Early Actors Imitated The Murmur Of Crowds By Repeating The Phrase?
Answer: Walla Walla
In the early days of radio broadcast, producers discovered that they could easily recreate the murmuring sound of a crowd in a restaurant or other public space by having the actors not currently involved in the dialogue quietly repeat the word “walla” over and over again.
With the advent of television broadcasts wherein the listener-turned-viewer could now see the crowd, they switched to using casual improvised conversation (so that it wouldn’t look like everyone in the restaurant was, oddly, chanting the same thing over and over again). Despite the transition away from using the pat phrase, the term is firmly embedded in Hollywood, and actors who provide the background noise are known as the “walla group”.
What’s particularly interesting about the “walla walla” phenomenon is that the phrases used by actors are highly regional and influenced by the native language of the region. American actors said “walla walla”, British actors said “rhubarb rhubarb”, German actors said “rhabarber rhabarber”, and Japanese actors said “gaya gaya”.
Image courtesy of the Kheel Center.