Monday, July 20, 2015

John Stephenson: 1923-2015

I hadn't put together a memorial blog for John Stephenson because of the limited resources available regarding his personal life and the lack of information surrounding his timeline. I've posted several blogs over the years focusing on Stephenson's under-rated career and the last one I posted centered around Scooby Doo's 45th anniversary last year. In that particular blog entry it features the numerous collage's I created that spotlighted the various characters that John Stephenson voiced during his association with the Scooby franchise. Little did anyone (outside of his family) really know at that time that John Stephenson was battling a serious disease.

You can take a look at that particular Scooby Doo/John Stephenson blog entry I wrote last year by clicking HERE

Rumors of John's 'death' had circulated numerous times on the such rumor that gained traction not too long ago eventually was proven to be false.

According to reports John Stephenson died of Alzheimer's Disease at a nursing home on May 15th at the age of 91. The articles I'd read never mentioned how long he'd been diagnosed with the disease but it couldn't have been too long because his last screen credit arrived in a bit part in 2010 on a Scooby Doo project. I've heard the audio and he seemed to be in fine voice but the role, generically referred to as The Sheriff, is super brief but the vocal is immediately recognizable. It could have been an archived recording and placed in the animated film as a salute to him but I don't think we'd ever know.

He had a reputation of avoiding the very little to no interviews for any publication or television broadcast...but you could hear his voice on numerous radio broadcasts and see him pop up as a guest star in television dramas of the '50s and '60s. One of his most visual roles happened to be his participation in Johnny Carson's 1950s comedy program. In that series Stephenson portrayed a fictional news reporter usually reading absurd stories in a serious tone and in each scenario it set up a forthcoming sketch that Carson and other members of the cast participated in.
In the Carson series John Stephenson acted out his part as a stressed news anchor. Only a couple of clips of Carson's mid '50s program exists on YouTube. I have some of those episodes on DVD but unfortunately the disc's must have been made by an inferior company because they stopped playing several weeks after I purchased them and I hadn't been able to play them since. It's a shame, too, because those fictional newsbreaks helped set up various Carson sketches; more than one "Catch Up with the News" segment aired in a single episode but YouTube only has clips of the mid '50s program and so there's not many to see on-line. The program aired on CBS for a single season, 1955-1956, and there happened to be 10 kinescopes of the program issued on DVD in 2007. More than likely those are the same programs that I have on a admittedly low-budget compilation DVD of assorted comedy programs from the early days of television (the DVD that stopped playing). Hopefully those episodes of Carson's mid '50s program become available on a better quality DVD project.

In addition to the visibility John Stephenson experienced as a part of Johnny Carson's CBS series he also gained some visibility in the sitcom The People's Choice starring Jackie Cooper. In that particular sitcom, running from 1955 to 1958 and producing 108 episodes, Cooper portrays a character named Socrates Miller...called "Sock" for short. He marries a woman named Mandy Peoples...she happens to be the daughter of the local Mayor. The running gag for most of the episodes stems from Sock and Mandy's attempts to keep their marriage a secret from her father (Sock and Mandy eloped in Nevada). John Stephenson portrays the program's resident antagonist, Roger Crutcher, on a recurring basis. A capture from one of Stephenson's scenes has him looking on as Patricia Breslin (Mandy) and Jackie Cooper (Sock) are in the middle of some sort of comical revelation.

If one happens to visit the Internet Movie Data Base or other on-line sources in the search for "John Stephenson + actor" you're going to be hit with a lot of television credits. Stephenson appeared in several episodes of Perry Mason, Hogan's Heroes, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Gomer Pyle, USMC just to name a couple and he appeared as a semi-regular in the soap opera, Morning Star. Yes, for an actor that shunned the media and didn't grant interviews he certainly appeared on a number of programs during the early years of television...but given the lack of publicity surrounding his vast amount of work he didn't get the recognition or rightful attention he deserved.

John Stephenson's greatest impact exists in cartoon voice overs.

Many a villain in the Scooby Doo franchise have Stephenson to thank for providing a voice. Also many a red herring (someone suspected of being a bad guy but ends up being innocent) also have Stephenson's voice to thank. In the blog entry I provided a link to you can gaze upon the many characters that John Stephenson gave voice to...but I left off characters that weren't a part of Scooby's various cartoon mystery programs of the '70s and '80s. Some may find it interesting that Stephenson voiced Col. Wilcox in the first season of Super Friends and then returned later to provide incidental voices...most notably The Sculpin in a 1977 episode featuring Superman and Aquaman. In that first season of Super Friends the overall narration came from Ted Knight...reprising a role he previously held for Filmation in the mid-late '60s on their run of superhero cartoons.

In a series called Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics (not a mystery cartoon) Stephenson provided the voices for a series of characters. The late '70s series spoofed the Olympics, Battle of the Network Stars, and ABC sports. Three teams of "athletes" composed of The Yogi Yahooeys, The Scooby Doobies, and the Really Rottens competed in Olympic-style events.

A talented mimic he provided a Paul Lynde impression for the character Mildew Wolf (co-host of Laff-a-Lympics). Lynde had originally voiced the character in the late 1960s but didn't reprise the role for the Scooby series and so Stephenson did an impression. John's mimicry is also on full display as The Great Fondoo, an inept magician of The Really Rottens team. Fondoo's voice is highly reminiscent of Bela Lugosi. A good guy character from The Yogi Yahooeys team, Doggy Daddy, is Stephenson's impression of Jimmy Durante. Stephenson returned to the character in several animated specials in the 1980s.

The human leader of The Really Rottens, Dread Baron, is another Stephenson vocalization...not exactly an impression of any celebrity in particular but it's apparent it's his vocal characterization of a slick, con-artist type complete with the sort of "nya, ha ha" sinister laugh that harkens back to 1930s and 1940s melodramas.

Stephenson's vocal impressions of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Paul Lynde, and Joe Flynn played a vital part in a lot of his voice-over performances in an assortment of cartoons throughout the '60s and into the early '90s. Stephenson's natural speaking voice being pretty great, too, enabled him to act in his natural voice or in an affected voice with equal proficiency. If you're familiar with the late '60s version of Dragnet you could hear John Stephenson's natural voice at the end of every episode providing the lead-up and the details of the outcome of that episode's unseen court trial. A typical line went like this: "On Saturday August 4th trial was held in Los Angeles for the State of a moment the results of that trial". After the commercial break you'd hear Stephenson giving the details of the conviction or the acquittal.

In the mid-late '70s era Stephenson provided voices for an assortment of villains in The Dynomutt, Dog Wonder series including The Red Vulture, The Blimp, Eric von Flick, The Glob, and at various times the Chief of police (sometimes referred to as Chief Grimsley and other times as Chief Wiggins).

In the Inch High Private Eye series Stephenson could be heard in a variety of roles but his main role happened to be the irascible Mr. Finkerton (Stephenson doing his Joe Flynn impression). In another cartoon, using the same Joe Flynn impression, Stephenson gave voice to Mr. Peevely in Help! It's the Hair Bear Bunch series. The high nasal Joe Flynn impression apparently became a favored, go-to voice because Stephenson used it a couple of other times for different but similar characters. In Galaxy Goof-Ups the Flynn inflection infected the commanding officer, Captain Snerdley. In the Inspector Mumbly series of cartoons Stephenson gave the Flynn impression to the antagonistic Officer Schnooker. The highlight of those characters happened to be the inevitable explosion of anger that built under the surface. Popularly referred to as "slow burn", these characters would work themselves up into a state of bombastic stress before blowing their top in a comedic kind of way. In the opening minutes of this episode of Galaxy Goof-Ups titled "Whose Zoo" you'll hear what I mean. As is the case in a lot of Hanna-Barbera cartoons the voice actors and actresses often provided the voices for multiple characters within an episode. This one is no different. Not only is John Stephenson voicing his regular character, Captain Snerdley, but he's also the voice of the villain monster bent on poaching the planet of animals. You'll hear and see that character first along with the sidekick.

In the video's image below there's Captain Snerdley on the monitor giving a harsh lecture to Huckleberry Hound (Daws Butler) and Quack-Up (Mel Blanc).

As far as longevity goes, arguably, John Stephenson's greatest impact in cartoon voice overs is in the role of Mr. Slate in numerous episodes of The Flintstones. From the debut of Mr. Slate in the 1960s and lasting into the 1990s virtually every animated appearance of Mr. Slate had a voice provided by John Stephenson. Promos for Cartoon Network included Stephenson being recruited to deliver a line or two as Slate in that distinctive John Stephenson voice. The ultimate event in Flintstones lore is the release of The Jetsons Meet The Flintstones on November 7, 1987

The reason that the Jetsons received top billing is because their series happened to be in first-run production and the plot of the animated movie deals with Elroy Jetson inventing a time machine...and during a moment of harmless experimenting all of the other Jetsons (George, Jane, Judy, and their talking dog, Astro) decided to humor Elroy and pretend that they were headed to the future. However, much to their horror and disbelief the time machine ended up working...taking the Jetsons into the past rather than into the future. Eventually the Flintstones get zapped into the future and they meet Rosie, Henry, and Spacely while the Jetsons, themselves, remain stuck in Bedrock.

John Stephenson returned to his familiar role as Mr. Slate. Ironically, George Jetson's emergence in Bedrock creates an economical boost to whatever business aligns itself with the stranger's futuristic gadgets. Jetson ends up working for Slate while Fred ends up working for Mr. Spacely in the future. Fred's car becomes a huge hit. Barney becomes a spokesperson for Spacely's competitor, Cogswell. Unfortunately neither Mr. Slate nor Mr. Spacely come face to face considering Slate remained in Bedrock and Spacely remained in the Jetson's futuristic universe.

Some of Stephenson's 1980's work can be heard in various episodes of The Transformers and G.I. Joe and various cartoon specials from Hanna-Barbera requiring him to revive classic characters such as Mr. Slate and Doggie Daddy.

John Stephenson's contributions to animated cartoons from Hanna-Barbera had a major impact on generations of people and they are going to continue getting discovered as the years go by. John Stephenson's voice was immediately recognizable and a familiar presence for generations of cartoon fans.

I made a special collage just for this blog entry...the larger picture is the Chief from the Dynomutt series. The other remaining seven characters are Col. Wilcox, zoo keeper Mr. Peevly, Mr. Finkerton, Mr. Slate, Captain Leech, Col. Fuzzby, and Chief Wenchly. I'll more than likely make another collage because I have other characters saved on my computer that John Stephenson gave voice to.

John Stephenson: August 9, 1923-May 15, 2015.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Stan Freberg: 1926-2015

There have been a lot of comedians, comedy writers, and brilliant witty minds over the course of the last 50+ years. Comedy is subjective and there are many styles of humor...and there are certainly many performers of those many styles of humor. Comedy ranges from the gentle to the provoking...the folksy to the all goes into the mixer. Satire is not everyone's cup of tea, though, Stan without question was a master satirist. The ironic thing about it all is most satirists are entertaining and witty, yes, but on some level a satirist can be off-putting or just too aggressive/relentless in their efforts (coming across as being bitter or vindictive). Even though Stan is quoted as describing himself as a "guerrilla satirist" I don't happen to think it fits. I think Stan's unpretentious personality shined through on all of his records...whether it be a song or a comedy sketch...and even if the intent on Stan's part happened to be that of a savage, take no prisoners style, you couldn't help but be entertained by the results and that's something, in my opinion, that elevates his material above any of his competitors in the field of satirical entertainment. I'm sure he's said things in his recordings that a listener may not have agreed with...but I bet those same listeners found themselves laughing at something they heard, nevertheless.

On April 7, 2015 Stan Freberg passed away at the age of 88 (born August 7, 1926). In the above photo I'm displaying the must-have 1999 project titled Tip of the Freberg. I became familiar with the name of 'Stan Freberg' by happened during the 1990s at a time when I started to pay more attention to the opening and closing credits of cartoons. Nickelodeon used to air Looney Tunes cartoons and during several episodes some of the cartoons from the mid to late '60s would get some air-time. These cartoons were produced after the exclusive screen credit for Mel Blanc had expired and we got to see more of the names of Mel's co-stars appear on-screen.

Well, like I said, I seen the name 'Stan Freberg' in the opening credits of a late '60s Looney Tunes cartoon.

Coincidentally a certain collection of Christmas comedy songs came into my possession in the early 1990s, too. The various artist project, titled Christmas Comedy Classics, originated in 1985 but I didn't a copy of it until the early 1990s. Stan has 2 recordings on that project...the whimsical rendition of "Nuttin' for Christmas" and the gutsy "Green Christmas". Talk about 2 recordings that are the polar opposite of one another! I later discovered that Daws Butler played the part of Bob Cratchit in "Green Christmas".

As I've pointed out a lot of times I didn't begin to become familiar with the names of voice actors/actresses until the 1990s...and so I was still learning a lot about those that worked alongside Mel Blanc in the Looney Tunes theatrical cartoons. In 1949 Stan joined forces with Bob Clampett to create the puppet series, Time for Beany. Stan provided the vocals for half of the characters. This program also featured the vocal talents of Daws Butler and he voiced a lot of the other characters. The 2 main roles for each voice artist happened to Beany and Captain Huffenpuff (voiced by Butler) while Stan voiced Cecil and Dishonest John. Years later an animated program based on the puppet series debuted on television. The animated series, Beany and Cecil, didn't feature the vocals of either Stan nor Daws Butler. By the time the animated cartoon had premiered Daws had become the top voice artist for Hanna-Barbera and Stan had moved on to advertising all the while keeping his lengthy recording career intact. In the picture above it's Stan's partial autobiography...the book covers his meteoric rise up the ranks amongst voice-over artists in the late 1940's and all the twists and turns his career took on through the early part of the 1960s.

The book arrived in 1988...but yet it cuts off in the early 1960s. That in itself is comical...and there's never been a sequel that picked up from the early '60s...hopefully there's going to be some sort of memorial magazine (hint, hint) that'll be released at some point this year that can offer highlight and insight, in book form, into all of Stan's activity from the mid '60s right on through his final days.

Until such a memorial magazine comes along, though, it's best to research his career on your own and along the way enjoy the comedy recordings and television commercials he worked on.

Some of the animated cartoon characters that Stan became associated with over the decades included Pete Puma, Junyer Bear, Chester the Terrier, Bertie the Mouse, and Tosh, one of the Goofy Gophers (all appearing in the Looney Tunes franchise). In addition to those roles Stan also gave voice to the Gambling Bug in a cartoon titled "Early to Bet" and one of the chefs in "French Rarebit". Each of those cartoons directed by Robert McKimson. He voiced the Beaver in the Disney film The Lady and the Tramp and for pure trivia sake he voiced a cattle baron in a Tom and Jerry cartoon titled "Posse Cat".

I had taken a series of photo's of myself in late March of this year for future blogs that I happen to write and given the recent death of Stan Freberg I felt this particular image to be perfect. I happen to feel it can be interpreted as a bit of visual humor related to Stan's hilarious parody of "The Banana Boat Song" (also known as "Day-O"). I'm either displaying my euphoria over the bunches and bunches of 'ripe banana' or I'm frightened by the black tarantula...take your pick. You can hear that song on various sites on the internet...I heard it for the first time on one of the CD's in the 1999 career retrospective I posted in the photo at the start of this blog. Tip of the Freberg...that's the name of the box set...I already mentioned the title of the project and it's year of release in the opening and I'm mentioning it once more...I mention it just for the sake of the facts...just the facts...and that of course should make any fan of Stan Freberg instantly think back to "St. George and the Dragonet"! This recording happened to be a sketch comedy featuring Daws Butler and June Foray as co-stars. Stan and company made 2 additional Dragnet parodies: "Little Blue Riding Hood" and "Christmas Dragnet". The box set provides a lot of material from Stan's radio program from 1957 and some of his recordings from the "pay radio" concept album Stan issued in the mid 1960s. Some of the biggest personalities of the 1950s found themselves being a target of Stan's humor. Ed Sullivan's program received spoofing by Stan in a sketch called "Most of the Town". Lawrence Welk became the target in the hilarious sketch "Wun'erful, Wun'erful!". Elvis and a host of other rock and roll performers had their recordings parodied by Stan...and then there's the incredible take off on Arthur Godfrey in a sketch called "That's Right, Arthur" that had never been heard until the 1999 box set came along. Among the many highlights in the box set is "Elderly Man River"'s a prophetic comedy sketch featuring Stan and Daws. In the sketch Stan attempts to sing "Old Man River" but the censor (Daws Butler) objects to so many words and phrases that the song is re-titled "Elderly Man River". It's years ahead of it's skewers political correctness decades before the movement began to latch on and grow tentacles in pop culture.

The box set features recordings lifted from Stan's 1961 album, Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America: The Early Years. Paul Frees does the narration of the project. Ironically the supporting players do not include Daws Butler but June Foray is among the cast as is Marvin Miller, Jesse White, Walter Tetley...just to name a few. It's largely regarded as Stan's masterpiece. A follow-up arrived decades later in 1996 (!) to nostalgic waves of support. By this time Stan had become an icon in the advertising business...his funny, sarcastic, and iconoclastic television and radio commercials became Clio winning slices of comedic salesmanship. The Clio is the top award in the advertising industry.

It was in the 1990s that seen Stan become a radio commentator, of sorts, on NPR stations in a series of essays airing under the Stan Freberg Here... banner. Several of those commentaries appear on the 1999 box set. Four years earlier, in 1995, Stan became the second host of the syndicated old-time radio tribute program When Radio Was (Art Fleming had been the previous host). I have fond memories of this program, as hosted by Stan Freberg, and I remember listening to episodes of it on a local AM radio station at the time. It aired from 11pm to Midnight. Fred Foy, of The Lone Ranger fame, provided the introduction for each of the episodes Stan hosted. The intro included some of the dialogue Fred used in his intro's for The Lone Ranger. I assume Stan's affiliation with old-time radio and his reputation as a champion of 'theater of the mind' entertainment happened to be the big reason he was picked to host the old-time radio program.

I got word of Stan's death like most of the other millions of people...through social media and internet reports. I couldn't believe the news, though, because in my mind I had always pictured Stan to be in good physical health in spite of his older age. In one of the internet reports it indicated that he may have been suffering from pneumonia...but other than that there hasn't been any official statement given as to the cause of death. Stan had a long and successful career...his recordings are going to live forever. If you had never heard of him until today then do yourself a favor and visit YouTube or Amazon and get yourself familiar with his contributions to comedy.

Here's a brief time-line:

1926: Born on August 7th.

1944: Arrived in Hollywood, California (age 17).

1946: voices Bertie in Chuck Jones' "Roughly Squeaking".

1947: voices Charlie Horse in Bob Clampett's "It's a Grand Ole Nag".

1948: Succeeded the late Kent Rogers as the voice of Junyer Bear; "What's Brewin', Bruin?".

1949: helped create television program Time For Beany; Voiced Cecil and Dishonest John, among other puppet characters; remained in production until 1955 and received multiple Emmy awards.

1951: Released his first recording for Capitol Records, "John and Marsha".

1951: voices the Gambling Bug in the cartoon "Early to Bet".

1952: voices the dimwitted hunting dog in the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Foxy by Proxy".

1952: Released "Try", a parody of Johnny Ray's hit single, "Cry".

1952: voices Pete Puma in the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Rabbit's Kin".

1953: Recorded "St. George and the Dragonet"; hit #1 in October 1953; B-side is "Little Blue Riding Hood".

1953: Released "Christmas Dragnet".

1954: Starred in the CBS radio sitcom "That's Rich" (January-September).

1954: Released "A Dear John and Marsha Letter".

1954: voices the rancher/cook in the Tom and Jerry cartoon, "Posse Cat".

1955: Released "The Night Before Christmas" and "Nuttin' For Christmas".

1955: voices the Beaver in the animated Disney film The Lady and the Tramp.

1957: Released "Wun'erful, Wun'erful!".

1957: Host of The Stan Freberg Show, the last-ever network radio comedy program (July-October).

1957: Provides narration and voices all the characters in the cartoon "The Three Little Bops".

1957: Released a parody of "The Banana Boat Song"; B-side is "Tele-Vee-Shun".

1958: Released "Green Christmas".

1960: Released "The Old Payola Roll Blues".

1961: Released the album Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America.

Beginning around the same time as the release of the 1961 album Stan became heavily involved with advertising (his earliest commercials date back to 1956). His recordings began to grow further and farther between but every so often he'd release something.

1966: Released the album Freberg Underground! (billed as 'pay radio'; the LP featured a presentation in the form of a radio sitcom).

Stan remained active in advertising...among his clients were Esskay, Chun King, Sunsweet, Contidina, and Jeno's. Stan also provided voice-overs for movie ads and dabbled in political humor during the height of the Vietnam protests. Some of his ads for George McGovern, for example, are featured in a later career box set.

1982: Starred in the PBS special, Stan Freberg's Federal Budget Revue.

1985: narrates the cartoon series The Wuzzles.

1988: Released autobiography "It Only Hurts When I Laugh".

1995: Inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.

1995: Began hosting old-time radio anthology series, When Radio Was.

1996: Released the CD Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America, Volume Two.

1997: voices Pete Puma in the cartoon "Pullet Surprise".

1999: Rhino Entertainment issues the career retrospective Tip of the Freberg. It's a must-have for any fan or admirer of Stan Freberg's work; it spans the years 1951-1998.

2000: voices Cage E. Coyote in the cartoon "Little Go Beep".

2003: narrates Irreverent Imagination: The Golden Age of the Looney Tunes documentary for the DVD project titled Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume One. Stan appears on-screen in various bonus features throughout the entire Golden Collection DVD series in the mid 2000s.

2006: Retires as host of When Radio Was after 11 years.

2015: Dies on April 7th at age 88.

Stan Freberg: 1926-2015

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Gary Owens: 1934-2015

Longtime voice-over specialist, disc jockey, radio and television personality Gary Owens has died at the age of 80. The cause of death is Diabetes related.

The first time I remember hearing the voice of Gary Owens is back in the 1980's most definitely. Although at that point in time I wasn't really into learning the names of the voice actors and actresses, I had been unknowingly hearing Gary's voice for several years before I found out. My first memory of hearing that voice is on the cartoon series, Space Ghost. I found out the name behind the character in the late '80s on Nick-at-Nite. Although the cable channel aired it after most kid's bedtimes, I couldn't help but stay up just a little longer and see a particular program that aired at 11pm called Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.

Does someone around 14 or 15, seeing the program for the first time in the late 1980s, really comprehend all of the one-liners and late 1960s topical jokes? Unless the child is amazingly gifted in American culture history at that age then my answer is "no". Why did the series appeal to me? I think it appealed to me because of it's cartoonish delivery and it's zany atmosphere. Also...the presence of that voice...the voice of Gary Owens and his hysterical seriousness amongst all the chaotic happenings around him.

He served as the program's off-screen announcer, calling the names of the host and cast members, but doubled as an on-screen broadcaster, cupping one hand to his ear, and delivering all sorts of insane dialogue in the guise of a serious news bulletin. Most often a scene would cut from one joke and then to Gary and then to another joke or back to a cast member just looking into the camera and not saying anything until they break up in laughter and leave the stage.

The comedy series had a major impact on television viewers and created several catchphrases. It ran 6 seasons, 1968-1973. Due to it being a mid-season replacement series it had the opportunity of having roughly half a season's worth of programs on the air several months before the start of the official 1968-1969 season. It premiered on January 22, 1968 and initially ran until April 29, 1968. It returned in the fall of 1968 to begin it's first full season and it officially remained in production until early 1973. Gary appeared on every episode during it's five and a half season run. Some of the notable guests that appeared were Richard Nixon, John Wayne, Tiny Tim...and most of them appeared in split second fashion on-screen uttering a one-liner or one of the program's catchphrases. John Wayne appeared in a much longer clip, by comparison to the usual rapid fire pace of the surrounding clips, and delivered a poem in a manner parodying Henry Gibson. Laugh-In also aired, originally, as an hour long program. During it's rerun life on Nick-at-Nite those half hours were cut and edited and spliced into individual half hours.

Unfortunately by my living in the Midwest I didn't get to experience hearing Gary's legendary radio programs that aired in California throughout the '60s, '70s, and into the '80s. His most durable role is that of disc jockey/radio personality and in between songs there'd be comical sketches or banter heard on the air. I wouldn't call him a shock jock, based on today's definitions, but he certainly became legendary for the insertion of humor and intentional blatant nonsense in his broadcasts that you just didn't hear that much of anymore on radio. I've heard snippets of a couple radio broadcasts from his Los Angeles program and the closest thing the Midwest had to Gary Owens happened to be a Cincinnati radio personality named Gary Burbank. The Cincinnati radio entertainer has since retired but he often replied, if asked, that his on-air name is inspired by "Gary" as in Gary Owens and "Burbank" from Gary Owens' Laugh-In catchphrase "...beautiful downtown Burbank". After hearing snippets of the radio program from Gary Owens and being familiar with Gary Burbank's style of radio comedy for so many years I can definitely hear the influence.

Here's an air-check from a 1969 Gary Owens radio HERE. It features the sort of comical banter he'd fill his programs with between songs or introducing commercials and it includes real and fake commercial readings. It's nearly half an hour. Scroll down to the audio button after you click the link. Gary makes on air mentions of Geoff Edwards, Dick Enberg, and more. It's a fabulous audio time capsule. After listening to that, you can click HERE for an air-check from 1970. You'll hear the voice of another Los Angeles DJ, Dick Whittinghill, in that audio clip and other personalities at KMPC in that era. A promo for the California Angels baseball game from Dick Enberg is included in that air-check.

His radio career can be traced back to the early 1950s. He held his KMPC job for 20 years (1962-1982). In his career he had stints at KORN, KMA, KOIL, KROY, KEWB prior to KMPC. After KMPC he found himself working at several stations throughout the 1980s. Those included KKGO, KPRZ, and much later for a brief time on KFI. He continued being associated with radio, on and off, and throughout the late 1990s and into the 2000s he was part of the Music of Your Life format of programs. The series, by the time Gary came aboard, featured celebrities and former AM radio disc jockeys hosting individual radio programs of their own and so Gary happened to be a natural choice. He remained hosting radio programming for Music of Your Life until 2004 according to most sites I've read over the years.

I purposely haven't included a really thorough detailed time line (such as providing specific months, dates, or years) about his radio, voice-over, and television careers because the information is easily available on other sites and blogs all over the internet. This short tribute is more about my thoughts, opinions, and memories.

Along side his radio career he did the announcing on a diverse list of programs and did voice overs for commercials for both radio and television. Myself being a cartoon fan, Gary had the biggest impact on me through not only his Laugh-In appearances but through his vocal performances as Space Ghost and Blue Falcon. Later on in the 1990s I learned about Roger Ramjet thanks to the reruns that were airing at the time on The Family Channel. You can click the collage for a bigger examination. Space Ghost used to air in reruns on a USA Network program called Cartoon Express. This USA series is also where I first seen episodes of Blue Falcon. Technically, though, Blue Falcon didn't have his own self-titled program. Blue Falcon appears on the series, Dynomutt, Dog Wonder. In each series Gary provided the voice for the superhero...Space Ghost is more of a legitimate action-adventure series. It's set in outer space and the plots typically revolve around Space Ghost and his team of helpers (Jan, Jace, and Blip) fighting all sorts of monsters, creatures, and dictatorial leaders from far off galaxies and universes. Space Ghost travels in a ship called The Phantom Cruiser and all members of the crime fighting team have the ability to turn themselves invisible if needed.

The series aired for one season, 1966-1967, and it contains 42 individual adventures. It remained in reruns for another season, 1967-1968, prior to it becoming a long running series (in reruns) in local syndication for the next 10+ years. The Space Ghost series was revived in 1981 as part of a package series called Space Stars. Gary returned as the voice of Space Ghost and an additional 22 episodes aired. So, altogether, Gary voiced Space Ghost on 64 episodic adventures.

Blue Falcon, by contrast, appeared on a comical action-adventure series. Although Blue Falcon is depicted as a serious crime fighter and his vocals provided by Gary Owens in that deep baritone bravado, his sidekick Dynomutt is a klutzy robotic canine that's forever messing up Blue Falcon's strategies and getting the duo in all kinds of predicaments. Gary voiced Blue Falcon during the 1976-1977 television season and later the character surfaced on Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics and it's sequel, Scooby's All Stars during the next couple of seasons on Saturday morning TV. In those series Blue Falcon and his sidekick had recurring scenes as part of the Scooby Doobie team. The latter two programs are a parody of the Olympics and ABC-TV's Battle of the Network Stars. In all, Gary performed the voice of Blue Falcon on 20 individual episodes during the 1976-1977 season. The adventures are most often aired in reruns as part of package programming due to the limited number of episodes available.

In his later years Owens often appeared on nostalgia programming centered either on AM radio or on the television series, Laugh-In. He had a fascination about Dinosaurs, too, that isn't as widely known as his TV and radio work happens to be. He wrote a book about being in the voice-over business and you can see that book in the above collage I posted. It's available at Amazon. He provided the voice-over messages for classic television network, Antenna TV, during the final years of his life. 

Here's an ARTICLE that features commentary from Barbara Eden and Wink Martindale about their thoughts on Gary.

Gary Owens passed away on Thursday February 12, 2015. The news didn't reach the public until Friday. In a bizarre chain of events the story of his death appeared in a post from Variety magazine early in the morning hours on Friday. There as not a single story confirming the news Variety posted and I immediately assumed it must be one of those death hoaxes that seem to be commonplace particularly with yesterday being Friday the 13th of all days.

Strangely enough more than 8 hours after the news of his death appeared in a social media message from Variety, the publication re-posted the news once again. Suddenly, not long after that re-posting, reports started to pour in from all news sites and from there it became a snowball of reports about him passing away. In the link I posted, if you look at the time it appeared on-line, note it's late in the day on Friday. It happened to be the 5-6pm time frame in which the news of his death spread all over the internet.

Here's something to think about...

Some sites state that he was born in 1936 and others say 1934. All over the internet the various reports say he happened to be 80. His birth month and date is May the 10th and if his true birth year is 1934 then indeed he really was 80. The funny thing is, prior to Friday, all the internet sites listed May 10, 1936 as his birth date. I'm sure 1934 is his accurate birth year...and all of those sites I'd taken a look at Friday have since changed their year of Gary's birth from 1936 to 1934. I'm using the 1934 birth year because that's the one reported by so many outlets and there isn't any conflicting stories using 1936 as his birth year. In the future should it be revealed that 1936 is his true birth year I'll correct the title of this blog entry.

Gary Owens: 1934-2015