Stan Freberg (1926-2015)

Stan Freberg, in the days when he voiced puppet characters on "Time for Beany."

Stan Freberg, in the days when he voiced puppet characters on “Time for Beany.”

Revered satirist and actor Stan Freberg died April 7 at the age of 88. His body of work included more than 400 voiceovers for Warner Bros. animation, comedy albums, TV shows like Time for Beany and The Chun King Comedy Hour, and funny commercials for which he won 21 Clio Awards. Time magazine said his 1961 album Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America may have been the “finest comedy album ever recorded.”

He extolled the power of radio advertising in this unforgettable bit —

PAUL FREES: Radio? Why should I advertise on radio? There’s nothing to look at, no pictures…

STAN FREBERG: Look, you can do things on radio you couldn’t possibly do on tv.

FREES: That’ll be the day.

FREBERG: All right, watch this…ahem, okay people, now when I give you the cue, I want the 700 foot mountain of whipped cream to roll into Lake Michigan, which has been drained and filled with hot chocolate. Then the Royal Canadian Air Force will fly overhead towing a 10-tom maraschino cherry, which will be dropped into the whipped cream to the cheering of 25,000 extras. All right – cue the mountain!

Freberg was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1995.

He also believed in humorous TV commercials and is remembered for taglines like “Today the pits; tomorrow the wrinkles. Sunsweet marches on!,” and Contadina’s “Who put eight great tomatoes in that little bitty can?”

Freberg was close friends with Ray Bradbury. Ray served as best man when Stan married his first wife, Donna — Ray having introduced the newlyweds.

In the Sixties, Freberg put Ray in one of his Sunsweet Prunes commercials. Freberg ‘s narrator praises Ray’s power to predict the future as Ray repeatedly interrupts, “But I never mentioned prunes in any of my stories!”

The two friends had a reunion in the aisles at the 2009 Comic Con when Freberg was 82 and Bradbury was 88 — both made the rounds in wheelchairs. Just a few years later Freberg was among the speakers at Comic Con’s Bradbury memorial (2012).

Ray Bradbury and Stan Freberg at Comic Con 2009

Jerry Beck recalls, “He thanked me, often, for giving him credit in print for all the Warner Bros. cartoons he had a part in. He had been miffed that he was unable to get screen credit (Mel Blanc had an exclusive credit by contract) – save for one classic Friz Freleng short, Three Little Bops (1957).”

Mark Evanier’s tribute mentions —

Stan was the guy who’d been at it the longest. He recorded his first cartoon voice roles in 1945 for release in 1946. As far as I know, his last job was in an episode of The Garfield Show I voice-directed last year. It’s currently scheduled to run on Cartoon Network this October, giving Stan a career span of 69 years.

Once when Frank Sinatra toured Australia, he took along Freberg as his opening act.

Freberg’s first wife, the former Donna Andresen, died in 2000. In addition to his son, Donavan, he is survived by his wife, Hunter; his daughter, Donna Jean; and one granddaughter.

Update 04/11/2015: Corrected info about Bradbury introducing Freberg to his wife — it was Donna that Ray introduced to Stan.

7 thoughts on “Stan Freberg (1926-2015)

  1. Mr. Freberg was one of the most brilliant minds that we have had. I think in some way, he is one of the many reasons I ended up working in advertising. One of my favorite of his commercials was his Jeno’s Pizza Rolls commercial with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels dressed as The Lone Ranger and Tonto that was a rip on a Lark cigarettes commercial. “Have a pizza roll, Kemo Sabe?”

    This is the first commercial I ever had a 16mm film copy of. Interestingly, I ended up working at an ad agency who had the Lark account in the late 1970’s. We joked about the old “Show us your Lark pack” commercial, but I would always bring up the Jeno’s commercial.

    For some reason, I think I want to eat a Sunsweet Pitted Prune in Mr. Freberg’s memory. RIP, Sir.

  2. Three generations of my family can quote his routines at each other as a sort of shorthand. It’s fun to hear the kids singing as Chris Columbus and King Ferdinand, “Friends, Get hip, Would I climb aboard this ship, If I didn’t have odds the Earth was highly spherical?” “It’s a miracle …”

  3. No doubts about Freberg’s genius. His creative scope was huge. He should have been a big TV star on top of every other field he conquered, but I guess he was just too eccentric for the networks. Thank goodness for his work with Bob Clampett. The few episodes of the puppet show that I’ve seen were truly eccentric and delightful — much less commercial than the later cartoons, which I did grow up on.

    It’s also worth noting that Bill Rotsler was for many years one of Freberg’s friends and occasionally provided his services as a photographer when Stan needed one. I understand that in the late Fifties, Bill also designed and made some puppets for one of Stan’s productions — I don’t know which one. When I asked Bill about it once, he said that they were essentially typical Rotsler characters made from felt. I wonder if they’re still in his archives?

    Sigh. Anther one bites the dust.

  4. I want to say I first learned of Freberg on the Dr. Demento show, and it wasn’t until later that I realized how many funny things he had his hand in popular culture.

  5. He was all over the map in the 1950’s. He had two radio series, was doing his popular music parodies, and starred in two films, many TV appearances and did world tours. And of course, hundreds of cartoon voice overs.
    I have seen GERALDINE, which he re spoofed Johnnie Ray, singing a song titled “Flaming Lips” and tearing off his clothes (he was kind of furry).
    I really liked his second radio series. The two LP set was issued. When the family was in Germany in 1960, it got many many plays.
    I wish I could have told him in persons, “thank you.”

  6. Dan: there was an old comment that Rotsler and Freberg sent each other letters. One was investigated by the FBI because written on the back was the line: “Vote for Ike. He’s been sick.”

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