More Than Madge the Manicurist: The Marvelous Jan Miner
Promotional portrait of American actor Jan Miner (1917 - 2004) for the radio program, 'Second Mrs. Burton,' circa 1946. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
We all remember Madge the Manicurist, the sassy, innovative nail stylist who boldly soaked her customers’ hands in Palmolive dish soap. From 1966 until the early 1990s, Madge was the popular pitchwoman for the dish detergent brand and her zingers and one-liners made her a favorite among television commercial characters. Madge the Manicurist was played by the same actress, Jan Miner, for more than 25 years. What you probably don’t know is that Miner had an extensive career on the stage, radio, film, and television long before she quipped, “You’re soaking in it.”
Jan Miner, the Radio Star
A Boston native, Jan Miner found regular acting work on radio dramas during the 1940s and 1950s. She starred as Julie in Hilltop House, a long-running radio show, and had the title role in Lora Lawton. In addition, she worked on the radio version of Perry Mason as Della Street, Perry’s girl Friday. Her other radio credits include Boston Blackie, Casey, Crime Photographer, I Love Linda Dale, My Secret Story, and Radio City Playhouse.
Jan Miner, the Star of the Stage
Miner made her Broadway debut in Viva Madison Avenue!, a fleeting comedy that ran on Broadway in 1960. Prior to that, she co-starred in the off-Broadway drama, Obbligato, in 1958. She met her husband, Richard Merrell while performing live theater and the two often appeared in stage shows together. In 1973, Miner appeared in the Broadway revival of The Women and was cast in Watch on the Rhine and Heartbreak House in the 1980s. She journeyed to Stratford, Canada, for six seasons with the American Shakespeare Festival.
Jan Miner, Star of the Small Screen
Miner’s first foray into television acting was when she reprised her from Casey, Crime Photographer for its brief television stint. Throughout the 1970s, she appeared on One Day at a Time and had a recurring role in Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers. She also had guest roles in popular television shows such as Robert Montgomery Presents, Naked City, The Defenders, and more. By this time, Miner was working regularly as Madge the Manicurist for Palmolive, a job that afforded her the luxury of picking and choosing what acting jobs she wanted to take.
Jan Miner, Film Star
Miner’s movie roles are not numerous, but they are notable. Her first film was in 1968, The Swimmer. In 1980, she appeared in Willie & Phil. She was cast alongside Brooke Shields in Endless Love, and alongside Cher in Mermaids.
Jan Miner, Star of the Palmolive Dish Soap Commercials
Miner landed the role of Madge the Manicurist in 1966. As Madge, she worked to dispel the myth that hand washing dishes, a necessary but hated chore for 1960s housewives, led to dry, cracked hands. She had a sneaky way of proving her point to her clients…by soaking their hands in the dish detergent during their manicure appointment. When the conversation turned to the topic of dishpan hands…and it always did…Madge would praise the virtues of Palmolive as a product that was gentle on hands. It was then that she would utter her famous catchphrase, “You’re soaking in it,” to hammer home the point that Palmolive was the dishwasher’s friend.
Miner Loved Madge
Jan Miner played Madge the Manicurist for 27 years and created a character that left a lasting mark on television commercial history. When other actors and actresses commented that doing commercials was beneath them, Miner commented, “I’d dip my hands in Palmolive for the rest of my life…it left me free to pick and choose my theatre roles.”
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