Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Life of Gerard

Anyone who knows Arnold Stang solely from cartoon character voices is missing out on some of the best work he ever did.

Stang started out in radio and his main employment, after he grew out of pre-adult roles, was on various on-air ventures of jaded satirist Henry Morgan. He was cast as Gerard, a negative, amoral New Yorker who tried to get away with anything, like inventing a whole family to claim on his income tax. “Who’s to know?” he’d say to Morgan. He didn’t care if he succeeded, but he’s try it anyway. Basically, he almost took on Morgan’s personality (if not his viewpoint) while Morgan played the straight man.

Any time is a good time to post about Arnold Stang. He would be 96 if he were still with us. (For years, he lied about his age, likely to help his early career. Who’s to know?) Here’s a little story about Gerard from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of February 20, 1948. Stang began with Morgan on ABC in September 1946 and moved with him to NBC two years later.

'Gerald' on Henry Morgan Show True Sophisticate, Says Stang

Arnold Stang, who plays "Gerard" on the Henry Morgan show looked up from his scrambled egg and bacon breakfast the other afternoon and said "Gerard" is one of the completely sophisticated characters in radio.
Every line he repeats on the show with that verbal shrug proves it, he says.
"When I do Gerard, I always think of him as the kind of person who is very hard to impress. I think that is being truly sophisticated."
People laugh, he says, because they like "Gerard" and because they sometimes feel the way he does about things.
Arnold's technical approach to hilarity is a radio actor's method turned on comedy, he explains. He wants to make "Gerard" three dimensional.
"He becomes a real person because I don't step out of character or read lines in any trick way to get laughs. 'Gerard' is 'Gerard' all the time. That spontaneous laugh that "Gerard" gets when Henry Morgan introduces him is no accident, he added as he forked up his bacon.
"Audiences laugh as soon as they hear the name because they've gotten to like the character and they expect to laugh."
Although Arnold feels that Gerard is a good thing professionally he doesn't plan to let radio change his name; "I want people to say that's an Arnold Stang-type part," he says, "not one for 'Gerard.'"
Arnold, who lives at 1846 50th St., has been in radio since his Children Hour days and has worked with Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Ed (Archie) Gardner and he also subbed for Ish Kabibble on the Kay Kayser [sic] show.
He takes his work quite seriously but he doesn't call it art with a capitalized "a".
"I try to realize that what I do is creative but it's also a business and I have to keep on learning." He checks his performance regularly by having recordings made and listening to the playback.
His current popularity was preceded by a filling-in during lean months jobs, as a Western Union messenger, a fact which helps him keep his perspective in the soap opera and long commercial business.
"You've got to be independent in this business but you can't forget to be human," he says. "If you are too unsure of yourself you can't click when you read for a part because you try too hard."
Currently Arnold is lining up a new radio show from which "Gerard" will be barred, "I'll talk about the Morgan show on my show and my show on the Morgan show but "Gerard" will stay on the Morgan show.

Stang didn’t get much of a chance to talk about Morgan, or anything else, on his own show. It bombed. Summer replacement shows generally lasted through the summer. Stang’s didn’t. “It’s Always Albert” was a replacement for Danny Thomas on Friday nights at 8:30 on CBS. It aired for a mere four weeks in July 1948 before itself being replaced by “Romance Theater” (the cast were told before the fourth show that it would be the last). The failure was quickly forgotten. Gerard was still on the Morgan show and Stang was busy with a second radio venture, a comedy-variety show starring Milton Berle who was about to take off into the stratosphere on television. And Stang eventually went along for the ride.

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