An avuncular television actor best remembered as the befuddled, middle-aged-but-childlike radio station boss Arthur "the Big Guy" Carlson in the television series "WKRP in Cincinnati," Gordon Jump also had success in his golden years as the second actor to portray Maytag advertising icon "Ol' Lonely," the hapless repairman with nothing to do.
The actor unknowingly had prepped for his best-known role as Mr. Carlson in real life. Born in Dayton, Ohio, near Cincinnati, he wanted to be an actor from the time he saw his first B-western movie as a kid. Jump majored in speech at Kansas State University and worked at began his career working in small radio and television stations in Topeka, Kansas, and in Ohio, where he hosted a children's show, delivered weather reports, and wrote and produced various segments and shows. Despite the continuing protestations of his father, a failed actor who had directed him in high school plays, Jump never abandoned his aspirations to act, and in 1963, already into his 30s, Jump moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of acting. He landed a few roles in small theaters, then a commercial, and in 1965 a guest spot on the television series "Daniel Boone." Roles followed over the years in dozen of popular series, from comedies like "Get Smart" "Green Acres" and "The Brady Bunch" to dramas like "The Rockford Files," "Kojak" and "The Bionic Woman." He would have a recurring role on the MTM drama "Lou Grant" as the newspaper's national editor throughout 1977, a role and an association which would lead to his most beloved character.
Jump hit a career high when he was cast as the bumbling but loveable Carlson of MTM's ultra-hip sit-com "WKRP in Cincinnati" (CBS, 1978 to 1982), where his character was a reluctant radio exec and fearful momma's boy who enjoyed simpler pursuits such as toy trains and fly fishing, yet nevertheless served as a father figure for his zany staff. The sitcom about the fourth-rate radio station, which also starred Howard Hesseman and Loni Anderson, ran on and enjoyed many years in syndication. In the series' most well-remembered episode, it was Jump's well-meaning Carlson who conceived a WKRP promotional stunt to drop live turkeys from a helicopter at Thanksgiving; when disaster followed, it was he who uttered the oft-quoted line: "God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly." Jump was also one of only three of the ensemble cast who returned for a syndicated revival, "The New WKRP in Cincinnati" from 1991 to 1993.
After "WKRP's" cancellation, Jump continued to be a regular presence on series television, guest-starring on dozens of popular shows. In 1983, in a daring career turn, he portrayed Mr. Horton, a bicycle-shop owner and child molester who assaulted Arnold (Gary Coleman) in the series "Diff'rent Strokes," in a personal effort to raise awareness of the problem. From 1986 to 1991 he took a recurring role on the family sit-com "Growing Pains" (ABC, 1985-1992), appearing as Kirk Cameron's grandfather Ed Malone, and later he had brief recurring stints on "Baywatch" and "Seinfeld."
Jump also was in motion pictures -- remembered as the auctioneer in the 1972 sequel "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" and as a fellow doctor of Walter Matthau's in 1978's "House Calls." He also made educational films and documentaries for his Mormon church, and worked at odd jobs such as being a tour guide at Forest Lawn cemetary.
Before "WKRP" made him a household face, and long before he took on Maytag ads, he maintained a steady income by appearing in over 100 commercials. In 1989, Jump replaced Jesse White (who initiated the part in 1967) as the highly recognized spokesman for Maytag. White had originated the role of the uniformed serviceman Ol' Lonely, one of the longest-running characters in advertising history, who feels lonely because the company's appliances are so reliable that owners never call for help. Jump was the Maytag man in television and print ads, on billboards and at about 40 store openings and trade shows annually until July 2003, when he relinquished the role to character actor Hardy Rawls, just a few months before his death in Sept. 2003 at age 71.