George Gobel, 71, whose down-to-earth style endeared him to viewers of “The George Gobel Show” in the 1950s and “Hollywood Squares” in the 1970s and ’80s, died Feb. 24 in Encino, Calif., of complications after bypass surgery on the major artery in his left leg.
Gobel first performed at age 11 when he sang on the WLS “National Barn Dance” radio show in his native Chicago. He continued to sing and play guitar on the radio, at country fairs and on “The Tom Mix Show.”
During World War II, he joined the Army Air Corps, serving as a B-26 pilot instructor in Oklahoma. It was there that Gobel acquired his trademark crew cut and developed his brand of low-key humor.
After the war, he started appearing in night clubs and on tv. Gobel appeared frequently on “The Garry Moore Show,” “Toast Of The Town” and “Saturday Night Review.”
In 1954 “The George Gobel Show” bowed on NBC and became an immediate hit. He earned an Emmy Award as outstanding new personality for the first season and was soon popularly known as Lonesome George, the name of his depressed tv persona.
After three years as a half-hour comedy show, Gobel was given an hourlong slot, alternating with “The Eddie Fisher Show.” Each performer regularly appeared on the other’s program. Gobel’s show included a monolog and skits about his wife, Alice, who was played by Jeff Donnell and later by Phyllis Avery.
In 1959, after ratings declined due to the popularity of “Gunsmoke,” Gobel’s show moved to CBS. After its cancellation in 1960, he returned to nightclubs and guest appearances on tv.
Gobel starred in two films: 1956’s “The Birds And The Bees,” co-starring Mitzi Gaynor and David Niven, and 1958’s “I Married A Woman,” with Diana Dors and Adolphe Menjou.
On Broadway, he appeared in “The Odd Couple,” “Three Men On A Horse” and “Let It Ride.” And in 1964 he served as a political analyst for ABC during the Democratic convention.
More recently, Gobel became a familiar face on “Hollywood Squares.” His other film appearances include Joan Rivers’ “Rabbit Test,” as well as the 1983 feature “Ellie.”
Survived by his wife, Alice; his son, Gregg; two daughters, Georgia Bryan and Leslie McIntosh; and three grandchildren.