Friday 20 December 2013

Arnold Stang

No excuse is needed to post about the funny Arnold Stang, but I’m using one anyway. Stang died four years ago today. He’s known for cartoon voices, the great gas station destruction scene in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and guest shots on a pile of TV shows.

To me, his best work was in radio. He was terrific on ‘The Henry Morgan Show’ where he blatantly lied on his tax return, confidentially and repeatedly telling Morgan “Who’s to know?” Then there was his work with Milton Berle, first on radio, where he’d gain increasingly loud indignation at Berle to the building laughter of the studio audience.

Here’s a “Broadway After Dark” column from the Long Island Star Journal of December 1, 1968.

Stang’s Voice Still in Great Demand

Arnold Stang was a television pioneer, along with Milton Berle and other flamboyant figures. But he never thought TV would last, rather regrets that it has, and longs for the resurgence of radio.
“I went on television in the first year of scheduled broadcasting by NBC,” he said. “I think it was 1937. Anyway, it was so early nobody had a television set and my parents had to go to an appliance store to watch me. Hildegarde emceed the show and I did a sketch with Gertrude Berg. Every 15 minutes they put on a test pattern to rest the eyes because they believed TV was bad for the eyes. They used wooden television cameras on one show I did — it all sounds very primitive.
"I thought television was a novelty, just a gimmick, and would disappear. I loved radio and still do. I feel it’s a superior medium for the audience. Television has reduced everything to the least common denominator. Fifty per cent of radio depends on the audience’s mind and imagination, but there is nothing stimulating about TV. Comedy on radio was of higher order. I keep hoping radio will [be] reborn.”
• • •
ARNOLD looks a bit like a praying mantis. Or an undersized Beatle with a haircut — height, 5 feet three; weight, 105. Not by any means an imposing figure, he has been an enduring one, leapfrogging in comedy from radio to television to Broadway to motion pictures.
In Universal’s new feature-length color cartoon, “Pinocchio in Outer Space,” he provides the voice for Nurtle the Twurtle, an animated character. The picture will be released Dec. 22 for the Christmas trade.
“Nurtle is Pinocchio’s buddy,” he explained. “He’s not a turtle, he’s a twurtle and he has a short fuse on his temper. I did the voice over a period of three years; animation is a long, tedious process. Nurtle and Pinocchio have a lot of adventures in outer space.”
• • •
ARNOLD is something of a spaceman himself. He flew about 100,000 miles last year, from New York to California and back again. Films and television take him West; his family pulls him East.
“I often make two round trips to California in a week,” he said. “My wife always takes me to Kennedy Airport, and always meets me, no matter what the hour. I'll wake up on the plane and it really will be an effort to know where I am. But I’m usually the first one off and when I see my wife I know I'm home.”
He and his wife; Jo Anne, live in New Rochelle. They have two children — David, 14 and Deborah, 13—, two basset hounds, Just under an acre of land, and a number of fruit trees. Mrs. Stang is a writer.
“JOANNE did an interview with me. I liked her immediately and it hasn’t worn off. She is a very good wife and mother. We have a big freezer and it’s full of things like apple pie and apple cake and applesauce. I peel the apples and she cooks. She also puts up brandied peaches.”
Arnold was born in Chelsea, Mass. At the age of nine he ran away from home, took a bus to New York and auditioned for The Children’s Hour on radio. He was hired for the show and also for “Let’s Pretend,” another children’s program.
“My parents were astonished, but they let me stay on in New York with my grandmother, until they moved here to live. They made me promise to continue my school work. When I was in the eighth grade I had the highest scholastic average in New York State.”

For reasons known only to Arnold Stang, he insisted for years he was born in Massachusetts. He wasn’t. Census records clearly state he was born in New York to Harold Louis and Anna Stang. And for decades, Stang shaved five years off his age. No doubt it was to allow him to get juvenile parts he would have lost if radio producers of the early ‘40s had known he was born on September 28, 1918. It’s possible he auditioned for “The Children’s Hour” at age 9; the show signed on the air in 1927. But a Brooklyn Eagle story of December 6, 1942 put the age at 12, and states he was born in 1923. Do the math.

Stang and his parents were living in Brooklyn in 1930 and Stang graduated from Montauk Junior High in June 1933. (I’ve found only one earlier newspaper mention of Stang, a curious one in the Mt. Vernon Daily Argus of October 20, 1928 mentioned a judgement in favour of him and against Sloan’s Pharmacy for $24.17). The 1940 Census lists no occupation for him but a newsletter from Local 19 of the ILGWU (his father was in the silk underwear manufacturing business) states Stang had been a member before going to Hollywood. The first newspaper mention of his radio work I can find is in April 1941 involving his role on “The Goldbergs.” From there on, he worked steadily for years and made a lot of people laugh. Critics adored him, though they weren’t crazy about an ABC-TV show he starred in (they blamed bad writing for the poor quality of “The Billy Bean Show,” not Stang. It debuted on March 1, 1949, not 1951 as the internet keeps saying).

We finish off the post with some Stang photos. The one at the the top is an ad from The Radio Annual. His first listing is in the 1942 edition. The first photo is a publicity shot from a time when he was on “The Goldbergs” in 1941. The two head shots are from the 1950s and the signature with the face is from The Radio Annual from some time in the ‘40s.

Stang also cut a number of children’s records. You can hear one below.

1 comment:

  1. Wow..:) A post on the same person or series but a totally different post on both of your blogs..I truly enjoyed the Yowp on and
    have listned to those records earlier from another site..he did a whole series of those records with different animals..SC