by Joe Bevilacqua

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The pinnacle in the art of radio comedy was the summer of 1957, not during network radio’s heyday but years after its supposed death at the hands of television. Joyous and inventive, hilarious and provocative, THE STAN FREBERG SHOW leaped to the airwaves of the CBS Radio Network on Sunday, June 14, 1957 at 7 p.m.. A summer replacement for Jack Benny, the Freberg broadcasts were a wild mix of sketch comedy, social satire, and music, and featured an ensemble of crazy characters supplied by the talents of Daws Butler, June Foray, Peter Leeds, and Freberg himself.

Daws Butler was an amazing voice magician who had worked in radio on shows such as "Suspense" and the Whistler," and who had co-written and voice many of Freberg’s most memorable Capitol recordings, including "Saint George and the Dragonet," the first comedy record to sell over one million copies. Butler went on to voice such cartoon characters as Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, Baba Looey, Elroy Jetson, and dozens more. June Foray and Peter Leeds had also worked with Freberg on his Capitol recordings. Foray is best known as the voice of Rocket J. Squirrel and Natasha on "The Bullinkle Show" and the voice of Granny in the "Sylvester and Tweety" cartoons. Leeds has continued to work with as Freberg’s straightman in a variety of sketches and commercial ads, while frequently appearing on camera as well.

Stan Freberg built upon some very sound radio comedy traditions -- a solid ensemble cast like that of Jack Benny, satirical sketches with a social perspective like the best of Fred Allen, inventive use of sound effects that would make Fibber McGee and Mollie proud, with a little of "Your Hit Parade" thrown in for good measure -- and made it all uniquely his own, like nothing heard on radio before or since.

The musical direction was supplied by the great Billy May, who orchestrated some of Frank Sinatra’s greatest Capitol recordings. There were songs by Peggy Taylor, a chorus known as The Jud Conlon Rythmnaires, and appearances by the likes of Hans Conreid, Herb Vigran, and other surprise voices. Bill James and Gene Twombly were the great sound effects men Freberg inherited from Jack Benny. The scripts were crafted by Freberg himself, along with ample writing help from Daws Butler and the show’s producer, Pete Barnum.

The first show almost did not get on the air. An extended routine entitled "Incident at Los Voraces" was a savage piece of satire which took up nearly two-thirds of the show. It was specifically an attack on the excess of Las Vegas and in general a comment on current social events including the Cold War and nuclear arms race. The original version included references to the Gaza Strip in a chorus girl song and ended with a hydrogen bomb going off. It was perhaps Freberg’s most brilliant work for the entire run of the series and almost got the show canceled before it began. The show had been pretaped in Hollywood and fed to CBS in New York the Friday prior to the broadcast. When network executives heard the show, they flipped, and Freberg and producer Barnum had to stay up all night rewritten the script, re-recorded it on Saturday with a new audience, with the all references to the Gaza Strip removed and an earthquake ending replacing the hydrogen bomb.

THE STAN FREBERG SHOW was sustained by CBS and never gained sponsorship, but its 15 week run has since taken on the deserved status of "classic and timeless" humor. In 1958, Capitol Records released two recordings of selected sketches from the broadcasts under the title "The Best of Stan Freberg," which won a Grammy award and was among Capitol’s biggest sellers up to that time.

The complete 15 programs have never been released since their original broadcasts. Until now. This Smithsonian collection is the first of two, the first seven broadcasts of THE STAN FREBERG SHOW, heard here for the first time in their glorious entirety.

PROGRAM ONE - 7/14/57

1. Tuned Sheep

2. Incident at Los Voraces

This first show starts with a brilliant premise: Freberg as himself talking with the many characters he had created on records. The rebel yell "Yeeeee-ha!" blares from the bombastic Texan. "Dayyyyyyyyyy-oh!" shouts his Harry Belafonte sound-alike. Other characters from other records jump in. Soon an argument breaks out as to which one is the real Stan Freberg until they shout in unison, "We’re ALL Stan Freberg." "Frightening," says Freberg. Next, Freberg interviews a Frenchman through an interpreter (Butler). The Frenchman has the unusual talent of playing "Lullaby of Birdland" on "tuned sheep" by having them ring the bells around their necks every time he hit them on their heads with his crook. This is a hilarious use of sound effects and a great example of how to get laughs through timing without much dialogue. The remainder of the program is giving over to Freberg’s savage satirical fantasy on Las Vegas: "Incident at Las Varoces", about two Nevada hotels The el Sodom and the Rancho Gammorah. Originally intended as a running installment in something he called "Freberg’s Fables," nothing like it was attempted on the series again. The controversy over the ending insured Freberg would stick to somewhat safer territory. Too bad. It is perhaps his greatest work, an extended routine with a series of smaller routines inside of it, chock-full of current event references, timely social satire, clever songs, and building to a climax unsurpassed in radio comedy.

PROGRAM TWO - 7/21/57

1. Barbara Fritchie

2. Abominable Snowman #1

3. Mount Rushmore

4. Max’s Delicatessen

5. Rock Around Stephen Foster

The second show features a slight hint at the beginnings of Freberg’s classic "United States of America" album, a very short bit about historical figure Barbara Fritchie (June Foray) ending with a surprise tag line (we won’t give it away!) that would become a running gag throughout the series. Next, Freberg interviews the Abdominal Snowman, playing both parts himself. His Snowman is a lovable, if loud, monster in sneakers that speaks with a strange vibrato. The character proved so popular, Freberg brought him back several times later in the series. A piece about "Mount Rushmore" uses sound effects to get laughs and create a wonderful visual image. "Max’s Delicatessen" is more like a mini-sitcom, than one of Freberg’s sketches. In fact, it plays much like an episode of today’s "Seinfeld" with a series of confusions on the telephone leading to a big comic payoff. It is performed by Freberg and Peggy Taylor (in a rare appearance as anything other than the show’s resident singer). The show closes with Freberg performing of his rock & roll spoof "Rock Around Steven Foster", a twist on his popular "Shaboom" spoof recording. The voice Freberg uses in both these routines is said to have started as a takeoff on Marlon Brando’s "marble mouth" style of acting. Daws Butler later borrowed the voice from Freberg for the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character, Mr. Jinx.


1. Miss Jupiter

2. Skin Divers and Mandolins

3. Upward and Onward Girls!

4. The Flying Zazlophs #1

5. Bob Tainter: Custer’s Last Stand

Shouldn’t the Miss Universe contest include beauties from other planets? That is the premise for a visit from an alien beauty contest winner. "Miss Jupiter," brilliantly played in Brooklyn dialect by June Foray, is outraged because she was not admitted to enter the Miss Universe contest. "Skin Divers and Mandolins" is another great use of sound effects and a comic combining of two unlikely pastimes to create an odd audio travelogue-style portrait. June Foray, as the hauty birdwatcher Mrs. Prill, proves a formidable adversary to Freberg in "Upward and Onward Girls!" The show ends with "The Flying Zazlophs", which uses the limitation of the radio medium to comic effect. Afterall, if ventriloquist Edgar Bergen could be a success on radio, if Major Bowes could present tap dancers, why couldn’t Freberg present a family of circus acrobats?


1. Great Moments in History - Paul Revere

2. Herman Horn #1

3. Lox Audio Theater

4. Yellow Rose of Texas

Another step closer to "United States of America," Freberg presents "Great Moments in History" and the ride of Paul Revere. Next, the first installment of "Herman Horn On Hi-fi" is presented with Freberg doing a slightly different "prototype" voice for his creation. Freberg, Butler, Leeds and Foray plus guest Hans Conreid are featured in a "Lox Audio Theater" presentation of "Rock Around My Nose". "Good evening from Hollywood!" chimes Conreid, who is best known as Uncle Tanoose on "The Danny Thomas Show" and Snidley Whiplash in the Dudley DooRight cartoons. This routine is such a marvelous piece of work, one wonders why it was not chosen to be part of "The Best of Stan Freberg" Capitol releases. It is simultaneously a spoof on radio’s "Lux Radio Theater" and a twisted tale of man who could not get close to his son because his nose was too big. The son is brilliantly portrayed by Daws Butler using the voice that would become Elroy Jetson on "The Jetsons". Lastly, Freberg’s famous record "The Yellow Rose of Texas" is performed live, along with the rebel yell and an upstart snare drummer played by Peter Leeds.


1. Flying Saucer (Orville)

2. Herman Horn #2

3. Lawrence Welk

The opening sketch is a visit from Freberg’s little moon friend "Orville" (the sister of Miss Jupiter). He and Freberg sing "Hello Out There, Hello". Freberg often brought this character, in puppet form, to television, including "The Ed Sullivan Show". Orville was Freberg’s attempt to develop his own character that would utilize some of the some tal





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All material on this site (copyright) 2014 by Joe Bevilacqua and Lorie Kellogg unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.

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