The answer was always the same — they needed to use Palmolive dish soap — and that advice appeared in print and on television for 27 years.
Here’s a look back at three decades of Madge. And remember: You’re soaking in it!
Actress Jan Miner (“Madge”) nailed success as a manicurist (1972)
By Harvey Pack, Special to the Tribune – The Tampa Tribune (Florida) September 9, 1972
NEW YORK — The nation’s most famous manicurist spent the summer as a featured player at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Conn.
When appearing in prestigious productions and playing class roles like Lady Britomart in Shaw’s “Major Barbara,” she never asks any of her fellow actors to go soak their hands in Palmolive, but for Jan Miner, the role of Madge the manicurist in those TV commercials has been as rewarding as any part she has played in a long and illustrious career.
This is Jan’s seventh year as Madge, a record only surpassed by Jane Withers’ run as Josephine, the lady plumber. A familiar voice on radio during roles on dramatic shows on all four radio networks.
“IT WAS GREAT fun and so exciting,” she recalls, “taking a taxi from one studio to another and trying to remember what part you were about to play. And the best thing about radio drama was that it left everything to the audience’s imagination.
“TV offers a different type of challenge, but perhaps because I grew up with it, radio remains my first love.”
An executive of the ad agency making the test commercials for Madge the manicurist suggested to Jan that she go to the audition. Arriving at the casting call Jan remembers her sudden thought that she was in the wrong place.
“All the other girls were young and pretty, and I figured they must be looking for that type. But I was used to auditions, and I sat there figuring out a way to outdo the other aspirants. Then it dawned on me that the fact that I was the only older manicurist auditioning could be turned to my favor.
“By the time I auditioned, I had developed in my mind the basic character of Madge as I play her today.”
MISS MINER is very protective of Madge. If a commercial is sent to her by Palmolive and she believes it’s out of character for Madge, she lodges an objection on Madge’s behalf, and often succeeds in changing the tone of the commercial.
Actors in successful series generally exercise the same control over their characters, and Jan is aware of this.
“Madge is as important to me as Ironside might be to Raymond Burr. I don’t want her becoming too nosey or gossipy because it’s wrong for her, and might antagonize some viewers. If Madge goes, I go with her, and I’d miss her.”
Madge has gone international, and Jan Miner just came back from Paris where she did the French version. There are plans for the company to use the character in many international markets, and Jan Miner will be on screen all over the world telling ladies to go soak their hands.
WITH ALL HER years on the radio (she was Della Street on the radio “Perry Mason”), plus TV appearances in soaps like “Edge of Night’ and ‘Love of Life,” and on all the old live dramas, the part of Madge the manicurist is the one that has made her famous.
“Perhaps if this had happened to me when I was a youngster just breaking into the business I’d have resented it but now. . . frankly. . . I love it.
“Even appearing at Stratford — which I do almost every summer — when I appear on stage I hear a few ladies whispering — do you think she is?… no, it couldn’t be . . . they’re terribly confused. I really cannot blame them because Shaw’s Lady Britomart hardly seems right for a manicurist.’
But, fortunately, Jan Miner is.
ALSO SEE: How Jergens Lotion helped fix ‘detergent hands’ back in the 1950s & 1960s
Vintage Madge the Manicurist for Palmolive (1969)
“Madge! You use a dishwashing liquid to soften hands?”
“Madge said my hands should be in the movies.” (1972)
“Sure. The Beast with Five Fingers.”
MORE: Dozens of kitschy ’70s kitchen accessories your mom or grandma probably used to have
“Call the police! These hands are a crime!” (1975)
Vintage Palmolive TV commercial with Madge the Manicurist
“It’s got fingers. It must be a hand.” (1975)
You ought to do everything you can for those hands, starting with Palmolive dishwashing liquid. It softens hands while you do dishes.
And you get more than mildness. Those Palmolive suds are still cleaning right up to the last greasy casserole.
“Madge, sometimes I wish I’d never gotten married!” (1968)
“Palmolive dishwashing liquid? Softens hands while you do dishes. Why, you’re soaking in it now.”
Madge: “Hands come out of dishwater softer than they went in” (1985 TV commercial)
Madge the Manicurist even went to Germany… and changed her name to Tilly
“Tilly, Palmolive ist ja viel mehr als nur mild!”
MORE: Mr Whipple: Please don’t squeeze the Charmin! 20 years of TV commercial toilet paper drama
As a kid, I figured that these clients must have nasty dirty hands as well as rough skin, because why would you soak them in detergent when you could use skin lotion?