Whatever Happened To Dunkin's 'Time To Make The Donuts' Commercial Guy?

Although Michael Vale had long aspired to be a serious actor — he studied at the Dramatic Workshop in New York alongside Rod Steiger and Ben Gazzara (via CNN) — it is not one of his numerous Broadway roles or even his handful of movie appearances that earned him lasting fame. Instead, Vale will live on in the minds and even the hearts of all those pre-millennials who will forever remember him as the weary baker who dragged himself out of bed every day in the pre-dawn hours throughout the '80s and' 90s because it was "time to make the donuts."

How Michael Vale landed his most memorable role

In 1982, Dunkin' (then known as Dunkin' Donuts) held auditions for a new ad campaign it wanted to launch that would feature a hard-working donut maker named Fred. While over 300 aspiring thespians answered the call, among them well-known character actor Lou Jacobi, there was only one applicant who blew the ad men away. As Ron Berger, who created the campaign, recalls it, "As soon as Michael Vale walked into the bathroom in his pajamas and said, 'Time to make the doughnuts, time to make the doughnuts,' we knew."

Pretty soon "Fred the Baker" would join the pantheon of legendary advertising icons, along with the Maytag Repairman and Madge the Manicurist who inexplicably soaked customers' hands in Palmolive dish detergent. Too young to remember? Think Flo from Progressive, and you're on the right track. In fact, that whole "time to make the donuts" catchphrase soon extended well beyond the advertising world to the point where it was even used as the title for Dunkin' Donuts founder William Rosenberg's 2001 autobiography (via the Los Angeles Times).

When 'Fred the Baker' finally retired

Michael Vale kept on making those metaphorical donuts for 14 years. When Dunkin' decided it was time for a new ad campaign in 1997, they surveyed customers to find out how they'd react to the departure of everyone's favorite early riser. Fred fans asked that the baker be allowed to bow out with dignity, so the company staged an official retirement party for him complete with a parade in Boston and 6 million free donuts given away. In fact, prior to retiring, Fred was even offered sage advice and counseling (via advertisements, of course) from such also-retired luminaries as politician Bob Dole and athletes Larry Bird, Mary Lou Retton, and Sugar Ray Leonard. Fred, or Vale, was also awarded an emeritus position as "Dunkin' Ambassador" in charge of repping the brand at charitable events.

When Vale finally passed away in 2005 at the age of 83, a Dunkin' spokesperson eulogized his Fred character as "a beloved American icon that permeated our culture and touched millions with his sense of humor and humble nature" (via CBS News).