As promised yesterday, the time has come for a video-centric post. That promise was part of post #4 in the series, “The Origin Story.” Before that we had #1 “Who Was the Last American to Speak This Way?”, #2 “That Weirdo Announcer-Voice Accent,” and #3 “The Rise and Fall of Announcer-Speak: Class War Edition.” The one is #5.
No unifying theories this time. Just points for which readers have sent in illustrative videos. Let’s start with the most riveting.
1) Vidal and Buckley. You cannot top this. This video of one of the debates Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley had during the Republican Convention in 1968 is astonishing in fifteen different ways. Among them, for people who followed the two men’s careers through their maturing and declining years: the reminders of how Buckley sounded, and of how the youngish Vidal (both men then early 40s) looked. Prowl around at random. Commentary below.
From the reader who sent in this video:
Probably the last well-known user of Mid-Atlantic English is Kelsey Grammer. Other recently departed examples include George Plimpton, Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley.
My fiancé and I recently attended a screening of the documentary Best of Enemies at the Seattle Film Festival. It focuses on the Buckley/Vidal debates of 1968. Clips from the debates were fantastic to watch, in part because it’s almost a joy to merely listen to both men speak. Here’s a trailer:
Appropriately, the film hired Kelsey Grammer to narrate certain written material as Buckley and Jon Lithgow to read as Vidal. While I don’t normally think of Lithgow as speaking with a Mid-Atlantic accent, he does a great job affecting one for the role.
2) Truman v. Kaltenborn, 1949. H.V. Kaltenborn was a famous mid-century announcer who was one exemplar of the newsreel style. Harry Truman’s style was as plain as American plain-speak could be. A reader says:
In your list of moments of transition in accents of Americans in the media, don't omit Harry S Truman mocking H.V. Kaltenborn in 1949:
The entire 7-minute clip is a nice specimen of the accent we’re talking about. President Truman’s cameo begins about 20 seconds in.
3) Don’t forget Millicent Fenwick! I posed an open question, Who was the last American to speak this way? One answer, from reader Joe Reckford:
The last person to speak that way was my grandmother, Millicent Fenwick (1910-1992). She was a member of congress and ambassador, and part of her success was that accent. Here’s a video clip.