L.A. Vintage Commercials: Jack Stephan
I believe it was mostly during local telecasts of Dodger games on KTTV/Channel 11 (before the team sold its soul to, and was re-sold by, Fox) that I first encountered Jack Stephan. Stephan was (and is) a plumber, and judging from his ads, an ambitious one whose customer base extends from its Inglewood headquarters throughout the Southland.
The conceit of these ads was Jack’s verbal pas de deux with a smarmy narrator who continually got his name wrong. Faced with the relatively simple task of introducing the plumber/protagonist, the narrator would mispronounce Stephan’s name in a variety of ethnic stripes, including Polish (“Jack Stephanski”), Italian (“Jack Stephanino”), and Russian (“Jack Stephanovitch”). Upon each of the voice-overed mistakes, the plumber would give a steely-eyed look to camera, and icily insist, “Stephan–Jack Stephan.” And at the end of the ad, Jack finally prevailed, as the narrator capitulated and invited viewers to “call your man–Jack Stephan.” Jack signaled his victory with a nod and the vaguest of smiles–just the right amount of arrogance.
I watched these ads decades ago, but what sticks with me is the triumph of Jack’s will over the wordplay of the smarty-pants narrator–he was like the Gary Cooper of plumbers. Even as a kid, I realized: you do not mess with Jack Stephan. Relatedly, he wouldn’t screw around when it came to fixing a leak in your pipes or unplugging god-knows-what from your toilet–though if you tried any namby-pamby name-mispronounciation horseshit, he reserved the right to wipe the floor with your sorry ass.
Of course, the tenacity of the Stephan ads in Southern Californian pop culture is due in large part also to their memorable catch-phrase. “Stephan–Jack Stephan” triggers immediate associations in the Angeleno mind, and has seeped into the general cultural consciousness as well, as Jack’s presence in the compendium of modern urban slang attests.
For the record, this isn’t meant to be a long metaphor for sex, hence no “Stephan will really clean your pipes” double entendres. Still, it’s more than a little coincidental that there is also a famous porn actor/director named Jack Stephan, whose work includes the memorable 68-minute romp “Buffy the Vampire Layer”. Though it’s safe to assume that the latter is a different Jack Stephan, I do suspect that the porn Stephan is trading on the good name and possible hilarious misunderstanding of being confused with the plumber Stephan. The original Jack might have a trademark suit on his hands. Hey–maybe he should call Larry Parker.