Orson Welles’s Paul Masson wine commercial: soup to nuts. Drunk Orson Welles attempting to blag his way through a wine commercial hardly needs an introduction, but there is a special bizarre wraparound into the inscrutable movie-and-music universe I inhabit (apart, of course, from Welles’s actually excellent films, and the even-more-hilarious destruction he wreaked upon commercial voice acting, which was in turn imitated brilliantly by Pinky and the Brain on Animaniacs, by the always-amazing Maurice LaMarche, who voiced Welles again seven months later in Tim Burton’s film Ed Wood, though the also always-amazing Vincent D’Onofrio, embodying Welles, received all the credit).

This commercial ends with Welles reciting the Paul Masson tagline: “Paul Masson will sell no wine before its time.” I had first heard this line about a decade after those Paul Masson commercials aired, in the great “Weird Al” Yankovic song “Dare to Be Stupid.”
I never actually understood what Weird Al was saying in the line; his Devo-inflected vocals made it sounds like “sell some wine before it’s tang.” When I first heard it, age 9 or so, there were plenty of things I didn’t quite understand and just took for granted as making some sense that I wasn’t privy to — like Bob Dylan’s “They knew that they’d find freedom” in the Traveling Wilburys song “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” that really sounded to me like “They knew that they’d find Frieda,” or the oddness of the sentiment of The Beatles’s “Back in the USSR” to someone unfamiliar with The Beach Boys, or what I thought was the highest award in journalism, “The Pull-It Surprise.” So, pre-Google and without the benefit of lyric sheets in cassette tape packaging, I just sang along with it as best I could and didn’t worry about it much further.
Now, though, I can catch the reference — and am sucked into a mindwarp by it, because “Dare to Be Stupid” was not only a great Weird Al single and the title track of a fun album, but a song featured in the “Transformers” cartoon movie in 1986. Yes, that same “Transformers” movie which constituted the final recorded performance of Orson Welles prior to his death. Did Al know it was going to be used there before he added that line? Did Orson Welles ever hear it? Does anyone else understand how weird that overlap is — or that the “Transformers” TV cartoons made into a feature-length film featured none other than Maurice LaMarche, Welles’s vocal stand-in eight years later?
No no, it’s all too much. Stupid is one thing, but weird one must leave to the professionals.
Michael Tencer

Michael Tencer

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