In an era when television was beginning to dominate the media landscape, a character emerged that would become synonymous with dish soap and manicures. Meet Madge, the ever-quirky and wisecracking manicurist, who graced American screens in a series of memorable Palmolive commercials from the early 1960s until the late 1990s. Brought to life by the talented Jan Miner, Madge became an icon in American television advertising history.
The brainchild of the creative team at Ted Bates Advertising, Madge was a character who caught the viewer’s attention with her unconventional approach to a manicure. As customers sat at her station at the Salon East Beauty Parlor, she would soak their hands in a bowl of Palmolive dish detergent, much to their surprise. As they marveled at the unusual practice, Madge would deliver her iconic punchline:
Palmolive softens hands while you do the dishes.
What made these commercials standout was Miner’s flawless portrayal of Madge. Miner, with her extensive experience in radio and early television shows like ‘Boston Blackie’ and ‘Casey, Crime Photographer,’ infused Madge with a charm and wit that instantly connected with viewers. Her trademark line, “You’re soaking in it,” became one of the most parodied quotes from a television commercial.
The impact of Madge transcended beyond the borders of America. The character was also a hit in France (where Madge was renamed “Françoise”), Germany, Switzerland, Austria (as “Tilly”), Finland (as “Marissa”), Denmark, and Italy. In Australia and New Zealand, the character was portrayed by Robina Beard, keeping the spirit of Madge alive in these regions.
Reminiscing about her auditions, Miner shared that it was an executive from the ad agency who suggested she audition for the role of Madge. Upon arrival, she found herself surrounded by younger aspirants and doubted if she was in the right place. However, in a twist of fate, it dawned on her that her age might actually be an advantage, and she played up the character of an older manicurist, a decision that led to her iconic portrayal of Madge.