where Irving Fishlove is credited with popularizing fake vomit. At its height, the firm manufactured 60,000 units of “Whoops” a year, according to the 2012 Richard Faulk book, “Gross America.”

Howard Fishlove recalled a story behind the product in an interview with novelty historians Mardi and Stan Timm, who are working on a book about H. Fishlove. “When he was 17, he came home from school and his father had fake vomit samples all over the kitchen counters,” Mardi Timm said in an email. “His father asked which one was best. It completely grossed him out.”

In 1985, facing marketing pressures from Europe and Asia, he decided to sell the company to Fun Incorporated, his family said.

The next owner of the company, Graham Putnam, said stories abounded about Mr. Fishlove using his acting skills at the office. The firm’s number was one digit off from a department store, so miscalls happened frequently. “He would pretend he was in customer service,” Putnam said. “One time, somebody was complaining about a refrigerator they bought. Very straight-faced, he went on to this scenario about fixing the refrigerator — and the scenario ended up with pushing the refrigerator to the window and letting it fall outside.”

The sale of H. Fishlove freed him to focus more on Sedelmaier commercials. In addition to Wendy’s, he appeared in spots for Tang and Alaska Airlines.

Sedelmaier searched for actresses to play the role of the dominatrix of ceremonies in the Soviet beauty pageant commercial, but “the women just weren’t big enough. And I thought of Howard, who was almost 6 feet tall. And he was great. . . .I used him a lot playing a woman.”

“He was a very take-charge guy,” Sedelmaier said. “He was a take-charge woman, too.”

After obtaining a teaching certificate, Mr. Fishlove also did substitute teaching in many Chicago public schools, his family said.

He enjoyed going out to Lawry’s Prime Rib with Hildy, his wife of 46 years.

Mr. Fishlove also is survived by his sister, Dianne Stone, and one grandson. Graveside services are planned at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Shalom Memorial Park, 1700 W. Rand Rd., Arlington Heights.

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