With the tagline, “You in a heap of trouble, boy,” Dodge created a memorable character to pitch the 1970 Challenger on television: Sheriff J.W. Higgins. Here’s the story of Sheriff Joe and the commercial where it all began.
We can’t say that Dodge, with its commercials for the 1970 Challenger, invented the character of the pushy, blustering Southern law enforcement officer. He’s more of an archetype, a bit of Americana if you will. However, it does seem that Sheriff J.W. Higgins was the inspiration for J.W. Pepper, the very similar Southern cop character who supplied comedy relief in two James Bond movies, Live and Let Die (1973) and The Man With the Golden Gun (1974).
And then there’s Sheriff Buford T. Justice, the comic antagonist of the Smokey and the Bandit movie series, played by the incomparable Jackie Gleason (1916-1987). The Great One, as he was known, transformed the stock character of the Southern cop into a role for the ages, stealing every scene in which he appeared. But before there was Sheriff Justice, there was Sheriff Joe.
In the Dodge commercials, Sheriff J.W. Higgins (awesome trivia: that was indeed the actor’s real name) just can’t be persuaded that the sporty Challenger R/T is legal for road use. “Now look, boy,” he growls, “I know a race car when I see one.” It’s a perfect gimmick for ticking off the R/T’s appearance and performance features, including the optional Magnum 440 V8. Higgins, a skilled journeyman actor whose credits included The Rifleman and Green Acres, nailed the performance, and for his efforts he briefly became a pop celebrity. Enjoy the video.