Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Freberg Moves On

The year was 1957 and there were worlds left to conquer for young Stan Freberg. He had toiled anonymously in animated cartoons, received a bit of notoriety for his work on the puppet show A Time For Beany but then vaulted into fame in the novelty record business. The canny Freberg managed to take his satiric records to the next step—in summer 1957 he was handed a radio variety show where he poked fun at whatever the censors would permit (and they didn’t permit him to do all he wanted). Finally, he opened an advertising company that basically poked fun at advertising.

Let’s pass along a couple of newspaper columns. First, let’s see what the Herald Tribune syndicate’s John Crosby thought about Freberg’s radio show (actually Freberg’s second; he had a sitcom for CBS in 1954). Crosby wasn’t a fan of the banality of radio or TV; he was a fan of both Fred Allen and Henry Morgan, who liked to take shots at both media. Crosby hits on one thing I’ve found about the Freberg shows—some routines carry on a little too long. But they have moments of real brilliance, too. He also reviews Morgan’s latest radio effort as well. By 1957, Morgan had been sadly emasculated. He should have been doing a game show parody, not a game show. This appeared in papers on July 19, 1957.
Out Of The Air

Freberg—The Man Of Many Voices
Stan Freberg, the man of many voices who can reduce me to helpless laughter with his better satiric flights, now has his own radio show on CBS (7:30 p. m. EDT, Sunday). The opening show last Sunday was, I would say, a yes-and-no affair which had moments of great charm and bright wit but contained some empty spots, too.
Freberg is not only a satirist but a man with a great gift for fantasy which is sometimes delightful and sometimes gets him into trouble. The show’s opening, for instance, found the live Stan Freberg arguing with the various personalities created by the recorded Stan Freberg. “It’s frightening! It’s frightening!” exclaimed Freberg. It was also a wonderful demonstration of the man s versatility and imaginative range.
THIS WAS followed by a bit in which Freberg played the part of a French sheepherder who had taught his sheep to play a tune on the bells around their necks. This was charming. It was a mixture of both fantasy and humor in pure sound — something that wouldn’t come off on a television screen at all — and an excellent example of what Freberg does best. He is essentially a sound man and he knows how to call into play the imagination of his listeners. He has done some of his things on television and always, to me, there’s a letdown. I’d rather do my own imagining.
The bulk of the show was devoted to something called a Freberg fable, entitled “Incident at Los Varoses,” and this was drawn out far too thinly. It detailed a ferocious rivalry between two gambling establishments known as El Sodom and Rancho Gomorrah, Los Varoses being a thinly disguised Las Vegas.
THE TROUBLE with trying to satirize that fabled sin-spot is that the excesses of Las Vegas in the entertainment field are so bad that it is almost impossible to top them. As a result, the thing got pretty strained and seemed interminable.
Just the same, it was an interesting and unusual half-hour and well worth listening to. This Sunday Freberg promises an interview with the Abominable Showman and the inside story on the midnight ride of Paul Revere, both topics you are not likely to hear just anywhere. You might just blow the dust off that radio in the corner this weekend and sample purely aural humor for a change.
JUST AHEAD of Freberg, CBS Radio has started a new panel show called “Sez Who,” presided over — with great difficulty — by Henry Morgan. The panelists are Gypsy Rose Lee, John Henry Faulk and Joey Adams, and the idea of the game is to guess the identity of voices on records, most of them old ones. The first one, for example, was that of Enrico Caruso singing, “Johnny Get Your Gun” at a World War I bond rally.
However, the game rapidly was buried under a barrage of wisecracks and acrimony that sounded a little too edged to be quite comfortable. “What started as a simple game has developed into one of the greatest indoor fights,” lamented Mr. Morgan at one point. “I hope we can all leave this studio together.”
FROM THE POINT of view of the show, perhaps it is just as well that distemper occurred. “Sez Who” is a pretty witless and simple-minded parlor game, even as radio parlor games go, and was not especially helped by a sort of studied ignorance on the part of the panelists of almost every field with which the mystery voices were connected. “It takes two to play baseball?” asked Miss Lee innocently, a remark I always shall cherish. She was talking about comedy routine between Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig which was pretty awful, even for a couple of baseball players. It was this sort of thing that the ancients claim killed vaudeville and future generations well may say it was this kind of program that killed radio.
Freberg’s radio show debuted on July 14th, was cancelled on September 25th and went off the air October 20th. Bing Crosby was supposed to replace him but Bing wasn’t ready by the 27th. There was talk in Variety that Freberg would do another show; instead Broadway 1957 aired on the 27th in the Freberg slot. Four days later, it was reported Freberg turned down an offer from CBS to find something else for him.

In April 1958, Freberg had signed—along with Rowan and Martin—to host a summer replacement show for Dinah Shore sponsored by Chevrolet. And by June, he had opened his own ad agency. By month’s end, he and Gloria Wood had transcribed a six-minute blurb for Butternut Coffee. The syndicated TV Key column caught up with Freberg. This column was published August 25, 1958.
Stan Freberg Goes Commercial

On the first floor of Hollywood's record-shaped Capital [sic] Record building, satirist Stan Freberg was busy recording a platter about Butternut, a certain gypsy. With a violinist, a tambourine player, a chorus of seven, Stan intoned "Butternut spelled backwards is Tun-ret-tub." This was take number ten and Stan and group had been at it four hours.
"This it normal for Freberg," said an engineer in the sound room. "I've seen him take all night on a single record."
After take ten, Stan called it quits until the next day. He and writer-director Allen Alch had been up till 3 a.m. working on the dialogue. And in two hours he had to report to NBC for rehearsal which included a choreography number for Sunday's Chevy Show, where Stan has been appearing every other week this summer.
Orville Sounds off
"I'm split down the middle," said Stan after the session. "Half of me is with my ad agency and my records, and the other half as an entertainer on the Chevy show. I'm very happy to be on the show, but right now I'm on a treadmill in offers. My agent keeps finding more things for me to do."
As a satirist on TV, Stan has his puppet, Orville, a creature from the Moon, speak up on local happenings and say things Freberg couldn't say himself.
"The Chevy Show is a nice show," said Stan about his new employers. "Bland maybe, but nice. The fans like the music and the show sells a lot of cars. I'm not knocking their success. It pays off. But you never hear people say, 'Gee, did you hear what they said on that show Sunday.' "
So as a satirist Stan perhaps was wondering what he was doing on the program, but nevertheless he was happy to be on it.
"Tell the people out there in Readerland," said Stan, "I'm trying to get to them as best as I know how."
Stan has already gotten to the people with records like "Banana Boat Song," "St. George," "John and Marsha," his radio show and his TV appearances on Club Oasis and with Frank Sinatra. The reviewers favorite terms for Orville and Freberg were "offbeat," "inventive," and "fresh'.
"Those are the terms I like to hear," Stan admitted without blushing. "I’d much rather be any of those than funny."
Proven Critics Wrong
His offbeat humor hasn't warmed the "big" hearts of the network and agency men. They've been telling Stan for some time. "You're just not commercial, Stan." To prove them wrong, Stan went into the ad game. After doing commercials on a small scale with the Cunningham and Walsh ad agency for two years, Freberg went into business on his own last November. With a staff of five, Freberg Ltd. is going great guns.
For instance, the Butternut coffee people used Freberg radio commercials in the Middle West to introduce their new coffee and indulged in no other form of advertising. They expected to sell a quarter of a million jars there in a few months. With the Freberg spots hawking coffee, the sales curve shot up. One million jars were sold in four weeks and the company plant got behind. That's how satire sells. Evidently the Freberg kind isn't just for sophisticates.
(Released by McClure Newspapers Syndicate.)

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