Stan Freberg: Madcap Maestro Marks 70 Years in Show Business

Stan Freberg: Madcap Maestro Marks 70
freberg: Bill Bridges/Getty Images

Parody king’s gags skewered social ills and turned ads into art

Whenever you chuckle at a funny ad spot, think of Stan Freberg, the spirit-genius behind it.

The multi-hyphenate, who prefers the simple label “satirist,” literally changed the state of multimedia through 70 distinguished years in animation, radio, recordings and advertising.

As a pop-obsessed Pasadena kid, he bluffed his way into a WB audition to hold his own alongside Mel Blanc. (Freberg voiced Cecil, the seasick sea serpent, for the KTLA kids show, “Time for Beany.”)

The Phil Spector of the ’50s novelty record boom, he churned out a string of hits for Capitol, including a delirious “Dragnet” parody set to medieval myth. (“My name is St. George. I’m a knight. Saturday, July 10, 8:05 p.m. I was working out of the castle …”)

An entire relationship was encapsulated when two lovers kept repeating each other’s names: “John!” “Marsha?”

Later, this maddest of mad men energized moribund Mad Ave. with witty, memorable spots like “Today the pits; tomorrow the wrinkles. Sunsweet marches on!,” and Contadina’s “Who put eight great tomatoes in that little bitty can?”

But the product was always the star. Freberg recalls a hotel clerk quoting Sunsweet’s tagline and claiming, “I only heard it once and I never forgot it.”

Comfortably ensconced on L.A.’s Westside with devoted wife Hunter, and surrounded by awards, Freberg sees continued life in his brand. The 1958 consumerism satire “Green Chri$tma$” itches to become an animated short.

Legendary history spoof “The United States of America” almost made Broadway until he got fed up with “Abominable Showman” David Merrick.

“Merrick told me, ‘Take Lincoln out of the Civil War. He doesn’t work,’ ” a still-frustrated Freberg growls.

The likes of Steven Spielberg, Paul McCartney and Adam Sandler avowedly cherish the LP, and he hopes to expand its fanbase.

“Freeb” has been a devoted Native Americans booster ever since his “United States” number “Take an Indian to Lunch” skewered a pol trolling for votes.

On a TV show, he invited “any Indians within the sound of my voice to lunch at my hotel tomorrow.” (“Appropriately,” he recalls, “it was the Algonquin.”) They arrived and were feted en masse.

Decades later, the Navajo nation gave the song a standing O at a Kennedy Center “First Americans” gala.

“It was,” he says mistily, “the most important night of my career.”


The Genius of Stan Freberg: Celebrating 70 Years of Creative Entertainment

7:30 p.m. Nov. 2

Egyptian Theater, Hollywood

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  1. Mawnck says:

    An awkward evening, that. His 2nd wife, who has literally done a Jean Kasem between Stan and his children, spent the last 20 minutes making the show all about herself, as the frail, confused, wheelchair-bound Stan sat and watched her do it, only occasionally chiming in with obviously prompted and scripted lines (a couple of which he flubbed). They even blanked out the projector image when one of the interview clips cut to the old Encyclopedia Brittanica ad with Stan’s son Donovan. A very sad situation, played out for an auditorium full of people, and nothing anyone can do about it.

  2. MerryMarjie says:

    Stan Freberg presents “The United States of America” was one of the funniest albums ever made. I must have listened to it more than a hundred times, memorizing the lyrics, singing the songs, laughing at the sheer absurdity of it all. The man is a genius, a true original who trailblazed through television, record albums, commercials, song writing, comedy, a man who can do it all. His talent is limitless and his cleverness apparent in every line he writes. He is also one of the most under-appreciated figures in show business and truly deserves the accolades now presented.

    I only wish I could be there holding my “I Love Stan Freberg!” sign!

  3. Mjkbk says:

    Stan Freberg’s crazy voice and crazier comedy were a part of my formative years in the 50s-60s. Even so, I was unaware he created the whole “John! Marsha!” routine; that “Just the facts, m’am” came from his “Dragnet” parodies; and that “Wun’erful, Wun’erful!” was a Freberg invention.

    Ya learn something new. Thanks, Stan, for all the giggles and guffaws.

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