Everybody knows that Casey Kasem was the voice of “American Top 40″ and countless cartoon characters for decades. But who could forget him on “Astrology for Young Lovers”? Or in “Scream Free!” Or as the host of “Shebang.”
In the 1960s and ’70s, Kasem, who died Sunday at age 82, logged roles in a string of B-grade independent features, from American International Prods. and others. He romped with wild bikinis, frisky teenagers, motorcycle clubs, “high on Jesus” types etc. He did a fair amount of on-camera TV work too, as a host and through gusts shots on “Baretta,” “Hawaii 5-0” and such. He was money on NBC’s “Dean Martin Celebrity Roast” specials, judging by the number of appearances he made.
But nothing plumped Kasem’s pocketbook like his commercial work. In 1973 his agent Charles Stern bragged that Kasem had voiced 600 commercials in four years. All of this activity added up to making him part of the soundtrack of pop culture for more than 50 years. Reaching for the stars, indeed.
Here’s 10 things you didn’t know about Kasem’s early career, pulled from the pages of Variety.
- The first reference to Casey Kasem in Variety came in the Jan. 5, 1965, edition noting that he was among the L.A. deejays set to appear in KCOP-TV’s “DJ Special” TV hour emceed by Henry Mancini. The item noted that Kasem and others would “work for scale.”
- A few months later Kasem was tapped by Dick Clark Prods. to host the syndicated rock/pop music showcase “Shebang” — a clear response to ABC’s success with “Shindig” and NBC’s “Hullabaloo.” It was shot in Bakersfield, for some reason. “My Three Sons” star Don Grady was set to co-host with Kasem but he’d fallen out by the time the show bowed in April (it aired in L.A. on KTLA). Variety’s review declared that Kasem “makes a nice impression in the slot.”
- By 1968, Kasem had recorded two spoken word albums for Sidewalk Records. “Astrology for Young Lovers” is just what it sounds like. “The Glory Stompers” was tied to the 1967 Dennis Hopper motorcycle gang feature of the same name.
- Also in 1968, Kasem’s management spared no expense to herald the news to showbiz (through full-page ads in Variety) that his film career was gaining traction with roles in such gems as “Girls From Thunder Strip” and “Free Grass” opposite Russ Tamblyn and Lana Wood. The latter’s title was changed to “Scream Free!” by the time the pic was released in 1969.
- Perhaps the most tantalizing title of Kasem’s film work in this era was “If You Want to Get High, Get High on Jesus” starring Fabian as a degenerate rocker who teams up with a tent-show preacher. The title was changed to “Soul Hustler” by the time it was released in 1973.
- In 1970, for no apparent reason, Kasem let Variety know that his annual income from commercials exceeded $100,000.
- By 1973 Kasem said he had logged 600 commercials in four years: “Never a day passes that there isn’t a residual check in my mailbox,” he gloated.
- In 1974 he made an appearance as Hitler on the “Dean Martin Celebrity Roast” of Don Rickles. Those NBC specials were typically hourlong affairs but the Rickles’ roast was so smokin’ that the network let it go 90 minutes, according to producer Greg Garrison.
- In 1975, Kasem did an impression of Peter Falk at the non-televised Friars Club roast of George Raft at the BevHilton that apparently brought the house down. (Fun bonus fact: Even back then the story referenced bizzers’ complaints about the hotel’s slow valet parking service. Some things never change.)
- Kasem was back on the TV roast beat again that same year when Dean Martin skewered Telly “Kojak” Savalas.
Here’s a audio taste of Kasem in action on “Astrology for Young Lovers” (thank you, YouTube):
Also, an early picture of Kasem in the pages of Variety: Click here to view.