Hey, Orson Welles... Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking?

Oct 15, 2020

There is a famous story about Orson Welles recording a voiceover campaign for frozen peas.

If you’re over 50 you should be familiar with it. If you’re not, check it out here and take a listen. It’s old-timey and absolutely splendid. Then, check out Pinky and The Brain - Yes, Always to hear a send-up of it which is old-timey and splendid in its own right. Serious kudos to Maurice LaMarche for his impeccable Orson Welles imitation. The episode is a half million dollar inside joke. But I digress… 

By the time Orson Welles was sitting in this infamous voice over session, he had written, directed and starred in one of the greatest movies OF ALL TIME: Citizen Kane. He had found national and international fame as the director and narrator of a 1938 adaptation of H. G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds, which aired on the radio series The Mercury Theatre on the Air and drove our nation into widespread panic, it was so believable. He was a celebrated Shakespearean stage actor and an accomplished magician, who shared his multitudinous gifts performing in various troop variety shows during the early 20th century war years. The man was a genius and an extraordinary talent.  Again, if you’re not familiar with him and his work, get familiar. Knowledge of culturally significant people and events demands it. 

Now a lot of celebrities have done voice over through the years. Some of them are great at it. Alec Baldwin, Christine Lahti, Chris Pine, Linda Hunt, and John Hamm come to mind. And they deserve our respect for jobs well done. There are also some who are absolutely, unequivocally uninteresting and are virtually unrecognizable to anyone outside the studio in which they recorded. Those celebrities shall go unnamed.

But it was not just Orson Welles’ celebrity that demanded respect in the studio that fateful day in London, it was his genius; his gift for, his love and knowledge of language. The writers and the director on that session knew a whole lot less about the intricacies and nuances of the English language than Orson Welles. But while they were feigning to treat him with kid glove respect, they were disrespecting his vast, vast knowledge and overlooking some plain ol’ common sense about how emphasis in sentence structure works. They were the ones trying to show off, and man howdy did they get their hands slapped. Mr. Welles, if you’re listening, I applaud you. 

I’m the daughter of an English grammar teacher. I am a poet and writer of little non-fiction things. I love the English Language like I birthed Her myself. Still, I ain’t no Orson Welles. I ain’t no celebrity. And I know who butters my bread. Now, will I rewrite audition copy when a paragraph is unintelligible? Yep. I did that just yesterday. Because #daughterofenglishgrammarteacher. Because recording what makes sense actually makes the writer look better, and also gives them a nudge to tighten things up. Do I risk having to record the audition again? Yes. But I can live with that. Do some writers drive me crazy with their less than perfect scripts and their confusing interpretations when they’re directing me in a live session? You betcha. And on occasion, if the temperature in the room feels right, I might make a careful suggestion and disguise it as their idea. Because that’s what blue collar, day player vo actors like me do. We make the client look good, and we surrender if we must. That's the whole knowing-who-butters-your-bread thing. You can bet if I had been the talent in that London session for frozen peas all those years ago, the director would have gotten my best fifty takes of  “IN July.”

Trust and Be Brave,


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