Saturday, 14 February 2015

Friend of The Drelb

Many stars have been immortalised by having their footprints squished into cement on various Walks of Fame. Only one may have had his ear preserved for the future that way.

It was Gary Owens.

We’ll let this newspaper story (likely from an NBC press release) from March 4, 1971 fill us in.

Gary Owens Earmarked In Cement
The ear over which Gary Owens has been cupping his hand these years as the zany announcer on NBC Television Network’s “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” has been put in cement.
All this happened alongside the outdoor entrance to the new commissary on the NBC Television Network’s Burbank lot before an array of dignitaries — Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, the “Laugh-In” cast and Dr. Jarvey Gilbert, the mayor of Burbank. Also on hand was NBC nurse Julie Baquet on a remove-cement-from-ear-assignment. This was the first of what hopefully win became historic displays of TV stars’ famed physical characteristics — such as Jimmy Durante’s nose and the claw of the Andy Williams bear.
Ceremonies were brief and simple in keeping with the occasion. Gary arrived at the appointed minutes, precisely between the times when the cement would be too soft or too hard. Gary, with Dan and Dick at his side, knelt on a red carpet that had been rolled out for the event, and gingerly placed his ear to the ground. Dan decided that Gary never would make much of an impression that way. So he pushed Gary’s head into the cement. It was Dick who pulled Gary’s head out of the cement.
The nurse went to work on the car with a damp towel, Dan and Dick with a chisel.
A couple of policemen watched. Gary commented “My hearing comes up next week—I hope.”
Gary signed his name in the cement and added the date. The moment left his mark in history — and cement.

Gary Owens was an announcer who played an announcer. But that’s not altogether accurate. Owens was more than an announcer. He was an entertainer. He was part of a great era of radio we will never see again. Music radio in the ‘60s wasn’t some guy saying the call-letters seven times in one breath and reading a card with some trite slogan like “More variety, less repetition” before playing the same consultant-approved song that had already been heard six times that day. Disc jockeys picked their own music. They came up with their own routines, as long or short as they wanted. Los Angeles radio was full of creativity, awash with people you wanted to listen to because they were funny. Gary Owens was one of them. And “Laugh-In” made him internationally famous when it became a sudden hit in 1968.

“Laugh-In” debuted when I was 11. I loved the show. It was fast and silly. There was one joke that struck me as so funny I couldn’t stop laughing. I have no idea now what it was, but I’ve never laughed as long since. I loved Gary Owens’ nonsense and non sequiturs. It sounds like his radio show was full of them so his hiring for “Laugh-In” (in a restaurant washroom in Burbank, as Owens once told columnist Jay Sharbutt) couldn’t have been more appropriate.

I’d written a post about Owens called “Who Was That Drelb, Anyway?” and banked it for a few months from now, but with his death I’ve dredged it up, ripped it apart, and will leave you with this remaining portion, a reprint of a United Press International column from June 14, 1969. It answers a question I never asked. I wasn’t all that concerned what a “drelb” was as a pre-teen “Laugh-In” viewer. As far as I knew, he had made up a silly word and that was plenty for me. But it’s nice to know.

Gary Owens of ‘Laugh-In’ a Man With Revenue-Making Talents

UPI Hollywood Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD (UPI)—Gary Owens is the nut on “The Rowan and Martin Laugh-In” who stands in front of a microphone, holding a cupped hand to his ear, and opens the show by announcing “Morgul as the friendly drelb.”
There is no Morgul. A drelb is a furry, sick-looking abominable snowman. But Owens is real enough and even shows flashes of sanity.
In addition to his playing straight man to the resident dingalings on the show, Owens is a disc jockey for radio station KMPC in Hollywood from 3-6 p.m. daily. When he isn't taping the "Laugh-In" or spinning records, the South Dakota native is doing commercials. Last year his voice was heard in no fewer than 350 commercial pitches in addition to providing the vocal cords for cartoon characters "Space Ghost" and "Roger Ramjet."
Owens is married to a pretty girl named Arleta whom he met on the campus of Dakota Wesleyan University. They exchanged vows in 1956.
They are the parents of Scott, 9, and Christopher, 5.
Their Encino estate in the San Fernando valley is complete with swimming pool, a full-time maid and three dogs: two dachshunds, Julie and Rosebud, and a terrier who answers to Skoshi.
Owens is proud of the fact that he began broadcasting in the Dakotas when he was only 16. He did his first announcing job with another Dakotan, Lawrence Welk.
The many-faceted Owens has three offices, one at home, another at KMPC, and a third in a Hollywood office building which is filled with filing cabinets of gags, trivia and information for his radio show.
At the moment he is completing his first book. "Gary Owens Looks at Radio," a tome on humor scheduled for publication in September.
Arleta is a brilliant amateur decorator and has furnished each of the rooms in their home in a different era and color scheme. One room is French regency, another early Greek, another modern.
She also rules the kitchen, and specializes in a variety of hamburger dishes because they are Gary's favorites.
Owens manages to juggle his new busy schedule because the producers of the NBC-TV comedy sensation allow him to "wild-track" his "Laugh-In" bit on tape Tuesday mornings. He returns Wednesday evenings—after his radio show—to tape scenes with other members of wacky staff.
To relieve the tensions of his fast-paced life. Owens plays basketball on a regulation outdoor court flanking his home.
Weekends he packs the family up and heads for Laguna Beach and the languid life in the sunshine there. He hopes to buy a home overlooking the surf as a hideaway Sunday mornings are devoted to private karate lessons. Not that he plans to defend himself except against the wild men on "Laugh-In."
Owens recently had three suits made. "They are in the 1930 George Raft style that I wear on the show," he explains. "They are so far out of style that they're becoming fashionable again."
Owens' only real eccentricity is Morgul. Sometime, somewhere, he is sure, he will track the elusive down the elusive drelb.

Gary Owens went from playing an announcer on an NBC show to being an announcer on NBC (he freelanced reading promos and liners for the network). He was a sometime host for “The Gong Show” which, despite his love of the off-beat, never really quite fit him. He did much more, of course. He was loved and respected by everyone, from what I can tell. He made people laugh and feel better as a result, including a little boy miles and miles away from Beautiful Downtown Burbank. Thanks, Gary.

1 comment:

  1. Hopefully when NBC moved their studio operations from Burbank to Universal City a couple of years ago someone saved the concrete, along with other memorabilia from the network's lot, before the wrecking balls came in.

    New York radio DJ's of the 60s tended to only be heard outside of their own shows as commercial voice-overs, though the more sedate ones from the 1950s like Gene Rayburn or Bill Cullen could end up on hosting game shows or other things like NBC's "Monitor". The Los Angeles ares DJ's like Owens who were major successes had more opportunities to expand into television, since TV production was probably more L.A.-centric from the mid-1960s to the mid-80s than at any other time (and Owens' TV career was still behind that of former KNX morning DJ Bob Crane).