"Leapin' Lizards! What was THAT?"


Stan Freberg, who's been successful in getting laughs in almost every phase of show business imaginable (with the exception of, say, nude bungee jumping), was born on August 7, 1926, a child of radio--literally.

Mr. Freberg, who can currently be heard on the nationally syndicated radio program "When Radio Was...", says that a radio was brought into the delivery room of the hospital where he was born, because one of the nurses hated missing the radio soap opera, "Young Dr. Malone."

"I was born between a Rinso commercial and the NBC chimes," he states. "That makes me a Leo, with Lever Brothers as my rising sign." (For more on Mr. Freberg's childhood, read "IT ONLY HURTS WHEN I LAUGH", Stan's hilarious autobiography, published by Times Books.)

As a young, inexperienced, but incredibly talented teenager, Stan landed a job with the first talent agency he saw when he got off the bus in Hollywood (having made the journey from Pasadena), and was soon doing an assortment of cartoon voices alongside the great Mel Blanc at Warner Bros., including half of the Goofy Gophers, Chester the dog, the Abominable Snowman, the hairy orange monster Gossamer, and his two most famous Looney Tunes voices, Pete Puma and Junyer Bear...to name but a few.

Stan also landed work on Cliffie Stone's local radio show, and--after a brief segue in the service of our country during WWII (the U.S. Army)--character work on some of the top radio shows of the day, including "Suspense" and "The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show," not to mention appearing on the show of his childhood idol, Jack Benny.

In 1949, one of his former directors at Warner Bros., Bob Clampett, asked Stan if he'd like to get in on the ground floor of something new: television. The end result was the legendary "Time for Beany" (the predecessor of the 1960s animated "Beany and Cecil" show). One of the benefits for Stan was the formation of a long-term friendship with his co-star, Daws Butler (who would later go on to toon stardom as the voices of "Huckleberry Hound," "Yogi Bear," "Elroy Jetson," the original "Cap'n Crunch," and many others).

As the 50s began, Stan was signed to Capitol Records. His first record, a parody of the over-emoting of radio soap operas called "John and Marsha," was an unexpected hit, and as the decade continued, Freberg continued releasing comedy singles that still sound just as funny nearly 50 years after the fact. "My records weren't released by Capitol," Stan asserts, "they escaped." His take-off on "Dragnet," "St. George and the Dragonet," remains one of the true comedy classics. But radio remained Stan's first love.

In 1954, CBS Radio gave him his first shot at a weekly show, a Thursday night half-hour titled "That's Rich" (which co-starred Daws Butler, Peter Leeds and Hans Conreid). The program lasted all of 38 weeks, and copies of the show are hard to find. The program faded from memory, and Stan went back into the Capitol Tower, coming up with newer and funnier escapees.

In 1957, CBS gave Freberg one more chance. As it turned out, he would replace his idol Jack Benny in the Sunday night at 7 time slot. This new show would last only 15 weeks, but would turn out to have a far greater impact than his previous series. THE STAN FREBERG SHOW, which co-starred his stock company of players from his Capitol records (Butler, Leeds, and the incredible June Foray, plus singer Peggy Taylor, The Jud Conlon Rhythmaires and the music of Billy May), was a wild mix of comedy, social satire and music, and would win critical acclaim, as well as a Grammy award for the 2-LP set of highlights from the show (The complete 15 episodes have recently been released by Radio Spirits under the "Smithsonian Historical Performances" label).

In 1961, Freberg would record an album that has achieved cult status, if not historic (pun intended) proportions: STAN FREBERG PRESENTS THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, VOL. 1--"THE EARLY YEARS" was an outrageous original musical for records, which spanned the history of America from the time of Columbus to the end of the Revolutionary War.

After the release of this album, Stan left the world of comedy recordings behind to devote his time to creating some of the funniest, and most successful, commercials ever produced, through his company "Freberg, Ltd. (but not very)" That remained Stan's focus throughout the 60s up until the 90s (although he did find time to go back into the Capitol studios to record "FREBERG UNDERGROUND!" in 1966).

As the 90s began, Stan found himself reunited with his first love, radio, on a regular basis. The vehicle for Stan's return was a daily syndicated 2 and 1/2 minute satiric commentary, titled "STAN FREBERG HERE...", which aired on over 100 stations in the U.S., and worldwide over Armed Forces Radio. The daily commentaries, which cover such diverse subjects as Stan's tirade against potholes ("Is there someone driving around in a tank at night, pounding potholes in the street? Go on and publish your pothole manifesto! I've had enough!"), his memories of Ella Fitzgerald, and his hilarious encounter with a novelty shop in Alaska that claims to be the world's largest seller of moose-dung novelty items ("How about a moose dung swizzle stick?" I said, "I beg your PARDON?"), ended its' nationally syndicated run in December of 1998, after 9 years and some 2,250 commentaries, over 400 of which are archived (from the last three years) on "The Completely Incomplete 'STAN FREBERG HERE' Archives (but not very)!"

In the spring of 1995, Stan added the hosting duties of the nationally-syndicated version of the vintage radio program, "WHEN RADIO WAS..." to his resume, taking the show over from the late Art Fleming. "When Radio Was..." is heard on 300 stations.

At the age of 72, the master satirist is as busy as ever, if not more so. The L.A. Times once asked him if he had any intention of slowing down. "No," he replied, "I intend to speed up so I don't get run over by a bread truck or something." Indeed, slowing down seems to be the furthest thing from Stan's mind, as there are a number of projects he can be found doing at any given moment. When he's not writing his commentaries or recording voice overs for "When Radio Was..." or a number of cartoons, or accepting another award (and he's got plenty of 'em, all deserved), he's in the studio doing what he does best: creating hilarious audio excursions, such as the recently-released, long-awaited sequel to his "U.S.A." album on Rhino. He's reportedly putting the finishing touches on Vol. 3. He's also at work on the second volume of his autobiography. And he STILL turns out some darned funny commercials from Freberg, Ltd. (but not very), these days limiting his ad work to clients whose products or services genuinely interest him, like The Seeing Eye, for whom he produced three impressive :60 spots about guide dog access to restaraunts, taxis, and housing.

In the meantime, as Stan has duly noted, "Life is weird, and getting weirder all the time." How weird? As a case in point, Freberg points out a book called "The Dictionary of Non-Bias Usage," in which the feminist author claims the word "seminal"--meaning "original"--should be banned because, according to her, it contains the word "semen." Freberg couldn't resist an open invitation like that, as reported in the Wall Street Journal:

"Why don't we eliminate the word 'seminar' while we're at it? 'I'm very pleased to be speaking at this Burlington Industries ovular.'"

There's no doubt about it...it's hard to stop Stan Freberg.

And a lot of his fans will tell you there's nothing wrong with that.

Copyright (C)1999, Lee M. Withers.
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