“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.