Friday, July 2, 2010

"I suppose you want the voice of God?"

The sixties in London again, I was an art director and worked with my partner, a copywriter. We had the Shredded Wheat account, a breakfast cereal that was more natural than the sweetened kind. We used to make an issue about its naturalness, no fun, but good for you.

John and I wrote a rather boring commercial, it was approved and we tried to find a way to make it marginally more interesting. We only had room with the voice over to do anything. “Orson Welles” we both said, a rather ambitious idea to use him for the announcer. It seemed impossible that the great talent would do it, but he was trying to raise money for a film project, he accepted.

We had to direct him for the spot, two kids that thought they were pretty hot until he showed up at the studio. This massive talent as well as massive man arrives at the recording studio. We are understandably nervous, probably even terrified. He strolls in, glares at us and reads the script, nervous copywriter, nervous art director; even the recording technician was apprehensive.

Mr. Welles looks up and says, “I suppose you want the voice of God?” we nod and very coolly say, “let’s try it that way.”

We had the studio booked for one hour. He gets in the booth and reads it perfectly, who are we to direct this great talent. He does it to length, 30 seconds; we say that’s good, 36 seconds have elapsed. He looks at us, a bunch of traumatized kids, and suggests a slightly shorter version, we immediately agree. He does it to 28 seconds, “great” we all say, 2 minutes have passed, “anything else” he says, we all are mute. “Why don’t I give you the tagline with different emphasis.”
He proceeds to give us about 6 different versions of the tagline; I can’t even remember what it was. We look at each other, ask the engineer if he is OK with them, he gulps and nods. 10 minutes have passed.
He gets up, lights his cigar, and looks at us in a pathetic way and strides out.

The voice of God made a very boring commercial a bit better, most people thought we found somebody to imitate his voice. It was Orson Welles; nobody else could have traumatized us as much.

Somewhere in the files of Shredded Wheat is the Orson Welles version of "The voice of God" commercial. I would love to have it to remember the time we spent with the great Orson Welles, trying to be cool and being anything but.

The voice of God seemed like a God to us, and still does.


  1. This is a great story. I am a big Orson Welles fan and this would be a typical effect he had on people because of his greatness. He is sadly now gone. I only ask one thing. As I loved this man as an actor the least you can do is spell his name correctly, buddy.
    It's W-E-L-L-E-S !!!!!! not Wells. Show some respect for the great man.

  2. Years ago, when I worked for Bing Crosby Productions, our DP on a picture told us of passing Wells" ambulance (too big for a limo) and the great one leaned out holding a gigantes Havana and asked, "Do you have a match , sonny?:" Bobby, the DP, complied and replied,"Yes sir, Mr. Kane" and the interview was complete.

  3. good one Sean, sorry Frank, I will correct it, thanks

  4. I always loved this story Greg...Wish I could have been invited to the shoot as he was always my favorite actor....We all love "Citizen Kane" but the "Lady from Shanghai" was sooo good.
    A brilliant mind....