Monday, 11 February 2019

Joe Sirola

“G.E. is proud to sponsor The McLaughlin Group,” said the raspy voiceover announcer, concluding his institutional pitch with the slogan “G.E. (pause) We bring good things to life.”

The voice was unmistakable. It was heard in all kinds of TV spots. He was on camera, too. When he appeared on Get Smart as Harvey Satan, I said to the TV set “That’s that commercial guy!”

His name was Joseph Sirola. The Hollywood Reporter is reporting his death at age 89.

Sirola is likely the only actor who owned a tooth-whitening business. He’s also likely the only soap opera actor thinking he’d get a better chance at a bank loan by listing his occupation as “soap salesman.” (He got the loan). He’s also likely the only actor to walk out on a Broadway play (“The Unsinkable Molly Brown”) to go to Italy to shoot a small part in Cleopatra with Liz and Dick. He may likely be the only actor who dueted at a café with Ethel Merman (it happened in 1960 when he was just starting out).

He eventually gained a starring role in a series in 1975. He played the head of an Italian family in The Montefuscos. Sirola was Croatian.

It’s not like Sirola needed the money from the series. He was pulling in a good $300,000 and up a year voicing commercials—this was in 1970-era dollars. Voiceover people are so rarely recognised in the popular press but I’ve found two old articles about Joe Sirola. The first was a syndicated column published in the Yonkers Herald Statesman of November 21, 1968.
‘Voice Over’ Commercials Very Profitable For Actor

NEW YORK — When the cab pulled up in front of the Madison Avenue advertising agency, a barrel-voiced (and chested) man jumped out and bellowed at a friend, "Hey Sid! Lend me a buck for the cab. I don't have a dime."
Joe Sirola took the dollar, paid the cab and walked into the building. Four hours later, he walked out $7,600 richer.
Things like that happen in show business. But what is unique here, is that Sirola duplicates the scene several times a week, every week.
Sirola is one of a small, very select, and very rich group of actors who is in demand for "voice over" TV commercials. The phrase simply means that the actor, or announcer, is not seen, just heard."
We sat in the lush garden of his penthouse apartment recently and the vibrant character, practically oozing energy, explained his profession. "First, don't forget that I'm an actor, not an announcer," he said, reminding us that he's featured in the Broadway musical "Golden Rainbow."
"Commercials today are altogether different from what they were in the past," the actor pointed out. "The days of the resonant, hard-selling professional announcer are gone. The ad agencies today want actors who can simulate a natural voice, the sound of your doctor or insurance salesman."
One of the commercial assignments Joe likes best is known as the regional, or market, insert. "They may do a minute commercial for a carpeting company, for instance, and at the end they tag it with something like, 'See these beautiful carpets at such and such a store,' Joe explained.
"That may take all of five seconds. Then I follow that with the same phrase for other stores. Sometimes I do as many as 50 of these in a two-hour period or less.
"I get $90 for each one and that's just for the initial cutting. After that I continue to get paid for every time the commercial goes on the air."
With quick calculations, we figured Joe would make $4,500 for those two hours. He later admitted that the total figure might rise to $15,000 with the residual payments. Sirola claims that he's had commercials that eventually brought in more than $30,000.
One thing Joe will not do, under ordinary conditions, is go before the commercial cameras.
"If you do one," he says, "you ruin your chances for a dozen others in some competitive area. You also lend your face to too much exposure.
"But there are allowable circumstances," says Sirola. "For instance, I've just agreed to do a cigarette commercial in which I will play an 80-year-old man recalling his life-long search for his partner. In a white wig and all the aging makeup, you can't even recognize me."
Despite his success, Joe remains an uncomplicated guy.
"The money really doesn't mean that much to me," he says “except when the mail comes in the morning and all those checks arrive. It's like a game trying to figure out what each one is for."
Here’s another nice little article. It’s from the Courtland Standard’s “View” TV magazine of July 12, 1969.
Arsenal of Voices Joe Sirola Hits Gold Mine in Video Ads

A stranger rushes up to Joseph Sirola on the street, stops, stares and gasps, "Gee, Peter Nino!" "That's Right," nods the sharply groomed, greying Sirola, knowing once again he did right by himself when he walked out of a prospering business career in 1958 to become an actor.
And being an actor has led Joe to a private gold mine on the side — radio and television commercials — that's paying him "all the money I ever dreamed of. Means I can afford to wait for a good movie." He's won nine of the Clio Awards for his delivery. . .yet you don't see the Sirola face.
It's the second lesson he's learned from the Peter Nino thing. Peter — a flashy gambler — was the heavy on the "Brighter Day" soap opera. Peter was magnetic and got a lot of mail so the writers had to clean him up and have him marry the girl before they finally killed him off. Wily Joe is letting his arsenal of voices earn him that nice nest egg. Or as he puts it, "Besides, I'm an actor. I won't be a pitchman.
"I love the stage, and sure I'd like to do a good show again." (His most recent was "Golden Rainbow" with Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme.) It's a satisfaction. . .though it's zero on the recognition scale." Joe mused: "Nobody ever came up and said he saw me in "The Unsinkable Molly Brown.' And I was doing that nights (on Broadway) the first year I did 'Brighter Day.' All sorts of people were fans. Tallulah Bankhead said she was crazy about Peter Nino. . ."
Joe is a gambler, he says, but not on Peter Nino's scale. Says he plays a progressive system, never goes above the maximum he's set for himself. "Luck comes in streaks," he reflected over his Sardi's lunch. Of course when you get right down to it, Joe made his own good luck by gambling on himself.
"As a kid I was a bellboy. Later I used to handle fighters. Right out of College (Columbia) I sold fishing rods. Then I went into service. . .Korea for 14 months. When I came back I sold bedspreads. Then I went into the garment district and sold plisse dusters. Then I went with Kimberly-Clarke; you know paper-cellulose products. I worked up to sales promotion manager. My folks were proud. I was 28. And bored with business. So I took a course in folk guitar at Hunter. Then I saw in a catalogue, ‘Acting: $20.’" So he signed up for that, too. And, "fell in love with it the first day.
"Mom, Pop, I'm going to be an actor," The news must have left them speechless, Joe didn't pass along their comments. Joe however, proved a natural. He'd found himself, and was well on the way to being discovered by producers. After only 12 weeks the teacher sent him to a "Camera Three" television audition. He got the role. The show, "Notes From The Underground" later won the John Lardner Award for 1958.
Then everything began to happen. Broadway; ". . .Molly Brown." The soap opera. And commercials. "Four years later I was making $150,000. Now I make a quarter of a million a year. . ."
Some of it he's investing in real estate. And he has an eye for bargains. He's snapped up New Hampshire land at $6 an acre, figures it's probably worth a thousand per now. He's also acquiring land in the Virgin Islands.
But probably his greatest bargain is his New York bachelor apartment. A penthouse with terraces on all four sides. Got it completely furnished "and just to my taste" — plus landscaping — for, as they say, a song. As a hobby he tends the rooftop gardens himself. "Raise my own strawberries, blueberries, lettuce. . .and oh yes, there's a crab apple tree. Sure it bears fruit."
What happens when he's out of town? The housekeeper takes over with the plots and the vineyard (sure, there are grapes growing outside the door, too). And even this very minute she may be busy with hoe or hose or whatever.
Because Joe himself is in Nashville, Tennessee making a movie that's strictly to his taste. He's the heavy in Mickey Spillane's "The Delta Factor."
For cartoon fans, I can’t confirm what fan sites claim, that Sirola was Dr. Doom or the opening narrator on the Hanna-Barbera version of The Fantastic 4 in 1967; I don’t believe the series ever credited anyone but the principals.

Sirola apparently was a composer; there’s a song called “Love Conquers All” copyrighted (words and music) on December 16, 1957 by one Joseph A. Sirola.

Sirola won a Tony on Broadway, a far cry from his role as a Soviet colonel in Peter Ustinov’s The Love of Four Colonels at the Sharon, Conn. Playhouse in August 1958. He ended up with a nice collection of Clios for his commercial work. Here’s one of his countless voice overs.


  1. This will sound crazy, but in the 1970's, as a hobby, my older sister kept a list of character actors she liked. I remember Joseph Sirola as one of them. (She had listed Vito Scotti, Nehemiah Persoff, and I don't remember who else.)