"Did you know that your voice changes when you smile?" he asks. With each elongated, oddly cadenced syllable, he broadens his already enormous grin until his face is all but lost amid a parade of molars and bicuspids. "It... changes...ev-ery-thing...about...how...you...sound. You...can't...help...but...sound...haaaaaappppppy...when...you...smile.
"And when you frown," he continues, his features falling faster than a bowling ball heaved from a skyscraper's window, "your voice changes, too. You sound depressed--doooowwwwn. No one will buy anything from you if you frown. I was getting ready to shoot a TV commercial for a cable company a couple of years ago, and I was doing this." His hangdog look snaps back into a smile, then reappears, disappears, reappears, disappears. "And I overheard someone say to the director, `What is he doing? He's not going to do it like that, is he?' And I spoke up and said, `Would you rather I do it like this?'" His visage, which had seemed dour before, is suddenly transformed into something out of Edvard Munch. His jowls hang from his jaw like matching suitcases. "After that," Terry points out, "he didn't say another word."
Words: Dick Terry knows that they matter. But when words are printed on a page, they have not yet achieved as much as they should. They need to be stretched and pulled and rolled from one side of the tongue to the other. Each consonant, each vowel, each epiglottal blend has a potential that can be realized only if it is spoken aloud by a person who recognizes its power. Words can beguile, words can enchant, words can excite. The next sentence out of your mouth may not represent the most profound thought ever conceived by Western man, but if you say it right, it can seem pretty damn close.
Terry, who's lived in southwest Denver for the past six years, has devoted most of his 67 years to this proposition. A New Yorker by birth and personality, he dreamed of earning a living as an actor, then became one. "I've worked with a lot of gifted performers in my day," boasts this compulsive yet charming name-dropper. "JoBeth Williams. Ted Danson." But his throat has taken him much farther than has the rest of his body. From the late Fifties through the Sixties, he hosted a radio show, Bandstand U.S.A., that was aired in fifteen countries. And during the same period, he owned, operated and taught at the New York School of Announcing and Speech, among the first institutions of its type.
Terry's latest school, Talent of America Workshops Inc., is a much more modest establishment--a single office in a squat building near the Denver Tech Center where he sees students several times a week. But these reduced circumstances don't seem to bother Terry, who apparently spends every waking moment brimming with enthusiasm. He's got a great voice, and he loves the sound of it--particularly when he's sharing with visitors highlights from his career as a TV-and-radio announcer and pitchman.
"Here's one you'll remember," Terry predicts as he screens a videotape filled with some of his greatest hypes. "I think they're still showing it. At least I still get residuals from it." He points at the monitor as an animated spot for Tootsie Pops flickers to life.
"Mr. Turtle," asks a glum cartoon lad. "How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?"
"I ain't never made it," replies Terry, both in person and as a disembodied turtle voice beamed from the set. "Ask Mr. Owl."
The boy marches toward an owl and repeats the question. "Let's find out," burbles Terry the owl and Terry the human. "One. Two-hoo-hoo. Three." Crunch. The owl returns the half-eaten Tootsie Pop to the boy. "Three," the two Terrys conclude.
Finally, yet another Terry--a dulcet-toned one--offers the commercial's moral. How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop? "The world may never know."
Neither is the world likely to discover how many Terrys are bouncing around inside Dick Terry's head. Over the years he's been a dozen different characters living a dozen different lives. And if you ask him, he'll tell you, in his somewhat flighty fashion, that each one of them has been great. "My father never encouraged me--he was an insurance agent," he says, selling himself as relentlessly as he sold candied suckers. "So I had to become my own cheerleader."
The enrollees at Talent of America Workshops hear a lot of advice a la Ann Landers and Dale Carnegie--and plenty of unconventional wisdom, too. Terry, for example, is a fan of astrology, and he's apt to alter his approach to you based on your sign. Likewise, his theory about why so many of his current voice pupils are lawyers is, to say the least, unusual. "At first it seemed strange how many of them there were," Terry concedes. "But then I found out I was a lawyer in a former life.