Jim Wortman got up early yesterday and put on his new white T-shirt and pants. He borrowed his girlfriend's shiny gold earring. He glued on some fuzzy white eyebrows with spirit gum and the transformation was complete: from print shop foreman to Mr. Clean.
"I'd like to be Mr. Clean because I look like this. Why not make some money for it?" he bluntly asked the judges of the regional look-alike contest for the muscular, baldheaded cartoon character that has symbolized Procter & Gamble's Mr. Clean product for 25 years.
Came the answer: Why not? Life does not often hold a mirror up to advertising.
Wortman, a 38-year-old Springfield resident, was judged the region's living embodiment of the character. The title gives him $1,000, a trip to New York and a shot at a $30,000 prize, for which he must beat nine other clean men in the national runoff in September.
Procter & Gamble is looking for a live "Mr. Clean" to promote the cleaning fluid in grocery stores, parades, and on television and radio. Yesterday's contest at the Hyatt Regency Washington hotel was the fifth of 10 regional competitions.
"There must be a lot of money involved to get people to shave their heads and put on funny eyebrows," said one amused onlooker, Californian Jim Schmitz, who was attending a fraternity conference in the hotel.
The money made everyone serious about being clean. The 35 aspirants to the prize crossed their arms and put on Mr. Clean smiles under the hot camera lights. Some eager contestants even tried to sway the judges with lemons and re'sume's and bottles of Mr. Clean.
"It's very nerve-wracking. You don't know if you're standing up straight enough or smiling enough or if you look old enough or maybe too old," said Wortman worriedly, before he was selected.
No need to worry. Wortman plugged the product like a pro during the "swab the deck" section of the contest. "First of all, you don't work with Mr. Clean. It does the work, you just play with the mop," he said, sliding a mop over the fake floor.
But like the rest of the contestants, he sweated as he mopped, shook hands with the judges, did push-ups and struck the Mr. Clean stance, with arms crossed.
Host Ron Smith, president of Ron Smith's Celebrity Look-Alikes, who has spent the last month looking for Mr. Clean, made a forceful effort to calm everyone down while they waited for the judges' decision. "You had fun today," he told the nervous contestants, who seemed unconvinced.
He prepared the losers for their disappointment, twice telling them: "Charlie Chaplin entered his own look-alike contest and lost."
Marylander Mark Tyson wears a gold earring through his right nipple as well as his left ear, and he is black, but this didn't stop him from trying to be the man behind the shine. "I just got this thing about being clean, clean living," he said, adding he planned to try his luck again at the regional contest in New York.
"Thirty thousand dollars can buy a lot of shaving cream and razors," he laughed.
"My daughter told me if I didn't win not to come home," said Stanley Freedman of Massachusetts. "She was only kidding."
No one contested Wortman's right to the title, probably because he looks the part. He has no hair, but he has lots of natural body: He's 6 feet 3 inches and weighs 217 pounds.
"There's not too much teasing, he's too big to tease," said Ed DeSanto, his boss at Custom Print Inc. in Virginia.
He may be strong, but he's also gentle. "I'm too good-natured to mess with anyone," said Wortman.
And he is, well, clean. "He's a very clean person. We work in a print shop, and there's a lot of dirt and ink and it never touches him," said sales executive Kathy Thaler.
Wortman's friends, thrilled by his selection, jumped on the phone to spread the news. "Oh, God, I'm so proud. He's such a cutie," said Kathy Coughlin, Wortman's girlfriend. She called her mother and cried, "He won! Yes!"
A coworker called Wortman's office. "They announced it over the PA at work and everybody's going crazy. There's pandemonium going on over there," said Wortman with a smile. "I may call the phone company and get a couple of phone lines put in for all the calls I'll get."
Wortman folded his arms in the classic Mr. Clean pose as a TV reporter asked if women found bald men sexy.
"I could name one or two that do," said Wortman, grinning at Coughlin.