Three decades later, John Moschitta Jr. still gets recognized.
“People just come up and tell me, ‘You were my whole childhood,’” Moschitta tells New York by phone from Los Angeles.
Kids of the ‘80s don’t know his name, but they love him as the mustachioed “Micro Machines Man,” the guy who pitched the tiny toy planes, trains, and automobiles with superhuman speed in all those commercials. He was also the voice of Blurr on the original Transformers cartoon, had a recurring role as the fast-talking Mr. Testaverde, a teacher on Saved by the Bell, and popped up as a rapid “Letter of the Day” narrator on Sesame Street.
“I used to get stared down by 1-year-olds in the supermarket,” Moschitta says. “The mother would be like, ‘I don’t know why she’s looking at you like that.’”
Long before Flo took her annoying throne at Progressive, Moschitta dominated the pre-DVR era, spitting slogans for FedEx, Minute Rice, Mattel, and Burger King so quickly that old-fashioned, paper-fed teleprompters couldn’t keep up. “I blew up two of those and set three on fire,” he jokes.
Moschitta’s rare talent for machine-gun speech earned him the nickname “Motormouth,” a Clio Award (for the FedEx spot), and a Guinness World Record for World’s Fastest Talker. At 583 words a minute, he was able to drop syllables five times as fast as the average person.
Back in the ‘80s, Moschitta says, Bell Laboratories in New Jersey even wanted to test his brain. Its studies showed that most people could speak just 8 to 11 words at an accelerated rate before their “speech machinery” started to malfunction. “They didn’t know why mine didn’t,” he says. “Looking back, I think I kind of rewired my brain to be able to do it.”
At age 12, in his hometown of Uniondale, Long Island, Moschitta heard that anyone who broke a Guinness record would get his or her name on television in an annual cerebral-palsy telethon. “I decided I wasn’t going to eat a car or swallow lead pipe. The only thing I could really do that didn’t cost any money was fast talking.”
He thinks being from New York may have given him an edge, along with having five sisters in a boisterous Italian family in which you had to think fast to get a word in edgewise. Young Moschitta locked himself in his room and drilled himself on tongue twisters. His favorite, he says, launching into his signature Micro Machines voice, was, “She stood on the balcony inexplicably mimicking him, hiccuping and amicably welcoming him in.”
But it wasn’t until about ten years later, during a Guinness segment on the Columbus, Ohio, cable show in which he was working as a producer and performer, that Moschitta officially became the fastest talker on the planet. He nailed a recitation of “You Got Trouble” from The Music Man, a role he’d played growing up. That led to appearances on stupid-human-tricks-style reality shows like ABC’s That’s Incredible! and ultimately to the Micro Machines and FedEx spots. But for all the doors the Guinness record opened, Moschitta says, it also brought him years of unexpected strife, as a string of imitators attempted to steal his title.
First, in the late ‘80s, there was New York comedian Fran Capo, whom Moschitta says “bamboozled herself into the book” by attempting her fast-reading of The Three Little Pigs during a live show “so that they didn’t have time to verify it.” Capo’s record was rescinded after her tape was reviewed, and Guinness gave Moschitta a chance to break his own record, which he did (ramping up to 586 words a minute from 583). Then, in 1990, British car salesman Steve Woodmore seemingly blew everyone out of the water, spewing 637 words a minute reading from the Tom Clancy novel Patriot Games. But Moschitta questioned his legitimacy from the start, arguing that there’s a big difference between fast babbling and fast talking: “You couldn’t understand a word he said.”
Soon after, a Guinness editor suggested a talk-off between Woodmore, Moschitta, and Capo, in what Moschitta says the editor called an effort “to just to get them out of the picture and shut them up.” It went down live in 1990 on Good Morning America, where Woodmore ended up being one-hundredth of a second faster than him, Moschitta claims. But when a linguist later listened to the tape, Woodmore was found to have left a sentence out, and so Moschitta, again, believed himself to be the rightful winner.
“All these other people talk for less than a minute, and then they prorate it — so if you speak 300 words in 30 seconds, then that means you speak 600 words a minute,” he says. “You have to take into account breathing and all that other stuff that these people don’t do.”
Guinness suggested a rematch, and Moschitta traveled to London several times to make himself available, but he says Woodmore wouldn’t face him. “It’s something that used to give me great angst and get me really fired up,” Moschitta says. “I mean, of course it’s a big ego thing.”
Eventually, Moschitta moved on. “I said to myself, ‘Whether I am currently in the book or not doesn’t make a bit of difference to my career,’” he says. “I work all around the world. England calls me. They’re not hiring Steve Woodmore.”
During Moschitta’s 20-year run of commercial success, he says, he performed for eight presidents, the queen of England, the chancellor of Germany, two prime ministers of Italy, and several Supreme Court justices. “Fast talking enabled me to fly all over the world first-class,” he says. “If I was in Japan for a job, I’d just stay in Asia for two months. I took a two-month trip to Africa and river-rafted the Zambezi and went gorilla tracking.”
Over time, he lost most of his bigger-ticket spokesman deals along with his hair, though he still works regularly in the U.S. and overseas. Moschitta recently did a tourism commercial for the state of Kansas and an ad for a New York hospital, and he’s getting ready to shoot a movie called The Auctioneer, playing the head of an auction house. “One guy is my prodigy, he goes to the dark side and becomes a rap artist,” he says. Not long ago, he says, he was also in the running to play the wizard in Broadway’s Wicked. But these days, he’d be happy just to get a regular job playing the grandpa on a sitcom.
“It’s the same old story,” Moschitta says. “In Hollywood, you get typecast. There are a million parts I could play on TV, and the casting people a lot of times won’t even call me in. To this day, I’m the fast talker.”