Located smack dab in the middle of flyover country, Weird Wally—born Wally Rex Smith—never earned the notoriety of Crazy Eddie, his East Coast contemporary on the oddball advertising front.
But while Crazy Eddie Antar’s entire electronics business was built around getting one over on the IRS and the public, Smith’s Lincoln, Nebraska used car lot was built on bluntness. He was honest—almost to a fault. And that's why his story matters.
Smith, who died May 22 at age 76, was unlike most used car salesmen—in that he would tell you right in the classified ad whether he was trying to sell you was a piece of crap, and he would do it with flowery language. Considering the line of work Smith had chosen for himself, it was a revelation.
“Some people come in and say they really cracked up. Others say it’s really dumb and they can’t stand it,” Smith told The Lincoln Star in 1977. “But while they’re saying that, they’re signing an invoice and giving me money.”
And there were TV and radio ads—which weren’t as loud as Crazy Eddie’s, but just a little weird. For more than 40 years, Wally mastered the art of the low-rent used car salesman—and sold nearly 42,000 vehicles in the process. Not a bad legacy to carry.
Weird Wally mostly stuck to his used car lot, but he occasionally found himself associated with the halls of power. In 1985, after actress Debra Winger, who was dating Nebraska’s then-governor Bob Kerrey, was stopped for speeding in the governor’s car, a newspaper columnist launched a pre-internet crowdfunding campaign to buy the Terms of Endearment actress a used car of her own. Winger donated $300. Weird Wally matched the amount. He was good at stunts.
But for all his local notoriety, he was simply an honest guy. He sold junkers, but he cared about the junkers he was selling—and the people he was selling those junkers to. He saw all walks of life, and often worried about the single mothers who walked onto his used-car lots—along with the guys who knew nothing about how the cars worked.
Maybe he was weird, but he was also a man of the people. Why do more people know who Crazy Eddie is than Weird Wally?