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James Mason for Thunderbird Wine

Click on the image above to view this “unusual” commercial.

“I like the unusual flavor of Thunderbird wine. It’s an exceptionally good drink for every occasion. Thunderbird has an unusual flavor, all its own. Not quite like anything I’ve ever tasted. I suggest that you try Thunderbird. It’s really delightful.” — James Mason

James Mason made this brief, 30 second spot for Thunderbird Wine in 1964 — but why? The reason is simple; he needed the cash. As Siobhan Staples notes, “after an acrimonious and expensive divorce from Pamela [Kellino] in 1962, Mason realized he would need to keep the money coming in to support himself as well as his ex-wife and two children. He worked almost constantly over the next twenty-two years – not always in the best films, but always giving a faultless performance.”

This commercial has become something of a legend, and pops up in various places on the web. As others have commented, the sight of the urbane, distinguished actor pitching Thunderbird is hopelessly incongruous; Orson Welles acting as a spokesperson for Paul Masson is one thing, but after this, what’s next? Sir Laurence Olivier for Ripple?

In his autobiography, Before I Forget, Mason notes that he was paid a paltry $10,000 for the spot – “I could use it,” he noted – which Mason accepted only on the condition that he be allowed to actually write the script. Then, as he admitted, he took great delight in coming up with a decidedly “unusual” text. Yet as always, Mason carries off his role with aplomb and more than a little irony, which is certainly more than understandable under the circumstances.

A toast to 2012, then, from James Mason and Thunderbird!

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About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of numerous books and more than 70 articles on film and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu.

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