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When Stars Sell Themselves Silly

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5. Eleanor Roosevelt: Buttering Up Voters
Trailblazer Eleanor Roosevelt became the first first lady with a TV deal. She accepted $35,000 in 1959 to extol the virtues of Good Luck Margarine.

"Years ago, people didn't eat margarine, but things have changed and now I really enjoy Good Luck," said Roosevelt, who thought the ad would be a great way to raise money for U.N. children's charities.

The TV spot really didn't change Roosevelt's legacy. But in taking the gig, the former first lady unwittingly paved the way for today's generation of politicians-turned-pitchmen. In recent Super Bowls, we've seen former Vice President Dan Quayle munching Lay's Potato Chips, while former governors Ann Richards and Mario Cuomo snack on Doritos.

Former vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro has done her bit for Pepsi, while former New York Mayor Ed Koch has hawked Ultra Slim-Fast. And then, of course, there's Bob Dole, who taught a generation of men the meaning of ED.

6. George Kennedy: The Bad Breath Club for Men
In show business, the worst thing you can do is embarrass yourself on stage. But if you can talk about something embarrassing on TV, a lucrative future in advertising may be headed your way.

In 1990, when George Kennedy signed on to be the spokesman for BreathAsure, he quickly embraced the title as poster boy for halitosis. The Oscar-winning actor even came up with the commercial tag line, "On my honor, folks, this product works," claiming that he used the product before he started shilling for it.

Bad breath seems like the certain end of an acting career. Perhaps Kennedy's malodorous mouth inspired some of Leslie Neilson's hilarious antics when they teamed up in the late 1980s in those "Naked Gun" movies.

Nevertheless, by 1997, BreathAsure became a sensation, racking up $30 million in annual sales. For Kennedy, it might rank up there with his performance in "Cool Hand Luke" as a career-defining move.

7. June Allyson: The Wholesome Diaper Dealer
June Allyson struck a gold mine when she parlayed her 1940s perennial girl-next-door image into becoming a national spokeswoman for Depend adult diapers.

In the early 1990s, Kimberly-Clark had been having trouble getting TV networks to play adult diaper ads until they found the wholesome "Little Women" star, who was then in her early 70s.

By the middle of the decade, adult diapers had grown into a $400 million market, climbing by 15 percent a year, and Allyson, now 87 and retired, enjoyed years of steady work.

If a famous actress becomes better known for the commercial work she did in her later years, that's no reason to despair. Martha Raye, who died in 1994, had no regrets about her work with Polident denture products.

Raye, who died in 1994, was a Broadway star, a singer with a comic flair who worked in Hollywood with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Milton Berle and Charlie Chaplin, to name a few.

In 1985, while appearing in a cabaret show, she was asked if it bothered her that a whole generation remembers her mostly for Polident commercials. "Not when they pay me what they pay me," she told New York Newsday. "I would pull my own teeth out."

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays.