‘Mork & Mindy’: Why Orson’s Voice Sounds Like Mr. Turtle in the Tootsie Pop Commercial

The TV show Mork & Mindy continues to be beloved today, and it’s clear why. It was the vehicle that really launched Robin Williams to the popularity he would soon reach, and has been a popular show for syndication on other networks.

Even if you’ve never seen it, Robin William’s alien greeting, “Nanu nanu,” has to ring a bell. Another iconic character on this show was Orson, who was a voice-only role played by voice actor Ralph James.

If you’ve seen the show, you may have noticed that Orson’s voice sounded remarkably like Mr. Turtle from the ubiquitous Tootsie Pop commercials. If you’ve wondered about this similarity, you may be surprised to learn the answer.

‘Mork & Mindy’

Pam Dawber, Robin Williams
Pam Dawber, Robin Williams | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

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Mork and Mindy was actually a spinoff of popular 1970s sitcom Happy Days. Robin Williams guest-starred as the Orkan alien Mork in the episode “My Favorite Orkan,” and his performance so impressed the producers that they came up with the premise for Mork and Mindy. In Mork and Mindy, Mork is an alien from the planet Ork, who has been sent to Earth to report back on human behavior.

He moves in with 21-year-old Mindy, and the show showcases Williams’ improv comedy chops in the role of Mork trying to learn more about human customs.

The show was massively popular in its first season, and Williams was even nominated for a Primetime Emmy, though he lost to Caroll O’Connor. Unfortunately, due to some fiddling with the show’s production, the ratings slipped in season two and would never recover. Nonetheless, it stayed relatively popular.

‘Mork & Mindy’: Orson and Ralph James

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On Mork and Mindy, Robin Williams as Mork had to report his observations on human culture to a boss named Orson. Orson didn’t appear on camera; he was instead portrayed by a voice actor.

Ralph James took on the role of Orson, and it was one of the most famous roles of his career.  Throughout the 1970s, he also partook in some live-action roles, particular action, comedy, and exploitation film roles.

Orson on Mork and Mindy is characterized as a straight man foil to Mork’s manic comedic character. Humor isn’t allowed on Ork, which is why Orson initially sent Mork away. At first, they have some tension, and Orson is frustrated with Mork for his jokey nature, but over the course of the series Orson develops more respect for Mork and his way of being.

So, why did Orson’s voice sound so familiar?

Who is Mr. Turtle?

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It’s a testament to how good the original Tootsie Pop commercial was that so many still remember it today. In the original commercial, a kid has a Tootsie Pop, and goes around to various animals to ask how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop.

Each animal says they can’t finish without biting, until he’s sent to Mr. Owl, who proposes an experiment — only to crunch through the lollipop after the third lick.

Sharp-eared TV watchers may have noticed a connection between this commercial and Mork and Mindy. This is because Ralph James did the voice acting for Mr. Turtle. Mr. Fox sends the kid to Mr. Turtle, “for he’s been around a lot longer than I,” and we hear Ralph James say the line, “I’ve never made it without biting. Ask Mr. Owl, for he is the wisest of us all.”

And given when the commercial aired, it’s entirely possible that this commercial aired during an episode of Mork & Mindy!