Michael Vale: The inside story of Fred the baker
By Michael Schulder
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(CNN) -- Michael Vale blew the ad men away.
The year was 1983 and the team that developed the new Dunkin' Donuts campaign thought they knew who they wanted for the role of Fred the baker.
They wanted someone who seemed to have the weight of the world on his shoulders, who wore the burden of a man who had millions of Americans depending on him each and every morning for their fresh doughnut and coffee.
They wanted the famous stage actor Lou Jacobi, best known to movie fans for his role as Uncle Morty in "My Favorite Year." Jacobi read for the part. He did fine.
Then an unknown actor named Michael Vale walked in.
The ad man who wrote those first Dunkin' Donuts commercials is Ron Berger, now CEO at the advertising giant RSCG. CNN tracked him down on his BlackBerry in Mexico, on vacation.
"We went through hundreds of people in the auditions because the role was so defining. As soon as Michael Vale walked into the bathroom in his pajamas and said 'Time to make the doughnuts, time to make the doughnuts,' we knew," said Berger.
Vale studied acting at the Dramatic Workshop in New York -- his classmates included Rod Steiger and Ben Gazzara -- and appeared in many commercials, plays and even some movies. But it's the Dunkin' Donuts role for which he'll be remembered.
There was something about those ads, something about the way he delivered the "Time to make the doughnuts" line that made this series of commercials one of the most popular of the 1980s.
Berger believes many viewers related to Fred the baker's plight: the idea of a worker who gets up at 3 in the morning every day because of his sense of responsibility.
" 'Time to make the doughnuts,' " Berger said, "was a symbol of the routine of having to get up and fulfill a responsibility."
In that respect, the character Vale brought to life is one that workers around the world can relate to. Vale died over the weekend at age 83. He spent many years as a working actor -- a lifetime of auditions, a lifetime trying to capture a slice of reality. With Fred the baker, he succeeded in a way few would have expected.
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