All rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, I was actually born after the invention of radio and television — but not that much after. Hardly the point, which is, since their invention, and mass distribution, we have added to our human experience a dimension that previously didn’t exist — for millions to hear a person’s speaking voice. It is in my mind a bigger deal than you might otherwise imagine.
History is replete with testimonials as to the oratory skills of various persons, but we really do not know what they sounded like. Marc Anthony’s infamous, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears…” speech couldn’t have been heard by more than a few thousand people — not only was there no radio or TV, there wasn’t even amplification. The words Jesus Christ spoke, to likely lesser crowds than Marc Anthony had, were nevertheless powerful enough to inspire the foundation of a religious movement that is now the world’s largest — but we don’t know what he sounded like. Lincoln and his Gettysburg address suffered the same fate.
With the advent of radio and TV the world can not only hear the speaker, en masse, but see he or she as well. If you think of how a jury sizes up a witness, to evaluate their credibility and form an opinion as to the merit of their proffered testimony; or, how we as every day individuals do likewise when we meet and have social intercourse with friends, sales-people, business associates, merchants and a panoply of other people, our ability to see and hear them is markedly superior in the evaluative process than merely reading their pitch or pronouncements on paper or computer screen.
So powerful are these media, merely hearing the voice of a well known speaker can conjure a picture of them in our mind’s eye. We shall play a game to test my hypothesis. I will supply some famous quotes, that have been recorded for posterity and should be familiar to most who watch television or listen to radio, and you will tell me if their quote doesn’t conjure a picture of them in your mind and remind you of their speaking voice. Ready? Let’s go!
1. “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
2. “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
3. “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
4. “We will sell no wine before its time.”
5. “It’s Beef. It’s what’s for Dinner.”
6. “And that’s the way it is,…”
7. “…if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit….”
8. “Here’s Johnny.”
9. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”
10. “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Now the answers. I’ve embedded links to You Tube snippets of the actual quoted dialogue and a few links to the memorable quotes of those who had more than a few, or to some other noteworthy aspect of the speaker.
1. Winston Churchill, in a speech made on June 4, 1940. Considered by many the greatest orator of the 20th century and the source of a panoply of memorable quotes. I hear his voice, I can picture his stout frame, his signature cigar and hat; and, recollect his indomitable spirit.
2. Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a speech made on December 8, 1941 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I hear his voice, even though he died before I was born, I can picture his often bespectacled face; and, recollect his often quotable also indomitable spirit, even though I am largely not a fan of his political agenda.
3. John F. Kennedy, in his inaugural speech, made on January 20, 1961. I hear his voice, I can picture his youthful good looks, recollect his forward looking vision for America, inclusive of exploring outer space and stewardship of the Cuban Missile Crisis, even though I am largely not a fan of his political agenda either.
4. Orson Welles, in an April, 1979 Paul Masson wine commercial. I can picture his impressive corpulence and beard, and his wonderful stage presence. Welles has been a particular hero of mine ever since I learned of his exploits with the Mercury Theater on the Air and their infamous October 30, 1938 (Halloween) radio broadcast of H.G. Welles’ (no relation) classic, “The War of the Worlds” — which persuaded a million or so American listeners we were actually being invaded by beings from outer space.
5. Robert Mitchum, as the original narrator in a 1992 ad campaign for the Beef industry. I can picture his rugged good looks, muscular frame and recall his being a prototype of the Hollywood bad-boy, being amongst the first of his colleagues to get arrested for smoking marijuana. On his death, his voice was replaced by that of Sam Elliott, which is also distinctive.
6. Walter Cronkite, in his signature sign off from the CBS evening news. I can picture his craggy face, and how his voice had a calm, authoritative pitch and timbre to it, which many Americans trusted during his 19 year tenure on the air.
7. Johnny Cochran, in his October 1995 summation to the O.J. Simpson jury, trying him on charges of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. I can picture his mustachioed face, soft voice and impressive courtroom presence. Although widely criticized as a true miscarriage of justice, I view the acquittal as a product of highly effective defense lawyering and dopey prosecution, which ultimately centered on the prosecution’s refusal to admit the possible bigotry of one of the investigating officers, Mark Fuhrman, despite the likelihood the defense would get proof of same into evidence, which allowed the defense to, rightly, argue to the jury, if they are willing to lie about that, what else might they lie about? PS. The mention of the glove in the tag line is a corruption of the actual phrase he used.
8. Ed McMahon, doing his trademark introduction of Johnny Carson at the opening of the Tonight Show, which he did for 30 years. I can picture his tall stocky and bespectacled figure and remember his excellence as the perennial second banana. That great voice earned him the top slot on several other television shows and made him the official spokesperson for American Family Publishers.
9. William Jefferson Clinton, giving, sadly, perhaps, the most memorable quote of his 8 year presidency. I can picture his tall, affable good looks and still am amazed at his resilience as a politician, even though I am largely not a fan of his political agenda either.
10. Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. I can picture him in his space suit, clambering down the ladder from the lunar module and scampering about the moon’s surface during his historic July 1969 Apollo 11 mission. It was a mere 7 years after John Kennedy announced our intention to get there and remains in my mind as one of the most amazing events I’ve ever witnessed.
So, how did you do? If you got none right, I suspect you are on the south side of 30 and have not yet developed a fully blossomed interest in history. If you were 10 for 10, I suspect you are on the north side of 50 and not afflicted with Alzheimer’s, as yet. Before you beat me up with negative commentary, just remember I never claimed that this was a scientific test of any sort, just a hypothesis of mine. With the exception of Churchill, I deliberately avoided using politicians I actually liked, as I figured if I could be impressed by one I didn’t like, it was some evidence that what they had to say was memorable and that was the point.