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 urbane...parody...satire...it 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 accident...it 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"...it'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 time...it 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

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