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Central Press/Getty Images

Celebrate Orson Welles’ Birthday With a Cold Glass of Paul Masson Champagne!

Central Press/Getty Images
Central Press/Getty Images

In 1941, Orson Welles—who would have turned 102 years old today—was at the top of his game. Though he was only 26 years old, Welles had managed to successfully conquer every corner of the existing entertainment world.

On the stage, he introduced groundbreaking adaptations of Shakespeare’s work, including a 1937 stage version of Julius Caesar that modernized the material with imagery more reminiscent of Nazi Germany. In 1938, Welles staged what is probably the most famous radio broadcast of all time when his reading of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds was mistaken for news (though several sources claim that the “mass panic” it set off is more of a myth, as very few listeners were tuned in).

It didn’t take long for Welles’ talent for innovation to get the attention of the powers-that-be in Hollywood, who quickly came calling. In 1939, Welles signed a two-picture movie deal with RKO that granted him something truly unheard of in those days: complete artistic control. Though his budgets would be limited, Welles would be the sole decider of everything from script to cast to final cut. After toying around with other projects, including an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Welles finally settled on what would be his directorial debut: Citizen Kane, the story of Charles Foster Kane, a fictional newspaper magnate-turned-lonely old man. Even today, the film is widely considered the greatest movie ever made.

Though Citizen Kane was not without its controversies (its protagonist’s similarities to real-life newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst led to various attempts to see the movie burned and/or buried, some of them successful), it also turned Welles into Hollywood’s Golden Boy. It’s a mantle that ultimately proved a bit too overwhelming for Welles—there’s really only one direction you can go after making the greatest movie of all time.

Welles would continue to direct dozens of projects over the next several decades—many of them great (see The Stranger, Touch of Evil, and F for Fake)—but no project ever came close to achieving the critical acclaim he had received for Citizen Kane.

By the late 1970s, Welles, who had once been the voice of a generation, was simply just a voice. With a lack of movie offers, Welles capitalized on his well-known mug and famously baritone pipes as a way to make ends meet. (Before he voiced Magnum P.I.’s unseen Robin Masters or the robot Unicron on Transformers, Welles was George Lucas’ original choice to voice Darth Vader.) This is when Welles signed on as the celebrity spokesman for Paul Masson, a California winery that promised to “sell no wine before its time.”

Welles made some delightfully cheesy commercials for the company, bringing a Shakespearean feel to a mediocre vino.

He explained how he likes to cast a party the way he casts a play: with very special people—and a very special California champagne.

He also informed us that Chablis is America’s most popular wine. (Who knew?)

Most importantly, Welles proved that if you wanted to get rip-roaring drunk, Paul Masson is your man. His famously inebriated outtakes from a champagne commercial might very well be the brand’s most notable achievement.

Maaa-haaaahh—the French!

Welles didn’t give the commercial’s director a whole lot of usable footage to work with, as evidenced by the final product.

So raise a glass to Orson Welles: maker of the world’s greatest movie, and star of its most disastrous commercial.

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40 Years Later: Watch The Johnny Cash Christmas Show
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Over the course of his career, Johnny Cash made a series of Christmas TV specials and recorded a string of Christmas records. In this 1977 TV performance, Cash is in great form. He brings special guests Roy Clark, June Carter Cash, The Carter Family, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison ("Pretty Woman" starts around 23:50), Carl Perkins, and the Statler Brothers. Tune in for Christmas as we celebrated it 40 years ago—with gigantic shirt collars, wavy hair, and bow ties. So many bow ties.

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Pop Culture
An AI Program Wrote Harry Potter Fan Fiction—and the Results Are Hilarious
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

“The castle ground snarled with a wave of magically magnified wind.”

So begins the 13th chapter of the latest Harry Potter installment, a text called Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash. OK, so it’s not a J.K. Rowling original—it was written by artificial intelligence. As The Verge explains, the computer-science whizzes at Botnik Studios created this three-page work of fan fiction after training an algorithm on the text of all seven Harry Potter books.

The short chapter was made with the help of a predictive text algorithm designed to churn out phrases similar in style and content to what you’d find in one of the Harry Potter novels it "read." The story isn’t totally nonsensical, though. Twenty human editors chose which AI-generated suggestions to put into the chapter, wrangling the predictive text into a linear(ish) tale.

While magnified wind doesn’t seem so crazy for the Harry Potter universe, the text immediately takes a turn for the absurd after that first sentence. Ron starts doing a “frenzied tap dance,” and then he eats Hermione’s family. And that’s just on the first page. Harry and his friends spy on Death Eaters and tussle with Voldemort—all very spot-on Rowling plot points—but then Harry dips Hermione in hot sauce, and “several long pumpkins” fall out of Professor McGonagall.

Some parts are far more simplistic than Rowling would write them, but aren’t exactly wrong with regards to the Harry Potter universe. Like: “Magic: it was something Harry Potter thought was very good.” Indeed he does!

It ends with another bit of prose that’s not exactly Rowling’s style, but it’s certainly an accurate analysis of the main current that runs throughout all the Harry Potter books. It reads: “‘I’m Harry Potter,’ Harry began yelling. ‘The dark arts better be worried, oh boy!’”

Harry Potter isn’t the only work of fiction that Jamie Brew—a former head writer for ClickHole and the creator of Botnik’s predictive keyboard—and other Botnik writers have turned their attention to. Botnik has previously created AI-generated scripts for TV shows like The X-Files and Scrubs, among other ridiculous machine-written parodies.

To delve into all the magical fiction that Botnik users have dreamed up, follow the studio on Twitter.

[h/t The Verge]

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