Mas­ter of com­edy par­o­dies and off­beat ad cam­paigns

STAN FRE­BERG, 1926 - 2015

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Den­nis McLel­lan

Stan Fre­berg, an in­flu­en­tial mas­ter of the lam­poon who chan­neled his off-the-wall sen­si­bil­ity into ground­break­ing ra­dio shows, com­edy al­bums and hun­dreds of hu­mor­ous tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials for prod­ucts such as chow mein and prunes, died of nat­u­ral causes Tues­day at UCLA Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Santa Mon­ica. He was 88.

His death was con­firmed by his fam­ily, who said he had a num­ber of age-re­lated ail­ments, in­clud­ing pneu­mo­nia.

Fre­berg’s path to the na­tion’s funny bone was un­con­ven­tional: Un­like stand-up comics who recorded com­edy al­bums of their night­club acts in front of live au­di­ences, Fre­berg went straight into the stu­dio at Capitol Records in Hol­ly­wood and, bol­stered by ac­tors, mu­si­cians and sound ef­fects, cre­ated what he called “au­dio mo­ments.”

With totems of popular cul­ture as his pre­ferred tar­gets, he cre­ated his own satir­i­cal hit pa­rade from sendups of chart-top­pers such as Elvis Pres­ley’s “Heart­break Ho­tel” and ven­er­ated TV se­ries such as “Gun­smoke,” “The Hon­ey­moon­ers” and Ed­ward R. Mur­row’s “Per­son to Per­son.”

His 1953 spoof of Jack Webb’s “Drag­net,” called “St. Ge­orge and the Dragonet,” cap­tured the cop show’s fa­mously stac­cato, mono­tone de­liv­ery and was widely con­sid­ered his finest work as a mimic and par­o­dist.

An­nouncer: The leg­end you are about to hear is true — only the nee­dle should be changed to pro­tect the record.

St. Ge­orge: This is the coun­try­side — my name is St. Ge­orge; I’m a knight. Satur­day, July 10th, 8:05 p.m. I was work­ing out of the cas­tle on the night watch when the call came in from the chief — a dragon had been de­vour­ing maid­ens — homi­cide. My job — slay him!”

Fre­berg’s ir­rev­er­ent take on the se­ries pro­duced the fastest-sell­ing sin­gle in his­tory — more than 1 mil­lion copies in three weeks, ac­cord­ing to Va­ri­ety — and earned its mas­ter­mind a gold record.

“There has been noth­ing com­pa­ra­ble to Fre­berg’s abil­ity to seize on a pop fad and, while it was still hot, cap­i­tal­ize on it,” Gerald Nach­man wrote in “Se­ri­ously Funny: The Rebel Co­me­di­ans of the 1950s and 1960s.”

Fre­berg’s satiric vi­sion made him an idol to fans as di­verse as the Bea­tles, An­thony Hop­kins, Steven Spiel­berg and Tom Hanks.

Barry Hansen, the ra­dio host and mu­si­col­o­gist known as Dr. De­mento, told Nach­man that Fre­berg’s spoofs “were the true fore­run­ners of the satir­i­cal style of Na­tional Lam­poon and ‘Satur­day Night Live.’ ” To which Nach­man added: “But with many more bull’s

eyes.”

His 1961 mu­si­cal com­edy al­bum “Stan Fre­berg Presents the United States of Amer­ica” is of­ten de­scribed as his master­piece. The droll re­vue cov­ers Amer­i­can his­tory from Colum­bus through the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War, with Fre­berg in roles such as Benjamin Franklin, who is heard call­ing the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence “a lit­tle over­board” in the lead-in to the song “A Man Can’t Be Too Care­ful What He Signs Th­ese Days.”

In 1996, the hu­morist re­leased a se­quel, “Stan Fre­berg Presents The United States of Amer­ica, Vol­ume 2: The Mid­dle Years.”

When he first per­formed some of his par­o­dies, the re­ac­tion was not al­ways pos­i­tive. The orig­i­nal record­ings of his barbed spoofs of Ed Sul­li­van and Arthur God­frey — two of tele­vi­sion’s big­gest stars in the 1950s and early ’60s — were locked in the Capitol Records vault af­ter ve­he­ment protests by lawyers for both en­ter­tain­ers.

That led to Fre­berg’s fre­quently quoted com­ment on cen­sor­ship: “My records are not re­leased; they es­cape.”

The son of a Bap­tist min­is­ter, Fre­berg was born in Pasadena on Aug. 7, 1926. Gan­gly and in­tro­verted, he spent hours ly­ing on the floor with his ear next to his fam­ily’s con­sole ra­dio.

“I was such a big ra­dio buff when I was grow­ing up that when the other kids ran out to play base­ball, I ran in­side to lis­ten to the ra­dio,” he told the New York Times in 1983. “My idols were Jack Benny and Fred Allen.”

Fre­berg’s own off­beat sense of hu­mor be­gan to blos­som at Al­ham­bra High School. Dur­ing his se­nior year, he ran for stu­dent of­fice on the prom­ise that he would in­stall an 80-foot pic­ture win­dow in the girls’ locker room and turn the prin­ci­pal’s of­fice into an au­to­matic carwash.

“I was elected in a land­slide but found it hard to de­liver on my cam­paign prom­ises,” he re­called in “It Only Hurts When I Laugh,” his 1988 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy.

He also per­formed a one­man show at a school as­sem­bly, play­ing all of the parts in “an orig­i­nal Fre­berg ra­dio show,” com­plete with back­ground mu­sic and sound ef­fects. When his fel­low stu­dents gave him a stand­ing ova­tion, he was hooked.

Although he earned schol­ar­ships to both the Uni­ver­sity of Red­lands and Stan­ford, his col­lege ca­reer was per­ma­nently side­tracked shortly af­ter high school grad­u­a­tion in 1944 when he landed a job at the Warner Bros. an­i­mated car­toon unit as the voice of a car­toon dog based on Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt’s fa­mous pooch, Fala.

He went into ra­dio sup­ply­ing an­i­mal sounds on a CBS net­work Sun­day show “Tell It Again,” which dra­ma­tized a clas­sic chil­dren’s story each week. Later, he was an ac­tor on the Armed Forces Ra­dio Net­work.

Af­ter a post-World War II Army stint in Spe­cial Ser­vices, Fre­berg did stand-up rou­tines with the com­edy orches­tra Red Fox and his Mu­si­cal Hounds. He left the band in 1949 to team up with for­mer Warner Bros. an­i­ma­tion direc­tor Bob Clam­pett on the KTLA show “Time for Beany.”

Work­ing with Daws But­ler, who sup­plied the voices of Beany and Cap­tain Huf­fen­puff, Fre­berg spent the next five years as Ce­cil the Sea­sick Sea Ser­pent (and the vil­lain­ous Dis­hon­est John) on the Emmy- and Pe­abody Award-win­ning pup­pet show.

In 1950, he launched his com­edy record­ing ca­reer with his clas­sic soap-opera satire “John and Mar­sha,” in which two lovers (both voiced by Fre­berg) re­peat each other’s names again and again in vary­ing de­grees of grief, anx­i­ety, joy and lust.

He also ruf­fled the sta­tus quo of the Eisen­hower era with par­o­dies of ram­pant con­sumerism (“Green Chri$tmas$”), the Army McCarthy hear­ings (“Point of Or­der”) and pay­ola (“The Old Pay­ola Blues”).

In 1957, af­ter scor­ing a hit with his spoof of Harry Belafonte’s “Ba­nana Boat Song (Day-O)” record, Fre­berg landed his own com­edy show on the CBS Ra­dio Net­work, re­plac­ing the de­part­ing Jack Benny. Crit­ics loved it, but he had run-ins with CBS ex­ec­u­tives over his re­fusal to be spon­sored by tobacco com­pa­nies and other “un­de­sir­ables.” CBS can­celed “The Stan Fre­berg Show” af­ter about 15 weeks.

Fre­berg later said the can­cel­la­tion led him to con­cen­trate on ad­ver­tis­ing work. He formed his own com­pany, Fre­berg Ltd. (but not very), whose motto was Ars gra­tia pe­cu­niae (Art for money’s sake).

One of his most mem­o­rable early spots was a 1956 ra­dio com­mer­cial for Con­tad­ina Foods, a small San Jose­based tomato-paste maker that was tak­ing on the gi­ant Hunt’s com­pany.

Fre­berg came up with a jin­gle — “Who puts eight great toma­toes in that lit­tle bitty can?” — and sales of Con­tad­ina tomato paste in­creased dramatically within weeks.

Later dubbed “the fa­ther of the funny com­mer­cial” by Ad­ver­tis­ing Age, he won more than 20 Clio Awards for his tele­vi­sion and ra­dio spots.

Fre­berg later pro­moted such var­ied prod­ucts as Sunsweet pit­ted prunes (“To­day the pits, to­mor­row the wrin­kles; Sunsweet marches on!”) and Heinz’s Great Amer­i­can Soups, for which he cre­ated a lav­ish Busby Berke­ley-style pro­duc­tion num­ber with a tap­danc­ing Ann Miller atop a gi­ant can of chicken gumbo soup.

He summed up his ad­ver­tis­ing phi­los­o­phy sim­ply: “Hey, folks, this is pizza we’re sell­ing, not the Holy Grail.”

His wife, Donna, whom he mar­ried in 1959 and who served as his edi­tor and pro­ducer, died in 2000. He is sur­vived by his wife Hunter Fre­berg, whom he mar­ried in 2001; a son, Don­a­van; a daugh­ter, Donna; and a grand­daugh­ter.

SATIRIST

Pa­trick Downs

Stan Fre­berg’s “Drag­net” par­ody sold 1 mil­lion copies in three weeks.

A COM­EDY STAR OF THE 1950S Stan Fre­berg, with Diane Parry in a pub­lic­ity photo, worked with an­i­ma­tor Bob Clam­pett on the popular

1950s TV show “Time for Beany” in which Fre­berg did the voice of Ce­cil the Sea­sick Sea Ser­pent.

Robert Gau­thier

LAST­ING IN­FLU­ENCE Stan Fre­berg, in Rhino Records’ of­fice, did spoofs that were the fore­run­ners of “Satur­day Night Live,” said Barry Hansen, bet­ter known as Dr. De­mento.

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