Stanley Victor Freberg (b. August 7, 1926, Los Angeles, California) is an American author, recording artist, animation voice actor, comedian, radio personality, puppeteer and advertising creative director.
The son of a Baptist minister, Stan Freberg grew up in Pasadena, California. His traditional upbringing is reflected both in the gentle sensitivity which underpins his work, despite his liberal use of biting satire and parody, and in his refusal to accept alcohol and tobacco manufacturers as sponsors (an impediment to his radio career when he took over for Jack Benny on CBS radio), as Freberg explained to Rusty Pipes:
Stan Freberg's first wife, Donna, died in 2000, and he married Betty Hunter in 2001, an act that caused him to become estranged from his son, Donavan Freberg.
His first cartoon voice work was in Bugs Bunny and the Three Bears (1944) as Junyer Bear, followed by Roughly Speaking (1946) as Bertie, and in 1947, he was heard in It's a Grand Old Nag (Charlie Horse), The Goofy Gophers (Tosh), and One Meat Brawl (Grover Groundhog and Walter Winchell). He often found himself paired off with Mel Blanc while at Warner Brothers, where the two men performed such pairs as the Goofy Gophers, Hubie and Bertie, and Spike the Bulldog and Chester the Terrier. He was also the voice of Junyer Bear in Chuck Jones' Looney Tunes cartoon What's Brewin', Bruin? (1948), featuring Jones' version of The Three Bears. Another was the voice of Pete Puma in the 1952 cartoon Rabbit's Kin, in which he did an impression of Frank Fontaine's "Crazy Guggenheim" voice.
Freberg's first credit as a voice actor in a Looney Tunes cartoon was in Three Little Bops (1957). His work as a voice actor for Walt Disney Productions included the role of Beaver in Lady and the Tramp (1955). He succeeded Kent Rogers as the voice of Beaky Buzzard during production of The Bashful Buzzard after Rogers was killed in World War II. Freberg also provided the voice of Sam, the orange cat paired with Sylvester in the Oscar-winning Mouse And Garden (1960). He voiced Cage E. Coyote, the father of Wile E. Coyote, in the 2000 short Little Go Beep.
With Daws Butler and June Foray, he produced his 1951 Dragnet parody, "St. George and the Dragonet." The latter recording was a #1 hit for four weeks in late 1953; on the record's B-side "Little Blue Riding Hood," the title character is arrested for smuggling goodies. After "I've Got You Under My Skin" (1952), he followed with more popular musical satires, including "Sh-Boom" (1954), "The Yellow Rose of Texas" (1955), and "The Great Pretender" (1956). He spoofed Elvis Presley in 1956 with his own version of Elvis' first gold record, "Heartbreak Hotel", in which the echo chamber goes out of control. (In his spoof, Freberg's Elvis rips his jeans during his performance, a problem the real Elvis had with jumpsuits when performing in the early 1970s.)
Another hit to get the Freberg treatment was Johnnie Ray's weepy "Cry", which Freberg rendered as "Try" ("You too can be unhappy... if you try!"), exaggerating Ray's histrionic vocal style. Ray was furious, until he realized the success of Freberg's 1952 parody was helping sales and airplay of his own record.
Freberg's "Banana Boat (Day-O)" satirized Harry Belafonte's popular recording of "Banana Boat Song". In Freberg's version, the lead singer is forced to run down the hall and close the door after him to muffle the sound of his "Day-O!" because the beatnik-styled bongo drummer complains, "It's too piercing, man". When he gets to the lyric about "A beautiful bunch a'ripe banana/Hide the deadly black tarantula" the drummer protests, "I don't dig spiders, man."
He also used the beatnik-musician theme in a parody of "The Great Pretender," the hit by The Platters, who, like Belafonte and Welk, were not pleased. This musician was a pianist, an Erroll Garner devotee who rebels against playing a single-chord accompaniment. He retorts, "I'm not playing that 'pling-pling-pling jazz'!" But Freberg is adamant about the pianist sticking to The Platters' style: "You play 'that pling-pling-pling jazz'--or you don't get paid tonight!" The pianist relents--sort of.
Freberg's musical parodies were a byproduct of his collaborations with Billy May and his Capitol Records producer Ken Nelson. With his 1957 spoof of TV "champagne music" master Lawrence Welk, "Wun'erful! Wun'erful!", Freberg had a true parody partner with May, a veteran big band musician and jazz arranger. To replicate Welk's syrupy sound, May and some of Hollywood's finest studio musicians and vocalists worked to clone Welk's musical mediocrity, right down to bad notes and timing mistakes. Billy Liebert, a first-rate accordionist, copied Welk's accordion playing. Welk denied he had ever said, "Wunnerful, Wunnerful!", yet it became the title of Welk's autobiography (Prentice Hall, 1971). In his parody record, the orchestra is overwhelmed by the bubble machine and eventually floats out to sea.
Freberg also tackled political issues of the day. On his radio show, an extended sketch paralleled the Cold War brinkmanship between the U.S. and the Soviet Union by portraying an ever-escalating public relations battle between the El Sodom and the Rancho Gomorrah, two casinos in the city of Los Varoces (Spanish for "The Greedy Ones" -- a thinly-disguised Las Vegas). The sketch ends with the ultimate tourist attraction, the Hydrogen Bomb, which turns Los Varoces into a barren, vast wasteland. Network pressure forced Freberg to remove the reference to the hydrogen bomb and destroy the two cities with an earthquake instead. The version of "Incident at Los Varoces" released later on Capitol Records contains the original ending.
On two occasions, Capitol balked at releasing Freberg's creations. "That's Right, Arthur" was a barbed parody of controversial 1950s radio-TV personality Arthur Godfrey, who expected his stable of performers, known as "Little Godfreys," to endlessly toady to him. The dialogue included Freberg's "Godfrey" monologue, punctuated by Daws Butler, imitating Godfrey announcer Tony Marvin, repeatedly interjecting, "That's right, Arthur," between Godfrey's comments. Capitol feared Godfrey might take legal action. Capitol also rejected the equally acerbic "Most of the Town," a spoof on Ed Sullivan. Both eventually surfaced on a box-set Freberg retrospective issued by Rhino Records.
Freberg continued to skewer the advertising industry after the demise of his show, producing and recording "Green Chri$tma$" in 1958 (again with Butler), a scathing indictment of the overcommercialization of the holiday. Freberg, the son of a church minister and religious himself, made sure to soberly point out "whose birthday we're celebrating" on that record. Released originally on 45-rpm discs, the satire ended abruptly with a rendition of "Jingle Bells" punctuated by cash register sounds when reissued by Capitol on LP and CD. Freberg also revisited the Dragnet theme, with "Christmas Dragnet", in which the straight-laced detective convinces a character named "Grudge" that Santa Claus really exists. Daws Butler does several voices on that record.
Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America, Volume One: The Early Years (1961) combined dialogue and song in a musical theater format. The original album musical, released on Capitol, parodies the history of the United States from 1492 until the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783.
Freberg parodied both large and small aspects of history. For instance, in the Colonial era, it was common to use the long s, which resembles a lowercase f, in the middle of words; thus, as Ben Franklin is reading the Declaration of Independence, he questions the passage, "Life, liberty, and the purfuit of happineff???" He also takes the time to skewer McCarthyism, as his Franklin talks about "signing a few harmless documents, forgetting all about it, and years later finding oneself in front of a committee."
The album also featured the following exchange, where Freberg's Christopher Columbus is "discovered on beach here" by a Native American played by Marvin Miller. Skeptical of the Natives' diet of corn and "other organically grown vegetables," Columbus wants to open "America's first Italian restaurant" and needs to cash a check to get started:
Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America, Volume Two was planned for a release during America's Bicentennial in 1976 but did not emerge until 1996.
Freberg's early parodies revealed his obvious love of jazz. His portrayals of jazz musicians were usually stereotypical "beatnik" types, but jazz was always portrayed as preferable to pop, calypso, and particularly the then-new form of music, rock and roll. He whopped doo-wop in his version of "Sh-Boom" and lampooned Elvis Presley with an echo/reverb rendition of "Heartbreak Hotel".
Today, these advertisements are considered classics by many critics, and though Bob & Ray had pioneered intentionally comic advertisements (stemming from a hugely successful campaign for Piels beer), Stan Freberg is usually credited as being the first person to introduce humor into television advertising with memorable campaigns. Freberg felt a truly funny commercial would cause consumers to request a product, as was the case with his elaborate ad campaign which prompted stores to stock Salada Tea. The owner of Jeno's Pizza Rolls had to pay off a bet over the success of a Freberg ad campaign by pulling Freberg in a rickshaw on Hollywood's La Cienega Boulevard. Freberg won 21 Clio awards for his commercials. Many of those spots were included in the Freberg four-CD box set, Tip of the Freberg.
In his autobiography, It Only Hurts When I Laugh, Freberg recounts much of his life and early career, including his encounters with such show business legends as Milton Berle, Frank Sinatra and Ed Sullivan, and the struggles he endured to get his material on the air.
Freberg was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995. From 1995 until October 6, 2006, Freberg hosted When Radio Was, a syndicated anthology of vintage radio shows. The release of the 1996 Rhino CD The United States of America Volume 1 (the Early Years) and Volume 2 (the Middle Years) suggests a possible third volume. This set includes some parts written but cut because they would not fit on a record album.
Freberg appeared on "Weird Al" Yankovic's The Weird Al Show, playing both the J.B. Toppersmith character and the voice of the puppet Papa Boolie. His son, Donavan Freberg, played the voice of the puppet Baby Boolie. Yankovic has many times acknowledged Freberg as his greatest influence. Freberg is among the commentators in the special features on the multiple-volume DVD sets of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection and narrates the documentary "Irreverent Imagination" on Volume 1.
STAN FREBERG'S AMERICA FROM RADIO TO RECORDS, FROM COMMENTARY TO ADVERTISING, STAN FREBERG HAS EARNED THE TITLE, ''GUERRILLA SATIRIST''
Jan 22, 1989; In the most famous unseen scene lifted from the most famous unstaged musical written by the most famous contemporary satirist...