EPISODES EIGHT THROUGH FIFTEEN
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As far back as the early days of radio comedy, there has always been a link between the two worlds of animation and verbal comedy. Characters that started on radio were often successfully translated to cartoon form. Kenny Delmars Senator Claghorn on Fred Allens radio program, "Allens Alley", more than inspired Mel Blancs Foghorn Leghorn in Bob McKimsons Warner Brother cartoons. Bill Thomson used the same voice and character for both Wally Wimple on radios "Fibber McGee & Molly" as Tex Averys Droopy Dog for MGM. The list of similar connections is very long.
When network radio comedy all but died, many of radios best comic actors made the transition into animation. Daws Butler, Alan Reed, Paul Frees, June Foray, and many others found ample work, especially in television where the animation was limited thus heightening the importance of dialogue and voice to convey the story. Listen (without watching the picture) to any Hanna-Barbera cartoon from 1957 to 1965 (what I consider the "classic" period) and you will discover that they play like radio comedies where everything is explained through the dialogue. The same is true of all of Jay Wards work. These were radio comedies with moving illustrations attached to them. I mean that in the best sense. Not only is the writing funny, the voices are funny too.
Stan Frebergs career path has crossed back-and-forth between radio, animated cartoons, television, and comedy records too. As early as age 18, Freberg voiced characters such as Pete Puma alongside Mel Blanc at Warner Brothers. His hilarious comedy recordings with Daws Butler, legendary 1957 CBS radio program, and original advertising campaigns have earned him a devoted cult following (which he himself has affectionately dubbed "Frebies").
Over the years he has been the recipient of many awards including a Grammy, three Emmys for "Time for Beany", twenty-one Clio awards (the Oscar of the advertising business), eighteen International Broadcasting Awards, medals at the Cannes and Venice Film Festival, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Animation Academy ASIFA's Lifetime Achievement Award for his life in animation, the 1994 "Winsor McCay".
With all these achievements behind him, 1996 was a banner year for Stan once again. In June, the Smithsonian Institution, together with Radio Spirits, released a four CD set featuring the first seven of his classic 1957 CBS radio shows, remastered and released for the first time since their original broadcast. In July, Rhino Records released "Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America, Part Two: The Middle Years," the long-awaited second installment (30 years!) of his classic 1961 hysterical-historical recording.
And now in 1997, the Smithsonian and Radio Spirits have once again teamed to release this "The Stan Freberg Show, Volume Two", featuring the remaining eight CBS radio shows, once again remastered and released in their glorious entirety for the first time since 1957.
Stan Frebergs albums and radio shows represent the pinnacle in the art of verbal comedy. Frebergs humor is a wild mix of sketch comedy, social satire, and music, supported by an ensemble of crazy character voices most often supplied by the talents of Daws Butler, June Foray, Peter Leeds, and Freberg himself.
His humor builds 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 Molly proud, with a little of "Your Hit Parade" thrown in for good measure -- which bends it all into his own unique style.
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 Frebergs 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 Frebergs straightman in a variety of sketches and commercial ads, while frequently appearing on camera as well.
The musical direction was supplied by the great Billy May, who orchestrated some of Frank Sinatras 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, Virginia Gregg, 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, the shows producer, Pete Barnum, and writer Jack Roach.
Over the past seven years I have had numerous opportunities to talked with Stan Freberg about his 1957 radio show, his collaborative relationship with Daws Butler, and his views on the art of verbal comedy. Here are some highlights of those conversations:
Joe: You are one of the few humorists today who still subscribes to using only the voice.
Stan: Yeah. Voice acting on recordings is very much like radio in that you just have "the theater of the mind" going for yourself. I think that was my original phrase, by the way. They used it on "The CBS Radio Workshop" in the late 50s. Originally it was called "The Columbia Workshop" that Norman Corwin wrote for a lot.
Joe: I think Ive heard it, the show you wrote and starred in for that series. "An Analysis of Satire".
Stan: Thats right.
Joe: Yeah, thats a great show.
Joe: Do you find any differences working today versus the work you did in the 1950s and 60s?
Stan: Theres no difference at all. Ill tell you that right off. Absolutely no difference between the stuff I did with Mel Blanc and the stuff I did on "Time for Beany" with Daws and my radio show on CBS, the hundreds of radio commercials I've produced, and my records, Capitol Records and now Rhino. Theres absolutely no difference.
Joe: And yet most actors today are not trained in radio or mike technique. Voice acting is a special art--to caress the mike, to get subtleties out of that device that someone who only works in stage or film or TV is not going to be sensitive to.
Stan: No, they're not. The engineer at the studio I record at tells me all the time about people that come in to supposedly do radio spots or read books on tape and they don't know what theyre doing. They walk away from the mike in the middle of a reading. And when hed have to tell the guy to stay on the mike, the guy would say, "Well, cant ya follow me?" "Follow you?! Its a stationary mike!" "Oh, well," the actord say, "Im used to film where they follow me with a boom." Well, I didnt have any of that kind of trouble with the actors I worked with. There's nobody on there that didnt know how to use mikes. The thing is that some of the people on there were in radio before they ever did television and movies. Peter Leeds started out in radio. He was with Bob Hope for years. I met him in radio when I was a 19 year old radio actor. And stayed friends with him all these years and I've used him on many Capitol Records, like the "Banana Boat Song". I mean, you know this, Joe... There's a trick... When you re going to get loud you have to back off of the mike and if you are going to hit P or T loudly you have to do it across mike. Even if they have a wind screen on it; it doesnt help sometimes.
Joe; You don't know how many people I've had to show that to over the years. Stand there and hold their shoulders and point them at the mike.
Stan: Yeah. When you were studying with Daws, he showed you all of that. Thats because he came out of radio. The first time I worked with him on "Time for Beany" wed both been in radio and we were very used to the techniques in radio... I even took radio production in high school, where I learned some of it.
Joe: So you think some of the voice actors today are at a disadvantage because they dont have radio as that kind of a training ground?
Stan: Yeah, but what can they do? They werent alive when there was the Golden Age of Radio and so they didnt come out of radio like June Foray, Peter Leeds, Jesse White and myself. I don't know... unless they study with a guy like you who is taking up where Daws left off. Somebody that can show them radio technique.
Joe: Theres a lot more to voice acting than just doing a funny voice.
Stan: Sure. Its like Mel used to actually chew on a carrot, which he hated. He HATED carrots. He would go "Chomp-chomp-chomp, eh, What s up, Doc? Chomp-chomp-chomp." And the sound guy, a guy named Treg Brown would say, "OK thats good. Kill it." And Mel would go, "SPIT-BLAH" and spit into a Dixie Cup all these little fragments of carrots out of his mouth and hed say, "Aw, I hate carrots!" [LAUGHS] I was 18 years old standing next to Mel Blanc.
Jtan: You have publicly acknowledged how much you personally learned from Daws Butler about voice acting. How did you first meet?
Stan: Daws Butler and I met through Bob Clampett who had an idea for a childrens puppet show about a little boy who sailed around the world with his uncle. It was Daws and I who talked Clampett into making it into an adventure with moving sets. That show became "Time for Beany". So Daws and I were brought in basically as voice people and after the first couple of days of doing the voices and looking at the puppets we said to Clampett, "Where are the puppeteers?" And Clampett said, "Your the puppeteers." So this came as news to Daws and I who had never worked puppets in our lives but we shrugged and I said to Daws, "Its called on the job training." Next thing we knew we were holding up these puppets and doing the voices and the writing. So Clampett managed to pulled us together and it was the start of a long and terrific association.
Joe: What did you learn from Daws about acting?
Stan: Daws and I were on that show, together every afternoon and night, five days a week, 52 weeks a year, for five years. I learned from Daws how to be a better actor. It wasnt just a matter of doing the voices but getting into the character itself and really being that character very much like the actors studio kind of thing where you really become that character. That sounds kind of ridiculous to think that you could do that not as an actor standing on stage but as actor talking up through your arm into the puppet itself and having that puppet become the character that youre doing down below out of the sight of the cameras. Even to this day whenever I do a voice, whenever I act theres fragments in what I do just automatically from what I learned from Daws Butler. He was the greatest voice magician Ive ever worked with.
Joe: Theres a story about Daws on your 1957 CBS radio show that is a great example of getting a laugh where there is no joke.
Stan: Well, theres a thing that Daws did that was very hilarious in the "Gray Flannel Hat Full of Teenage Werewolves" sketch where he bursts into the office just as my secretary and I have discovered that we are both werewolves. And he says, "What a riot you guys are in those costumes." Then he suddenly realizes that theyre not costumes. And he does this hilarious nervous laugh and this got a tremendous reaction from the audience. Now imagine that the laughter coming from the audience was caused not by a joke at all but from Dawss terrific performance as an actor.
1. The Zazaloph Family Return
2. "Uninterrupted Melody": The Story of the Good Humor Men
3. Face the Funnies #2
4. "St. George and the Dragonet"
In a brilliant piece of "visual" radio, the Zazaloph Family of acrobats return to the program for a second time. Reminiscent of the use of sound that marked Fred Allens broadcasts fifteen and twenty years before, Freberg teases the listening audience with descriptions of the incredible acrobatic feats they are missing by not being able to actually see the radio broadcast, with each description falling just short of telling what is actually happening. This is followed by one of the least known and funniest pieces of the series: "Uninterrupted Melody": The Story of the Good Humor Men". This sketch did not appear on either of the Capitol "Best of the Stan Freberg Show" records released in 1958. It is being heard here for the first time since it aired. Stan and Daws Butler both introduce the sketch, affording a rare opportunity to hear Daws in his natural speaking voice. Listen for Daws doing his Charlie Butterworth impression in the sketch; he later confiscated this voice for his own Capn Crunch. Next, all hell breaks loose once again in a second installment of Face the Funnies, a parody of news discussion programs that remains as timely today as it was in 1957. The program closes with a perfect recreation of the classic comedy record, "St. George and the Dragonet". Written by Stan and Daws and performed by them with June Foray, the parody of Jack Webbs Dragnet was the fastest-selling record in the history of the recording industry, selling over one million copies in less than three weeks, and the first comedy record ever to sell over one million copies.
1. A Condensed Version of the Confidential Magazine Trial
2. The Abominable Snowman and Fiancé
3. Robert E. Tainter: Washington Crossing the Delaware
4. "The Honeyearthers"
Stan goes off to the Himalayas again for another visit with the Abominable Snowman (also played by Stan in an eerie vibrato) and is introduced to Abominables fiancé (played by June Foray). One of the more popular characters on the show, this would not be the last appearance of with the sneaker-wearing Snowman. Next on the program, Robert E. Tainter (Daws) introduces yet another scandal of historythe "true" story behind Washington Crossing the Delaware. Throughout the series, Stan toyed with various ways of spoofing history and with this one he finally hits the mark. It is well thought out and perfectly executed sketch that served as the final prototype for his classic album, "Stan Freberg Presents: The United States of America" fours years later. The program closes with a recreation of Stans record spoof of "The Honeymooners", featuring Stan as Ralph, Daws Butler as Norton, and June Foray as Alice in "The HoneyEARTHERS"the first television broadcast from the moon! Similar in style to the Bob MicKimson/Warner Brothers series cartoon spoofs, "The Honeymousers" (in which Daws Butler played both Ralph and Norton), "The Honeyearthers" is a clever one joke twist on Jackie Gleasons most enduring creation. Listen to Dawss Ed Norton and you will hear the early stages in the development of Yogi Bear.
1. Audience Gripes about Freeways
2. The Freberg Do-It-Yourself Grand Piano
3. Literary Giants of Our Time: Fortune Cookie Writer Albert T. Wong
4. Herman Horne on Hi Fi #3
5. Heartbreak Hotel
The show starts with a short bit in which Stan pits audience members (Peter Leeds, June Foray) against the inventor of the freeway, Henry Cloverleaf. Next, June Foray (playing herself but in her funny stock Brooklyn voice) and Stan build the Freberg Do-It-Yourself Grand Piano. This sketch is a great example of what radio did best and what Stan excelled at: using inventive sound effects to paint the scene and get the laughs. In the days when prerecorded open reel tape was a fairly new technology, it is interesting to hear some of the sound effects being played backwards, something the Beatles used to great effect ten years later. The next sketch, an interview with Fortune Cookie Writer Albert T. Wong (play in Chinese dialect by Daws Butler) would not have gotten on the air if this show had been produced in the politically correct era of the 1990s. It is nevertheless a very funny conceit to present fortune cookie writer as an applause-getting art form. This is followed by a third visit from Herman Horne presenting yet another silly symposium on Hi Fi and yet another brilliant use of sound effect to get laughs ("the sound of James Cagney removing his makeup", a reference to Cagney starring in the Lon Chaney bio-pict, "Man of a Thousand Faces".) The program ends with a recreation of Stans dead-one Elvis Presley impression in "Heartbreak Hotel", plus questions about Elvis from the audience.
1. College Footballer Francis "Butch" Sharmle
2. "The Monkey Song"
3. Foster Pelt, Theatrical Agent for Dog Acts
4. "Bang Gunleing, U.S. Marshall Fields"
In his introduction, Stan he is really getting over a cold or flu; he uses this to his comic advantage and opportunity for the "Swiss this way we dont offend anyone" running gag. The first routine finds verbose Cliff Les Huntley (Stan) interviews terse College Footballer Francis "Butch" Sharmley (Peter Leeds). This is followed by Stan performing Hogey Carmichaels bizarre scat song "The Monkey Song". Next, Daws Butler uses his Capn Crunch voice again, this time for Foster Pelt, Theatrical Agent for Dog Acts. With unbelievable acts like a trombone-playing dog, an audience member protests, "Im so bored my trunk has gone to sleep!" The program concludes with one of the greatest sketches of the entire series, "Bang Gunleing, U.S. Marshall Fields". Sponsored by Puffed Grass, this parody of the Western TV genre generates enormous laughs with very little dialogue and extended sound-only scenes (mostly walking in brush and horsehooves on dirt)!
1. Rocket Sled
2. The Home Handyman
3. Robert E. Tainter: Labor Racketeer
Reporter Herman Busby (Peter Leeds) interviews Leroy Strattle (Stan) as he records the sounds of an Army colonel (Daws Butler) as his rides a rocket sled. Like many of Stans funniest routines, this one evokes cartoonish images such Leroy Strattle becoming a human satellite being followed close behind by his white sneakers. The second piece takes a potentially traditional comedy sketch (with Stan and June Foray in a domestic battle to fix a leaky faucet) and builds it into a wild fantasy of science gone awry. Daws Butler plays the salesman as a mild version of his Phil Silvers impression, a voice he would later use for the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character, Hokey Wolf. Daws Butler returns as Bob Tainter in the next segment. This time Tainter has sunk even lower than in his previous historical exposes; hes become a labor racketeer. The show concludes with Stan recreating his hit comedy record parody "Sha-Boom!" which features June Foray as Stella. The voice Stan uses is said to have started as a takeoff on Marlon Brandos "marble mouth" style of acting. Daws Butler later borrowed the voice from Stan for the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character, Mr. Jinx.
1."Cocktails for Two"
3.Gray Flannel Hat Full of Teenage Werewolves
The program begins with Billie May and the as the Jud Conlon Rythmnaires performing an "unusual" version of "Cocktails for Two". Billie nearly blows the joke by stumbling on his punchline (one of the few times he ever spoke on the series). Next, Stan poses the question "How to Improve the Circus" to his audience (June Foray in her Majorie Maine voice and Daws Butler in natural speaking tones). Daws confuses Stan with Steve Allen. The remainder of the program is given over to the brilliant Sci-Fi/Madison Avenue satire, "Gray Flannel Hat Full of Teenage Werewolves" (a title arrived at by combining the titles of two popular movies of that period, "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" and "I Was a Teenaged Werewolf"). The highlight of the piece is a commercial for "Food" (a bit very similar to one done by Ernie Kovaks on television). This routine was so successful, Capitol Records later released it as an album entiltled "Madison Avenue Werewolf", which is still a favorite today and often played around Halloween on public radio stations. Comparing advertising men to werewolves did nothing, however, to help CBS with a big problem they were having: attracting sponsors to "The Stan Freberg Show". Since its premiere the program had been sustained by CBS with intention of attracting sponsors as the show gained audience share. This never happened. "The Stan Freberg Show" lasts only two more weeks.
1. Freberg Sponsors Freberg
2. Miss Jupiter Returns
3. Freberg in Advertisingland
4. "Sam Spillade"
Once Stan knew his show was canceled and he no longer needed to look for a sponsor, he pulled out all the stops and made fun of the advertising world full force by sponsoring himself! With the help of "The World Advertising Agency", skewers nearly every possible advertising convention all in one show, which features a funny detective story spoof, "Sam Spillade". About the lack of sponsors for his show, Stan wrote in his autobiography "It Only Hurts When I Laugh (Times Books, 1988), "First, I hadnt let them (CBS) sell "spots" in the show, holding out for one or two sponsors to buy the whole show, as (Jack) Benny had been sponsored by Jell-O, State Farm Insurance, an American Tobacco. Speaking of tobacco, I also had written into my contract that they couldnt sell the show to sponsors that I felt were undesirable, like underarm deodorants and cigarette, among others. As a result, CBS had to turn down two different cigarette companies who wanted to sponsor me. That didnt put them in the best frame of mind, considering that in 1957 radio was fading fast on the network level, and most sponsors were putting the big bucks into television."
1. "Elderly Man River"
2. "Bang Gunleigh"
3. "Banana Boat Song"
4. Wun'erful, Wun'erful
5. Abominable Snowman
"This is the fifteenth show of the series of a concted-out radio series" Stan sings at the opening. Two weeks earlier when Stan announced on the air that "The Stan Freberg Show" would be ending, he asked listeners to write in and tell him what they would like to hear on the last program. The mail that poured in was enormous and resulted in this program of encore performances of sketches from earlier episodes. After the series left the air, Stan ran a full-page ad in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter in which he appeared as a doctor in white coat with a stethoscope administering to a sick radio with was a headline from the New York Daily News that read: "RADIOS TIRED BLOOD REVITALIZED BY DR. FREBERG". In the picture, Stans head was severed by an ax that was labeled "CBS". In spite of an audience of six million radio listeners, CBS pulled the plug on the show. It was to be the last network radio comedy program. Stan immediately began negotiation with CBS for a television pilot for a visual comedy show called "Frebergland". The series never got off the ground because the CBS executives found Stans humor too bizarre. Ironically, for several years prior, Ernie Kovaks had tried something similar with his "Ernie in Kovaksland" on NBC and in 1961 on ABC Kovaks gained the national television audience that would forever allude the equally brilliant Stan Freberg.