Someone whose name you may not know but whose voice you will more likely recognize, especially if you are a Looney Tunes fan, is Stan Freberg. Born in Pasadena, California in 1926, star of film, radio and television Stan Freberg first got his foot in the door in the entertainment industry as a voice impressionist on California country singer Cliffie Stone’s radio show in 1943 before he got a job in the film industry. By Freberg’s own account, he got off the bus in Hollywood, went to a talent agency and immediately got work at Warner Bros. on their animated shorts.
Characters Freberg voiced in those cartoons include Chuck Jones mainstay Bertie the mouse opposite Mel Blanc’s Hubie, also being paired with Blanc as one half of the Goofy Gophers and as Chester the terrier alongside Blanc’s Spike the bulldog who both appeared in a couple of Friz Freleng cartoons from the fifties. Freberg also took over the roles of Junior Bear and Beaky Buzzard after their original voice actor Kent Rogers died serving in World War II, but among Freberg’s most memorable work at WB in my mind was voicing Bugs Bunny’s adversary Pete Puma who made a huge impression on Looney Tunes fans despite being a one-shot character in Robert McKimson’s Rabbit’s Kin, especially with his Frank Fontaine-like vocal delivery and his indescribably bizarre laugh. His greatest Looney Tunes masterpiece however was definitely Friz Freleng’s 1957 musical short Three Little Bops in which Freberg voiced all the main characters including the singing narrator. Freberg also worked a little bit for Disney in the fifties, doing voice work for the short films Susie the Little Blue Coupe and Lambert the Sheepish Lion in 1952 but most memorably voicing the beaver in Lady and the Tramp (1955).
Freberg didn’t abandon his radio career though, and he even made comedy recordings for Capitol Records, including a lot of satire of 1950s pop culture like his “John and Marsha” soap opera parody (Marsha says “John,” John says “Marsha,” they repeat over and over for dramatic effect), as well as parodies of songs like Johnnie Ray’s sentimental song “Cry” which Freberg called “Try.” Freberg’s song parodies range from jazz to rock to country and from performers like Elvis Presley to Harry Belafonte. He also made fun of broadcast shows like The Lawrence Welk Show and Dragnet, which he famously spoofed in “St. George and the Dragonet,” he did political satire joking about McCarthyism and the Cold War, and he poked fun at things like the media, commercialization and political correctness gone wrong, so he was intelligent as well as funny.
But Freberg also went way back in time for material when Capitol Records released his musical parody Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America, Volume One: The Early Years in 1961, spoofing Christopher Columbus, Benjamin Franklin and various historical events like the Revolutionary War and the signing of the Declaration of Independence while being backed up by Billy May’s orchestration and background vocals from the Jud Conlon Singers. Among the fans of this record are Paul McCartney and Steven Spielberg and it’s held in high regard by everyone from radio host Dr. Demento to the National Recording Registry.
The popularity of Freberg’s records led to his own radio sitcom in 1954 called That’s Rich which lasted one year, and later The Stan Freberg Show in 1957, a weekly satirical musical program featuring Freberg’s frequent collaborators like voice actors June Foray and Daws Butler, but that show only aired on CBS for one year too, and when it was cancelled it was one of the last remaining American comedy shows left on radio while the television industry was essentially taking its place as the new home for sitcoms and variety shows. The lack of sponsors The Stan Freberg Show got was the main reason why CBS cancelled it, although Freberg intentionally turned down certain sponsors, including tobacco ads, even though they sponsored Jack Benny’s radio show, and seeing as how Jack Benny was one of the most famous radio stars, that move from Freberg might have turned off corporations. Of course Freberg did plenty of commercial parodies on his show which was a lot more entertaining.
Freberg continued in radio intermittently from the sixties to as far as the 2000s, thinking of it as a superior medium for the way that it sparked your imagination, but that didn’t stop him from making an occasional TV appearance. On television Freberg was a voice actor and puppeteer for Bob Clampett’s Emmy-winning series Time for Benny (1949-53) and in later years he appeared in shows like The Monkees, Roseanne and The Weird Al Show alongside “Weird Al” Yankovic (a fellow song parodist with a short-lived and underrated TV show). He also provided voices for characters in The Ren & Stimpy Show, Garfield and Friends and Freakazoid! and he even reprised his roles as classic Looney Tunes characters like Junior Bear and Pete Puma in the shows Tiny Toon Adventures and The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries as well as films like Looney Tunes: Back in Action.
One other thing Stan Freberg is notable for is commercials. While Freberg loved to satirize commercials on the radio, he also founded a real L.A.-based advertising agency which made ads for both radio and television. While the comedy duo Bob and Ray pioneered using humor to sell products as a concept, Freberg popularized the idea of using satire in commercials, as Freberg believed humor would be a driving force for reaching customers. How successful was that idea? You still see humor-based advertisements everywhere to this day, don’t you? Among his agency’s clientele were the companies Jeno’s, Heinz, Chun King (“Nine out of ten doctors recommend Chun King Chow Mein”) and Jacobsen Mowers (“Faster than sheep!”).
After a long and impressive career, Freberg died in 2015 at the age of 88.