Even when tipsily slurring his lines in ads for the finest of California champagnes, Orson Welles is a genius without parallel…
Hi folks, Henry here, the host of Cape Crisis. And as someone that studied film in college I take a perverse thrill in the later years of Orson Welles career. He was a one in a billion genius, a wunderkind that advanced American art on both stage, radio, and the big screen, including the supremely advanced Citizen Kane, which was so far beyond 99.9999% of films from its time. You’ll see some new piece of brilliance every time you see it. Then there’s his remarkable work as Harry Lime in The Third Man, and his absolutely stunning work in Touch of Evil. He was a truly singular man, and his works will be remembered forever, particularly on May 6, 2015, the day that would be his 100th birthday.
But he was also a difficult man, one who lived in excess and debt for decades of his life, having trouble creating much of anything as his weight ballooned. Late in life he became a bit like the odd recluse Charles Foster Kane, except without the fortune. To make a quick buck, he did voiceover work in a Transformers film, a number of strange documentaries, and quite a few commercials – not that he seemed to enjoy any of it. His surliness is legendary, and it’s two commercial fiascoes in particular I want to spotlight today. Partially it’s to celebrate a man who’s still entertaining even when being obscenely difficult, but also because these clips are so god damn hilarious.
Let’s start with the time he was a pitchman for frozen peas:
Back in the 1970s, Orson Welles did narration for a series of UK commercials, only the recording didn’t go so well. He got hung up on little things and didn’t seem to appreciate the creative input of the “2 Pests” directing him. His outright refusal to say “In July” shows he wasn’t in the best mood that day, and someone shared these hilariously combative outtakes with the world many years ago. In the days before the internet, the Frozen Peas tapes were listened to and shared by many entertainment insiders, including voice actor Maurice LaMarche. In fact, he was so addicted to the audio that he used it to perfect his Welles impersonation, reciting the entirety of Frozen Peas verbatim. Apparently the writers of Animaniacs liked it so much that they created the would-be conqueror Brain as an outlet for Maurice’s impersonation. And the entire thing came full circle in the underrated short “Yes, Always.”
This would hardly be the last time LaMarche would replay that scene in animation. He also worked as a regular on The Critic, which proved more than game to include a running gag of Orson Welles’ utter disgust at what his career had been reduced to.
(By the way, LaMarche offered Mr. Welles a sweet birthday wish today.)
Now, that opening bit with the wine leads to another moment of Orson’s troubled late career. With his rich voice and cultured style, you’d think Welles would be a fantastic spokesman for California champagne. And you’d be right, to a degree. The commercial for Paul Masson that aired isn’t too bad…
You can barely tell he’s drunk, though how long that took the editors to pull together, I have no idea. However, the filming of that commercial was something else altogether. Get ready to marvel at the beautiful train wreck that is “Aaaaaaaah… Paul Masson….”
My favorite part? The unfortunate extra that has to pour the champagne when Welles finishes his lines, knowing that it’s an unusuable take, but having to pour anyway. This scene was parodied on by James Adomian, one of the funniest guys around. He’s so good that it’s almost as funny as the real thing.
Again, if this was all Orson gave the world, then we are richer for it, but this is just the tip of the inebriated iceberg. Now that you’ve seen him at his lowest, why not check out Welles’ greatest works to see his highs. Pick up Citizen Kane,The Third Man, and Touch of Evil at Amazon to see what he was truly capable of.
And, while you’re in the film-viewing mood, Laser Time has brand new commentaries for The Avengers and Iron Man 3, now available on the Laser Time Bandcamp page, and you can buy them if you want to help while I’m in-between jobs. See, this advertising thing isn’t so hard, and I’m only half as drunk as Orson was.
Thank God for Hank and this article! I desperately wanted to give a shoutout to my homey Orson on his Happy Hundo, but couldn’t figure out the right words. Speaking of which, one of the greatest film characters of all-time, BUGS BUNNY celebrated his 77th birthday a few days ago, and I thought I’d take a second to recommend a little thing that was quietly released recently: Bugs Bunny Superstar.
Wanna celebrate the birfdays of both Bugs Bunny AND Orson Welles? As impossible as that may seem, here’s your singular solution: A Welles narrated documentary on Bugs Bunny! It’s clearly a VHS rip, the transfer is an abomination, but it’s still a long lost relic from 1975, available alone for the first time since fucking Laserdisc and a great way to celebrate what was once assumed to be throwaway filler tossed in front of the films of the 1940s. Back then, no one thought Bugs and Daffy’s legacy would long outlive the movies they preceded, and Bugs Bunny Superstar is literally the first documentary ever officially produced on the Looney Tunes legacy. As if Welles participation wasn’t enough, it’s kind of also the first time Friz Freleng, Tex Avery and Bob Clampett were allowed to step in front of the curtain and talk about their cartoons in their own words (animators were practically anonymous and wholly uncelebrated for back then.) It ain’t for everyone, but classic animation/film nerds should pop a big fat Chub-O. Oh, and there are like eight classic cartoons in there too.