And today’s product will sell none of themselves before their time.
When I was eleven years old, and continuing into my teens, as well as varying points of my life beyond that, I watched the animated sitcom The Critic, as it always aired after The Simpsons. What I never realized until much later was how incredibly short-lived the show was – seventeen episodes across two seasons in 1994 and 1995. It was brilliant, it was funny (it is still both), it changed networks (ABC to FOX), and it was unceremoniously cancelled.
The show about a portly, balding film critic named Jay Sherman (played by Jon Lovitz), poked fun at pop culture and films, both then-current and past, well-known and obscure, and set forth a path that Family Guy would continue to forge only a few years later. For some reason, that worked in 1999 (until it didn’t in 2002, until it worked again in 2005), but 1994-1995 wasn’t ready for this kind of humor.
One of the jokes on the series was about Orson Welles (voiced in spot-on parody by Maurice LaMarche) pitching various products, including wine, fish sticks, and frozen peas.
This was hilarious when I was 11-12 years old (even moreso if you watched Pinky and the Brain), but I didn’t even know this was a reference to an actual series of commercials Welles actually did. My dad made sure to let me know he was drunk in some of them. I never forgot about that (or this), and in the last few years, finally sought out those commercials.
In reality, Welles had been a fixture of advertising for the entirety of his career, beginning in the 1930s on radio. However, by the 1970s, much of Welles’ income came from his appearances in commercials. During this time, he was lending his baritone voice and image to promote frozen foods, Carlsberg beer, subscription television, and eventually directing commercials as his income became more dependent on it. He did continue to act steadily, playing the voice of the elusive Robin Masters on the original Magnum P.I., and even voiced Unicron in Transformers: The Movie, one of his final roles before his death in 1985. Much of his work has been referenced over the years, but it is the commercials he made when he needed work most that have seen the art of parody.
Let’s just say this topic is good for two articles at this point. We’ll cover Welles association with a wine company first, and the foodstuff commercials he did next week.
It’s a strange trip through consumable goods, blooper reels, and obvious inebriation…and it’s pretty freakin’ funny too.
First up, Orson Welles hocks alcohol!
“It took Beethoven four years to write that symphony. Some things can’t be rushed: good music, and good wine.” – Orson Welles, Paul Masson Wine, “Beethoven, Emerald Dry” (1978)
Although California-based wine company Paul Masson had been making “no wine before its time” since 1892, the brand was often associated with catering to the lower end of the market. It wasn’t Boone’s Farm, Thunderbird, Wild Irish Rose, or MD 20/20, but it wasn’t high class, expensive wine. But Paul Masson was up to changing that image and rebrand as a higher-class wine company, diversifying and looking to go beyond the sparkling wine that they were known for, and expanding their product line to chablis, burgundy, riesling, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, port and sherry. And who better to give the company a look of class and sophistication than Citizen Kane himself, Orson Welles?
The first commercial, filmed and aired in 1978, promoted Masson’s Emerald Dry, comparing its making to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. While filming the commercial was a near disaster, the company signed Welles to a $500,000-per commercial contract, with seven additional commercials between 1978 and 1981, as well as print advertisements. Welles was notoriously difficult to work with, even at this stage of his career, and was unceremoniously sacked when the company chose to go in yet another direction, promoting “light-bodied summer wines.” It was felt that the slimmer John Gielgud was a better fit to promote these wines over Welles, though it may have likely been his unguarded comments on a talk show that lead to his firing.
But during that time, what came out of those commercials has been the source of parody – the aforementioned spoofs on The Critic, as well as John Candy depicting Welles in a Steve Martin TV special in 1980, and again on a Billy Crystal special in 1982.
And then there were the drunken outtakes, which are absolute, hilarious truth. Friends, I don’t lie when I say this is one of the funniest things I’ve seen recently. I mean, the commercials already have this feel of “they write their own jokes” because of having seen The Critic spoof so many times over the years, but the outtakes…wow.
But of course, you really need to see the actual commercials first, since seeing is truly believing.
So for today, from 1978 until 1981, here’s eight commercials featuring an inebriated Orson Welles corporate schilling for Paul Masson Wine’s Rhine Castle, Emerald Dry, Champagne, Chablis, Burgundy, and a general commercial that focuses on the Carafe-shaped bottle, rather than just the contents of said bottle.
It tastes great whether it is consumed in your dressing room, while listening to Beethoven, at a house party, wine tasting, in the backyard while reading Gone with the Wind, or at a barbecue.
But don’t take my word for it, Orson Welles said so!
I’m assuming he was at some stage of inebriation in all of these commercials, though he hides it pretty well.
Well, except for this time…
I love the seconds of absolute nothing, the sway, the tapping of the bottle like he wants to say “…this stuff!”
As for this outtake, he seemed perfectly sober, just being a jerk about the whole thing. His outtakes are the first and last clips in this video, but the ones in between are funny too!
“Do you mind not saying ‘Action’?”
Ah Orson Welles, you’ve left an incredible legacy of wine, distaste for direction, and pop culture references.
Perhaps this is where “talk to the hand” came from?
Like I said, this is a topic worthy of a two-parter, so next Thursday…everything else Orson Welles hocked in those later years!
Have a fantastic Flashback Friday, and – that’s terrible, I quit – I mean, have a great weekend!