As He Likes It, American Thespian Greg Bell Does Credit to the Bard

updated 06/18/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/18/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

His looks—the well-trimmed mustache, the tuft of a goatee, the receding hairline—are strikingly familiar. And he speaks eloquently in an Elizabethan cadence. "Why, many a time we would sit at the Mermaid Tavern—Jonson, myself, Marlowe—and have a wondrous, roisterous time," he reminisces. "We talked of all things, the wonders of poeting."

All the world's a stage, we are told, and Greg Bell is merely one of the players, albeit a player with a particular specialty. Bell, a 40ish thespian in Los Angeles, is making a buck or two by passing himself off as the immortal William Shakespeare. By virtue of his remarkable resemblance, a hologram image of Bell now graces some 20 million credit cards—dubbed Bard Cards—issued by 51 British financial institutions.

The London bankers gave the job of finding a facsimile Shakespeare to a California-based hologram company, which in turn chose Bell solely because of his appearance. But the Bard's American look-alike is well versed enough in his subject that he can recite most any Shakespearean sonnet on cue. Bell became stage-struck in his Texas youth when he played Claudius in a high school production of Hamlet. He earned a theater degree from UCLA in 1970 and then hit the road as an itinerant actor at workshops, festivals and with a touring company.

Between engagements in 1981, Bell worked as a costumed host at a San Francisco restaurant with an Elizabethan motif. On a customer's dare, Bell began spinning sonnets of his own ("And say you set me on to write a sonnet/ For your pleasure and mine own, Dear Sire..."). He has since parlayed his rhyming skills into Bard-O-Grams, suitable for weddings, baby showers and other occasions, delivered in person at about $100 a pop. Still, even with the $1,200 he earned for his Bard Card performance, Bell has found that being a Shakespeare stand-in doesn't cover his bills. He also works part-time as a pest exterminator.

Bell, who is married and has an 8-year-old son, thus stands at a to-be-or-not-to-be career crossroad. While he still finds "poeting" emotionally rewarding, he admits he has begun to chafe from typecasting. I loping to land new roles in film or TV, he says, "I don't want to just play William Shakespeare all my life."

From Our Partners