Played Fred the Baker, Known for Muttering 'Time to Make the Doughnuts'

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Michael Vale, a prolific commercial actor who starred as Dunkin’ Donuts' beloved pitchman “Fred the Baker” died in Manhattan on Dec. 24. Mr. Vale was 83.
Photo: AP
Michael Vale played Fred the Baker, the advertising character created for Dunkin' Donuts in 1982 by the Ally & Gargano agency.

The cause of death was complications from diabetes, his family said.

Nationwide recognition
The Brooklyn-born actor appeared in more than 1,300 TV commercials during his career, as well as roles in Broadway shows, movies and TV shows. But it was as Fred the Baker, who rose at 4 a.m. and wearily muttered “Time to make the doughnuts," that Mr. Vale gained nationwide recognition.

“I’ve been told people identify with Fred because he is hard-working. He gets up early; he works late. He’s a nice guy,” Mr. Vale said in a 1996 newspaper interview.

“Michael was 100% believable. He looked and talked and walked and breathed like he was a guy who got up at 4 a.m.,” said Ron Berger, now CEO and chief creative officer of Euro RSCG, New York and San Francisco. Mr. Berger was a creative director at Ally & Gargano, the New York agency that created Fred the Baker in 1982 for Dunkin’ Donuts. He recalled that 300 actors showed up for the original casting call. Among them was Lou Jacoby, a well known actor who had appeared in shows such as “Death of a Salesman.”

“Lou was good,” said Mr. Berger. “But when it came to the final decision, Michael was the donut maker. After watching 300 people as Fred, Michael still made us laugh.”

Time to retire
In the mid-1990s, the account moved to Euro RSCG and the agency had to find a way to "retire" Fred the Baker as the marketer shifted strategy from its emphasis on doughnuts to a broader offering, including coffee and sandwiches. Concerned that retiring Fred might alienate consumers, Dunkin’ Donuts surveyed its customers on their reaction to his leaving. Fred could go, they said, but he had to be treated well in the process. Euro created a campaign in which Fred interviewed a series of famous retirees, including politician Bob Dole, basketball player Larry Bird and boxer Sugar Ray Leonard.

“My Dad loved being famous. He loved being recognized. He would always play the part,” said his daughter, Ivy. “There were people who sincerely believed he was a baker named Fred. They’d be disappointed to find out he wasn’t really a baker. He was always careful to let them down gently.”

In a statement, Dunkin’ Donuts said it is “saddened to hear of the passing of our dear friend Michael Vale. During his 15-year tenure as the face of Dunkin’ Donuts, Michael ... became a beloved American icon that permeated our culture and touched millions with his sense of humor and humble nature. ... He will be missed by all who knew him.”

Sam Breakstone, bottle of beer
Mr. Vale grew up in Brooklyn and attended Thomas Jefferson High School there. After serving in the Army in Europe during World War II, he moved to New York and enrolled in the Dramatic Workshop at the New School. Prior to his role as Fred the Baker, Mr. Vale played Sam Breakstone in commercials for Kraft’s Breakstone Dairy Products; his first advertising job was for Utica Club Beer. “I played a bottle of beer,” he told one newspaper. He also appeared in commercials for General Electric Co., Kentucky Fried Chicken, Tums and Wang computers, said his son-in-law, Rick Reil.

Other career credits include a role was a jeweler in the 1976 movie “Marathon Man,” a two-year run in the Broadway show “The Impossible Years” from 1965-67, and roles in various TV shows including “Car 54, Where are You?” and “The Cosby Show.”

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