Had he not passed away on October 10, 1985, today would have been Orson Welles' 95th birthday. Sure, the director, actor, producer, and "original auteur" was widely heralded as the greatest director of all time, but he was also known for his remarkably thunderous voice that went hand-in-hand with his legendary stature. (George Lucas' initially chose Mr. Welles to voice Darth Vader but reconsidered for fear his voice was too recognizable.)
In this post we'll take a look at two clips starring Mr. Welles. The first, which we'll call "Unicron,"has pretty much gone under the radar for the last 25 years. The second, a radio commercial outtake — let's call it "Frozen Peas" — has become infamous since its recording.
Before we begin, it's only fitting to start with a quick refresher on the career of George Orson Welles. He first gained notoriety at 23 for his radio adaptation of H.G. Wells' 1898 sci-fi novel, The War of the Worlds. The live, hour-long program of the same name was directed and narrated by Mr. Welles and aired on October 30, 1938 (without commercials) as part of a weekly CBS Radio drama series called Mercury Theatre on the Air (listen to the complete War of the Worlds broadcast here).
Because the first 40 minutes of The War of the Worlds was read as a series of simulated breaking news bulletins, many listeners believed that an actual alien invasion was underway in New Jersey and New York. The broadcast caused nationwide hysteria and mass outrage, but it instantly catapulted the young Mr. Welles into the spotlight. Three years later he wrote, directed and starred in Citizen Kane, widely considered the greatest film ever made.
Now, on to Unicron... About three months before he passed away, Mr. Welles lent his voice to animated planet for the 1986 film The Transformers: The Movie (which also starred Judd Nelson and Leonard Nimoy) — it was the final role of his career. (Two decades before the 2007 live-action blockbuster, and a year before its current stars Shia Labeouf and Megan Fox were born.) Mr. Welles voiced a perilous planet/robot that ate other planets (complicated, we know) by the name of Unicron. Watch/listen to the following clip to hear Unicron, and why the director needed to use a synthesizer to modify Mr. Welles original sound.
In the above video, one of the producers refers to "a famous audio clip of [Mr. Welles] just reaming some sound engineer." That outtake, which many call "Frozen Peas," has become infamous in the film and voiceover industry. (Something Mr. Welles appreciated; it intimated others before he arrived on set. ) There are many different versions of "Frozen Peas" floating around the Internet but we decided to create our own with improved audio quality and photos to enhance the overall absurdity. So, without further ado, Orson Welles in "Frozen Peas":