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‘Empire Carpet Man’ Elmer Lynn Hauldren dead at age 89


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Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Lynn Hauldren was a Chicago television icon — with international appeal.

Never heard of him? Don’t fret. The mustachioed advertising man was best known as his on-screen alter ego, the Empire Carpet Man.

Strangers would stop Mr. Hauldren all over the world — Burma, Colombia, Ecuador, Ireland, Israel and even Wrigley Field — and ask the “carpet guy” to sing the jingle he made famous: “5-8-8, 2-3-Hundred, Em-PIRE.”

Mr. Hauldren always obliged. After all, he wrote the little ditty that made the Empire Carpet brand nationally known.

On Tuesday, Mr. Hauldren died of natural causes in his Evanston home. He was 89.

Elmer Lynn Hauldren was born in St. Louis on April 1, 1922. His father died when he was 14 years old and his late mother was a fashion designer. He had three sisters.

Mr. Hauldren served in the U.S. Army during World War II and met his future wife, Helen Helmke, in Des Moines, Iowa, while stationed there.

“Mom and dad were living in the same boarding house. She worked as a secretary at a high school. He was studying in the signal corps. She had a record player and he had records,” Mr. Hauldren’s son Joe Hauldren said. “That was the common bond that hooked them up.”

They married in Sacramento, Calif., in 1943.

Mr. Hauldren served in Calcutta, India for four years during WWII and once drove supplies to a blockaded China. After he had fathered two children, the Army planned to assign Mr. Hauldren to counter-espionage training — spy school.

“Then I was born, and I got him out of that,” Joe Hauldren said. “If you had too many kids, they didn’t take you.”

After serving in the military, Mr. Hauldren studied journalism at Northwestern University. He worked as an advertising copywriter in Chicago, New Orleans and Los Angeles before settling in the Chicago area. During his career, Mr. Hauldren became a creative director at three top agencies and earned two Clio Awards, the Oscars of advertising.

He eventually started his own advertising firm. His first clients included Matt’s Cookies, Homemakers and, of course, Empire, then a small carpet shop on Montrose with five salesmen.

Even after his Empire Man success, Mr. Hauldren did not consider himself a celebrity.

He was just a “pitchman” — a rather good one.

In fact, that is why when Empire founder Seymour Cohen grew tired of auditioning actors for the original Empire Man role in 1977, he asked Mr. Hauldren to play the character himself.

“After the first couple commercials it took off, and the character continued to grow,” said Empire CEO Steve Silvers. “And here we are today. The Empire Man is one of the most recognized characters in Chicago.”

Mr. Hauldren, whose hobby was singing baritone in barbershop quartets, also recorded the Empire jingle with his then-group, The Fabulous 40s. He even sang more than one part of the harmonized phone number.

“We re-recorded it about five years after we first ran it,” Mr. Hauldren told the Sun-Times in 2006. “The second tenor had moved out [of town] and couldn’t get back in. So I recorded that voice, too. He never knew that. He still thinks it’s his.”

Mr. Hauldren, an avid White Sox and Bears fan who once threw out the first pitch at a Cubs game, was a boating fanatic who until about three years ago had a powerboat at Burnham Harbor. All the boats he has owned had clever musical-themed names including a favorite, “Sea Sharp.”

“He loved being on the lake,” Mr. Hauldren’s son Ryan Hauldren said. “When I was a kid he’d take me out and we’d go to Rockies, a little fish shack at the base of Navy Pier. Sometimes he would go to the Indiana Dunes. He just loved the Chicago skyline. He always said Chicago was the best city in the world.”

Mr. Hauldren also was an accomplished singer, who recorded two albums, and performed in 49 of 50 states and in Europe with his barbershop quartet, Chordiac Arrest.

“Boating, barbershopping and music were his big passions,” Joe Hauldren said. “He was a man who wanted to do things. He loved to go on walks and go to jazz clubs and to travel. He had a passion for life.”

Mr. Hauldren took up skiing when he turned 60. And after reaching age 65, he took advantage of a senior citizen discount at resorts in Colorado and Utah that allowed senior citizens to hit the slopes for free until he was 80.

Known for his dry wit, Mr. Hauldren had an amazing memory for jokes and regularly hosted “laugh nights” for family at his Evanston condo. Family would come over to watch DVDs of comics George Carlin, Lewis Black and Jackie Mason.

“The man had an amazing memory for jokes and he told them constantly,” Joe Hauldren said. “It’s one thing I didn’t inherit from him, unfortunately.”

More than anything Mr. Hauldren was a family man, proud that he and his wife could account for 31 souls — six children, 15 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, who all survive him.

Mr. Hauldren will live on in commercials, Silvers said.

“His likeness has been digitized. He’s on trailers and portrayed as a bobblehead doll. He helped build a strong brand name for Empire. I see no reason to move away from that. He was a symbol of what Empire wants to be, and I can’t think of anything better than Lynn playing the Empire Man.”
Services will be private.


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