I wanted to say a few words about the great Stan Freberg today. Do you know who he is? He has been a gold record selling comedian, cartoon voice actor, movie and television actor, radio show host, a puppeteer, an author and a pioneer of using humor in advertising. He even came up with the name “Grammy” for the recording industry’s highest award. And if you are in the Los Angeles area this weekend (August 4-5, 2012), you have a chance to shake his hand and get an autograph. (DETAILS HERE!)
Stan Freberg got his start in the entertainment business as a teenager. He literally got off the bus in Hollywood and immediately landed a job doing voices for the classic Warner Bros. cartoons. That’s right, despite all the title cards saying Mel Blanc did all the voices, Stan was right there doing many voices as well along with folks like June Foray, Arthur Q. Bryan and others.
Perhaps Stan’s most iconic Warner Bros. character was Pete Puma, the mountain lion who Bugs Bunny tricked into getting many lumps pounded into his head in several cartoons. Stan also did the hilarious Junyer Bear who was far too big for his diaper. He was also one half (the other half being Mel Blanc) of the mice Hubie & Bertie and half of the Goofy Gophers. The list of other characters is quite long including being the voice of a cat in the first Speedy Gonzales cartoon.
The one time Stan got screen credit was when he was the ONLY voice in an entire Warner Bros. cartoon. Friz Freleng directed Stan in The Three Little Bops that was a zoot suited version of the story of the Three Little Pigs. Stan sang the song and voiced every character.
Stan did cartoon vocal work for other studios, too. Disney was one. He sang a song about the Jabberwocky for Alice In Wonderland that Walt ultimately cut from the movie, but he also memorably did the voice of the beaver in Lady and the Tramp. As you recall, the beaver helps get the muzzle off of Lady when she and Tramp come to see him at the zoo. Walt Disney himself directed Stan in that performance.
Out of a pure indulgence of mine, I also want to mention Stan’s role as the Yawning Man in the 1958 movie Tom Thumb. Tom Thumb was a wonderful fantasy movie directed by the great George Pal who loved incorporating stop-motion animation into his movies. He did it the hard way, too. The characters faces would all be sculpted in wood. George had Stan play a small but memorable role of a toy that helps put Tom Thumb (played by Russ Tamblyn from West Side Story) to sleep. Here’s the scene for you to see. I dare you to not yawn during this wonderful vocal performance by Freberg:
I first learned of Stan’s name when I was in high school. I was working at a summer camp on an island in the Delaware River sharing a cabin with several other staff guys. My friend Kevin Wertz had a copy of Freberg’s The United States of America album on a cassette tape that we listened to over and over after our long day’s work. That just might be the funniest album by any comedian I have ever heard, and am thrilled to have my own signed copy on LP framed on the wall in my studio. Later I discovered that Stan had made MANY records, most of which were song parodies of the day. His cover of Harry Bellefonte’s Banana Boat Song put me in stitches. It is no surprise that “Weird” Al Yankovic counts Stan as one of his inspirations.
Another guy inspired by Stan was the late Jim Henson. Stan, along with Daws Butler, were the guys who brought Bob Clampett’s creations of Beany & Cecil to life as a live television puppet show called Time For Beany. Stan was the original Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent as well as Dishonest John. Stan once told me how he showed a young Jim Henson how to make Kermit the Frog seem as though he was smiling.
Freberg’s later career as an advertising man broke new ground for that industry. He broke away from the fake testimonial ads common in the day, and from the ads that made all kinds of promises to make ads that made people laugh. He was wildly successful and we have had funny ads ever since. One of the big accounts Stan had was doing all the TV and radio ads for the movie It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in which he also had a silent cameo (he’s the sheriff’s deputy sitting in the background of Andy Divine’s scenes), but he also did funny ads for Sunsweet Prunes, Geno’s Pizza and many others.
As you can tell, I love the guy. I could go on and on about his career, but you would be better served if you could find a copy of his out-of-print autobiography titled It Only Hurts When I Laugh so that you can read his funny tales about all of the above and more in his own words. If you come see Stan this weekend at The Hollywood Show in Burbank, you might be lucky enough to score one of the few copies he has left.
That’s right, so if you would like to come see Stan, shake his hand, and get an autograph he is appearing at the Burbank Marriott by the airport along with many other Hollywood celebrities. To see more details about The Hollywood Show and who will be there, CLICK HERE! Stan will have photos of Pete Puma, the beaver and other shots of himself for sale. He has a couple of books, and some record albums and CDs from his own collection that he will be selling, along with a few copies of Warner Bros. Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 2 that has cartoons of Junyer Bear, Pete Puma and The Three Little Bops on it (Stan even provides voice commentary on that set)!
Oh, and if you drop by, be sure to wish Stan a Happy Birthday! He will be 86 years old on August 7!