James Earl Jones has achieved just about all there is to achieve as an actor. He’s got an EGOT, and he’s achieved immortality for voicing Darth Vader in Star Wars. He used his iconic voice to freak out some truckers in the 1970s.
The CB Boom
The story begins in 1973 when the oil crisis struck the United States. In a bid to conserve oil, the government established a speed limit of 55 mph. Speed traps were set up to catch drivers, particularly truckers, who were speeding. The truckers struck back by embracing CB Radios. The radios ensured truckers could stay productive, and the radio came with its slang and callsigns.
A craze was born, and soon folks began snapping up CB radios to get in on the trend. The phenomenon led to a string fo novelty songs becoming chart-toppers. C.W. McCall’s “Convoy” is the best remembered of this lot, simulating CB slang all the way to #1 on the Billboard charts. Films like 1977’s Smokey and the Bandit further propelled the technology to ubiquity.
Another Hit Film…
There was another hit movie that became popular that year: George Lucas’ sci-fi western Star Wars. The 1977 film was an unexpected juggernaut and merchandising powerhouse. It propelled Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher into superstardom, while also giving veteran actors like Jones and Alec Guinness their best-known roles.
Guinness notoriously despised the film, although he did like his ample paycheck. Jones had an entirely different experience. For less than three hours of work, he earned $7,000. Not a bad hourly rate, but a pittance considering how much the series would go on to gross.
Having Fun On The Airwaves
Celebrities got in on the CB Radio fun. First Lady Betty Ford would chat with folks while Mel Blanc used his iconic Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck voices to entertain the kids. Jones figured he too could get in on the fun by using his iconic Darth Vader voice. “I used ‘Darth” as my handle,” Jones said, “driving through Kansas or somewhere, going across the country.”
You might think getting to talk to Darth Vader on a long drive would make some truckers’ day. You would be wrong. Particularly in the 1970s, Vader was one of the most terrifying villains around. Jones said, “The truck drivers would really freak out—for them, it was Darth Vader. I had to stop doing that.” It’s a lovely image to see seventies truckers vibing to “Convoy,” only to be scared witless by the voice of Vader himself.
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