Whatever Happened To The 'Where's The Beef' Lady From Wendy's?

In the 1980s iconic Wendy's television commercial, two little old ladies, apparently in some sort of market research interview conducted by an unnamed competitor of Wendy's, comment diplomatically that the hamburger they're inspecting has a "nice fluffy bun," not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings by mentioning the minuscule meat patty. Their lace-collared, loud-mouthed (or hard of hearing, or both) companion has zero time for this sugar-coating. "Where's the beef?" she demands.

An octogenarian star was born. Chicago's Clara Peller was the face of this 10-commercial advertising campaign, which was so successful that Wendy's sales leapt 31 percent the year it aired, and presidential candidate Walter Mondale even used the line during a debate (via 6 AM Marketing). People stuck "Where's the beef?" stickers on their car bumpers and wore the slogan on T-shirts. The fast-food chain even revived the campaign again in 2011 to promote their Hot 'N Juicy burgers line (via Fox News).

So whatever happened to Clara Peller?

Wendy's fired the "where's the beef" lady. Then she died

The 4 foot, 10-inch Clara Peller had spent most of her life as a manicurist in Chicago before an advertising agency scouted her as television commercial talent (via her New York Times obituary). Her first claim to TV fame was starring as a cleaning lady in an ad for the Massachusetts lottery (via Everything 80s Podcast). She hit the jackpot when she got cast in the Wendy's spot, first making $317.40 a day, and then earning a total of $30,000 — although Wendy's claims they paid $500,000. Her stardom won her a spot on Saturday Night Live, and a role in the movie Moving Violations.

Wendy's had a beef with one of her roles, though. In 1985, Peller made a commercial to entice the world to buy Prego spaghetti sauce. Tasting the chunky marinara, she says, "I found it!" 

"The commercial infers that Clara found the beef at somewhere other than Wendy's restaurants," Wendy's then-executive vice president told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in 1985. "Unfortunately, Clara's appearance in the ads makes it extremely difficult for her to serve as a credible spokesperson for our products."

Two years later, in 1987, Clara died at age 86.