Was Orson Welles Drunk On Paul Masson? These Outtakes Were The First Viral Videos

By | May 4, 2019

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Left: Orson Welles in action on the set of the bumbled Paul Masson Champagne commercial. Right: Welles in a print advertisement for Paul Masson. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

For TV viewers around the turn of the '80s, Orson Welles' Paul Masson wine commercials raised so many questions -- including "Who is Orson Welles?" and "Why do we care what reasonably-priced wine he drinks?" And finally, "Is this guy ok?"

The first thing you learn in film class is that Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, from 1941, is the greatest film ever made. So that answers the first question -- brilliant writer/director/actor. You might care about his choice of wine because his voice sounds very cultured and his morbid obesity implies that he is an expert at eating and drinking things. As to whether he's ok in the ads -- no, he's not ok. He's drunk.

In the spots that made it to TV, Welles comes off as weird and pretentious, but those were the cleaned-up versions. In the outtakes, which were somehow smuggled away from the production company for the benefit of us all, we see a man who seems to have sampled quite a lot of the product.

Orson Welles was Paul Masson's pitchman from 1978 to 1981, offering its catchphrase on TV and in print ads: Paul Masson will sell no wine before its time. For those four glorious years, television audiences were treated to the melodious baritone of Orson Welles as he sang the praises of Paul Masson’s inexpensive wine.

The Paul Masson commercials starring Orson Welles lived on long after the director passed away in 1985. People taped the ads off the TV to pass them around to friends, and outtakes from the sessions made their way online in recent years. These delirium-inducing commercials are strange, but like a fine vino, they grow better with age. 

Orson Welles Was At End Of His Career When Paul Masson Called

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Source: (pinterest.com)

Welles made more than Citizen Kane -- other acclaimed masterpieces to his credit include The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Stranger (1946), and Touch Of Evil (1958). He was also a noted Shakespearean actor and director, and it was Welles who famously excited listeners by reading H.G. Wells' War Of The Worlds on the radio way back in 1938. 

But by the late 1970s, Orson Welles was no longer the whiz kid. He left several projects unfinished in the late '60s and early '70s, which isn't a good way to continue working as a director. Even if no one wanted to give him money to direct, companies felt that his baritone voice gave their products gravitas, which is why Welles shilled for so many bottom shelf items.

Even audiences who weren’t familiar with his work knew Welles by the sound of his voice. He seems to have taken any job he could get: frozen peas, Swedish food, and of course, Paul Masson wine.