Whatever happened to 'Donna and the Wolfman'?

Not long ago, Donna Anderson played a DVD of her past for her oldest daughter.

"The hair!" Anderson recalled, her voice rising in horror. "Oh! Oh! It was really bad — really big."

She softened. "That was the '80s. I thought I was really lookin' good."

Truly, that was the '80s, when Anderson and her father, Doyle Rodgers, dominated local TV with their "Donna and the Wolfman" commercials for Gallery Furniture. Rodgers died after a heart attack five years ago this month at age 67, but Anderson, 42, continues to manage the Gallery stores in Gainesville and College Park along with her brothers.

Shot for a fraction of a shoestring, the 30-second spots featured the big-haired father and daughter doing stunts, donning costumes, sometimes just ad libbing and being themselves. No bit was too corny — Rodgers would climb down a ladder holding a big sign that read "Prices" and announce: "I'm bringing prices down!"

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And they were ubiquitous. There were Atlanta Braves games during the '80s when it seemed there were more "Donna and the Wolfman" ads on the telecast than there were people in the stadium. Anderson estimates they made more than 500 commercials over 20 years, and they played all over local TV.

"I was always proud of 'em," Anderson said, even though she knew many viewers laughed. "But can you tell me what commercial played before us or played after us? You couldn't," she concluded triumphantly.

Anderson was 15 in 1981 when Rodgers asked her to join him in the TV ads he had been doing solo. The "Wolfman" nickname — obvious when you saw his mane of hair and massive beard — had been suggested by one of Ted Turner's sales representatives who wanted him to have "some kind of schtick so people will remember you." In those early days, the commercials were shot in Turner's studios and aired mainly on TBS.

"We were definitely a product of Ted Turner," she said. "He made us."

Turner also helped Rodgers. When the DJ Wolfman Jack sued "Wolfman" Rodgers for trademark infringement in the 80s, Turner loaned Rodgers some of his lawyers to help. The suit was eventually dropped, Anderson said.

Rodgers only mentioned that Anderson was his daughter once out of more than 500 ads, and many people assumed they were married, she laughed. By the time she was a senior at Campbell High School in Smyrna, "they'd never just say, 'Hey Donna,' they'd say, 'Hey Donna, where's the Wolfman?' "

Anderson's glass-walled office in the Gainesville store has shelves groaning with props from old commercials, plaques, pictures of her and Rodgers, and of her daughters, Marilyn, 21, and Shelley, 11, with husband Bobby, a car salesman.

The sign on top of the store says "Hey! Ask for the Wolfman!" Inside, they still sell the "four-piece black lacquer bedroom suites" that seemed to be featured in nearly every ad.

Business is down about one-third, she said, due to the recession, "just like everybody else's."

After Rodgers died in 2004, Anderson made a couple of commercials with her brothers, then stopped. It didn't quite feel right. Now she's thinking about launching a new Gallery Furniture ad campaign, and is recruiting some famous people, whom she won't name, for cameos. She hopes it will start this summer.

"Whatever happened to ..." is a weekly feature catching up with people and issues in the news. Are you wondering about the fate or fortune of former newsmakers? Tell us who and e-mail dgibson@ajc.com. Please put "whatever happened to" in the reference line.

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