Providing the rhythms of a new parade
And on it will go, and grow
For only friendship will ease the vacancy,
Experienced by those of us
Within our selected art form”
I grew up hearing my father’s words and deeds. His doctrine was simple: “plant, harvest, and never extend your hand looking for something to be given to you free.”
From age nineteen to my current moment of ripeness follows, as sequentially as possible, in order to help in understanding, why and how I entered, developed, and maintained my position in the world of commercial voice over.
Some will say that being in a certain place at a certain time is all the reason a person might need in order to determine their life’s pursuits. It isn’t my intent to agree or disagree with that supposition. All I intend doing is presenting some thoughts about what carried me from one point to another while chasing down answers concerning the who, what, why, when, where, and how of what turns out to be one of the more subjective art forms relative to modern times.
“One day if ever I wish to leave this creative world, I so love… It will be then that I consider really writing a memoir of things I have seen and heard with my own two eyes and ears, without the worry of recounting incidents which might endanger or hurt another mans family or friends.”
– Bill Cullen, as shared with da harv, circa 1979
When Bill Cullen was experiencing his days in the sun, he was undeniably one of the most recognizable figures in these United States. Like many, our family considered him to be one of us. It was the days of black and white small-screen television; with all of us gathered around, taking pride in the fact we each knew everything about everybody who came into our homes to entertain us.
Perhaps you might imagine my excitement when I was about to direct one of my favorite people of all time, the one and only Bill Cullen. At the time, I was working for a commercial talent agency of great prominence (FYI, they’re no longer in business). It was one of the most amazing meetings of my life. Enter Bill Cullen. My boss, not a very thoughtful guy, neglected to tell me about Bill being handicapped. Make no mistake, Bill Cullen’s handicap was strictly physical.
All the years I had enjoyed watching him every single week on the tube, I never figured out they were shooting him from the waist up. Bill was always seen seated behind a table or standing behind a speaker’s rostrum.
In reflection, I enjoy thinking back to all the ensuing meetings between Bill and myself. I ultimately became his private coach for a six-month period of time. The lesson I learned: in voice over, a person can be whomever they are capable of portraying.
For the actor seeking out a career in voice over, the only handicap is the actor him or herself.
If you can manage to tell the truth while reading another man’s words, you’re on the right road to success. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? The nice thing about telling the truth is we all have the capability of knowing truth from falsehood. If you as a human being perceive something to be the truth, then that’s what it has to be.
Bill Cullen paid tribute to me one day as he recommended me to coach a very well-known actor friend of his. We were sitting together at a table at the Palms Restaurant, when the actor showed up to join us. Bill handled the introductions, and without verbally breaking stride said to the actor, “This is the man I was telling you about. Not to worry about any smoke being blown up your ass.”
Thirty years after that incident, the most active and the biggest money earner in our world of voice over, Don LaFontaine, stood there in my recording room. He had just completed reading for something or other, when, without warning, Don looked straight at me through the glass and said in his own inimitable fashion, “You know why you’re successful Harvey? Because you don’t blow smoke up anyone’s ass!”
It was Bill Cullen, and thirty years later Don LaFontaine who delivered the very same appraisal. But the thing I must honestly report was, I learned the truth lesson long before those gentlemen offered their words of praise.
My dad offered to a then little da harv, “Look the bastard right in the eye, when you shake hands, and for God’s sake tell him the truth.” It’s a glorious thing to know in this day and age of second-by-second change in communication methods, the good stuff; the social graces which the real ladies and gentlemen conduct themselves in accordance with never changes.
Next time you’re on mic, tell the truth, even if it happens to be stream of consciousness.
While Bill Cullen is no longer with us, many of his dear friends still manage to endure. Most of them, which I choose to write about or mention fleetingly during my descriptive, have magic about them. Like Bill Cullen of my past, Orson Bean remains a working part of today. People would tune in to visit with Orson and to experience the radiance of his smiling truthfulness. Orson is another of the old guard who refers to me as lad. The fact, this lad happens to be a grandfather is not a deterrent. I guess once a lad, always a lad.