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'Fruits' Of Success, Briefly

SPOTS: One in a series of articles about stars of TV commercials.

June 01, 1986|GAIL BUCHALTER

N EW YORK The "fruits" have done more to popularize underwear than Madonna, and with a whole lot less to work with.

The fruits, as Grey Advertising affectionately calls its creations, include an apple (Harry Goz), a purple grape (Sam Wright), a green grape (Joey Faye) and a leaf (Ray Xito ). Thanks to them--and their predecessors--the Fruit of the Loom logo has come to life for 12 years and more than 5,000 airings, bringing humor to a colorless subject--white cotton briefs.

A few of the original fruits were--or were to become--name actors: Al Molinaro was the apple between stints on "The Odd Couple" (as Murray the Cop) and "Happy Days" (Al of Al's Diner); a nouvelle green grape, the late Joe E. Ross, had starred in "Car 54, Where Are You?" and F. Murray Abraham was a leaf (replacing Bill Hinnant) before landing the role of Salieri in "Amadeus"--and the Best Actor Oscar.

THE APPLE: HARRY GOZ

Harry Goz, the apple, was sitting in a darkened room at Sardi's, just three buildings down from his office. Dressed nattily, with graying temples on his round face, he looked more like a businessman than an opera singer turned actor.

He's the voice that warns of rings around our collars describes the newest orphans among the Cabbage Patch Kids and tributes Right Guard. The fruit commercials take up a small percentage of his time, but they give him a certain identity--even at home: When his son's teacher asked students what their parents did for a living, the boy said, "My Daddy's a fruit on television."

Goz, 54, claims that a real brotherhood stems from the fruit campaign: "We have a secret rapport. That's no baloney. I've known Joey (the grape) for 30 years. We did 'Oklahoma!' together in my hometown St. Louis and he's a master of comedy. The ad lib is in the attitude of these commercials; we work well off each other."

By his count, Goz does more than a thousand spots yearly (mostly voiceovers): "I make more money on commercials than I did on Broadway," Goz said. "But when an agent offered me my first commercial I said, 'I don't do commercials.' I didn't think there was any money in them. Who knew?"

Goz caught the show business bug after hearing "Carmen" at 15. He began studying voice and after hearing Mario Lanza, and in 1956, moved to New York to study with Lanza's teacher, Enrico Rosatti. He toured in a number of operas, but never got to the Met.

It was while touring with the National Chorus of America that he met his future wife and fellow singer, Margaret: "I was touring in 'Rigaletto' when the baby was born and that was the turning point for me. I didn't want to be away from home; that's my Cancerian nature."

Goz was a driving instructor for a year but his wife urged him to return to performing. He eventually landed a supporting role on Broadway in 1964 in "Bajour," a musical-drama about gypsy factions.

Then in 1965, the break: Tevye in the Broadway production of "Fiddler on the Roof" (he followed the late Herschel Bernardi and preceded Paul Lipson and Jan Peerce). It was during the latter part of his five-year run (he was the longest-running Tevye, 1,004 performances) that he began doing spots--for Roblee shoes.

But Broadway roles have been scarce and Goz has become a full-time pitchman: "I love it because I can afford to be home every night. And I can do off-Broadway showcases which are fun for an actor. Also, I prefer the privacy that commercials give me. I've got my cake and ate it, too."

THE LETTUCE: RAY XITO

For the past seven years, diminutive Ray Xito (pronounced zee-toe) has made a comfortable living as the face among the leaves. Otherwise, finding work has been a tall order.

"I realize my type isn't very marketable," Xito said. "There's never been a great run on 5-foot-tall actors. Fruit of the Loom's the best thing that's financially happened to me. It's allowed me to pursue an acting career."

Xito wears his greenish latex-covered leaves on metal spines with utter aplomb.

"I have a flair for comedy," he said. "I hope the commercials show that. Yet, I like to think I can do sensitive stuff. Because of my height, I don't get the chance. Sometimes I feel like Damocles with Fruit of the Loom hanging over my head. I know some day the commercials have to end."

Now 43, he decided to act at 30, after nearly 10 years studying for the Catholic priesthood, which he left at 27. He returned to his birthplace, Newark, and taught English at East Patterson Memorial High. He lasted six months.

"I was floundering," he said. "I had left the structured order of the church, and for the first time in my life I was making my own decisions. I knew when I left the Order that I didn't want to teach but I didn't know anything else."

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