July 23, 2012 by JoBe Cerny
“Hello Professor!” Hello Doctor!” “Hello Governor!” These were all greetings said by Joe Sedelmaier whenever he saw me. For many years I wondered if he really knew my name. Anne Geddes thought it would be a good idea if I got to know Joe. Since he was Chicago’s internationally renowned commercial director, and I was just getting started I thought that sounded like a great idea. I went through great angst preparing for my first Sedelmaier audition. I really wanted to be on top of my game. But, there was no copy or even a script! When I arrived at Joe’s studio on Fairbanks Court, there were lots of people waiting to audition. A many of those people were one of a kind. Sedelmaier had an eye for character people. And many of those people were not actors. Some were book keepers like Clara Peller who very old and feisty but she became famous shouting “Where’s The Beef” for Wendy’s Hamburgers. Legend has it that she was nearly deaf and Joe would prod her with a stick when he wanted her to say, “Where’s the Beef!” Joe Sullivan was another one of Joe’s stars. Joe Sullivan always looked like he stepped right out of the 1940’s. He was not an actor – he just “was” and it was hard to take your eyes off him. One of Sedelmaier’s favorite leading ladies looked like a living plastic Cupie Doll. And then there was Howard Fishlove, whose physical presence was as interesting as his name.
After a long wait, Sedelmaier’s casting director shot a black and white Polaroid of me and wrote my name on the back of it and opened the door to the shooting stage. Joe was the only person in the room. I handed Joe the picture and he said; “Hello Professor!” He glanced at my name on the back of the photo. He told me to stand in the light. I asked him what he wanted me to do. He told me to say “I used to go to school with her.” So I said it and he immediately said, “thanks!” And that was my first Sedelmaier audition. It kind of freaked me out. It seemed like my audition was over before it started. He didn’t ask me to do a second take. I never even knew what the line referred to. It was just eight words with no point of reference. I felt like I blew my one and only chance to work with Sedelmaier! When I asked my agent if she got any feedback, she said she didn’t. Obviously I never forgot those eight words. When I teach college acting classes, I have each student do a version of “I used to go to school with her.” After six months of agonizing over my eight word audition, I eventually learned to get more out of that line than most actors bring to “To Be or Not To Be” After five years of acting classes, I couldn’t win an audition against non-actors.
Month after month passed, and I won many auditions in competition against other actors, and I signed an exclusive contract for representation with Emilia Lorence. I told her about my Sedelmaier experience, and she said not to worry about it. She told me one of her actors did a lot of Sedelmaier commercials. I asked her who that actor was, and she said he worked for Freuhoff Shipping, booking semi-trailer truck shipments. His name was Gene Mohl, and he was another of Joe’s favorites. I got to know Gene well, and he set my mind at ease about my failed audition. He said Joe’s auditions were always unusual. He said just do what Joe tells you to do. Personally I hoped Sedelmaier forgot my first audition by then. It had been six months earlier, and he only set eyes on me for less than thirty seconds. Since I had just changed agents, I hoped it would be a fresh start. So, I went to my second Sedelmaier audition with a positive attitude. Many of the same people were there from the last time. Once again, the casting director took a black and white Polaroid of me. Joe didn’t like headshots or resumes. He liked real people. Actors are people, too, but most of the other time we pretend to be other people. In a room full of characters, I thought I was sort of ordinary. So, I went into the room, and Joe said, “Hello Doctor”, and he took my Polaroid and noted my name on the back and said, “Pretend to listen”. I nodded a couple of times and he said, “That’s great. Thank you Doctor.” Again I wasn’t sure if I impressed him. But, I didn’t have to go through another six months of depression. I booked the job! It was for Mobile Dinnerware. In the commercial I was at a party, and I chose a Mobile plastic plate that wouldn’t collapse. In a way, in a world of character people, I was a Sedelmaier leading man since I wasn’t special enough to be considered good-looking but not odd enough to use a plate that would collapse.
So, that was my first experience with the brilliant Joe Sedelmaier. The next commercial I did with Joe was a Pillsbury commercial. At that point in time I wasn’t the Doughboy’s voice yet. But the woman who looked like a living Cupie Doll was my wife in the commercial, and we were contestants on a game show. I had some wonderful experiences with Joe over the years. It’s been a long time since I saw him, but a few years ago I bumped into him on the street and he said, “Hello, JoBe”.