Gary Owens

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Gary Owens
Gary Owens.jpg
Gary Owens (middle), 1982
Born Gary Altman
(1936-05-10) May 10, 1936 (age 77)
Mitchell, South Dakota, U.S.
Occupation Voice actor/Disc jockey
Years active 1959–present

Gary Owens (born May 10, 1936) is an American disc jockey and voice actor. His polished baritone speaking voice generally offers deadpan recitations of total nonsense, which he frequently demonstrated as the announcer on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Owens is equally proficient in straight or silly assignments and is frequently heard in television, radio, and commercials. He is best known, aside from being the announcer on Laugh-In, for providing the voice of the titular superhero on Space Ghost. He also played himself in a cameo appearance on Space Ghost Coast to Coast in 1998. Likewise, Owens provided the voice of Roger Ramjet on The Roger Ramjet Cartoons. He is currently the primary voice of the over-the-air digital network Antenna TV.

Early life[edit]

Owens was born Gary Altman in Mitchell, South Dakota, the son of Venetta (née Clark), an educator and county auditor, and Bernard Joseph Altman, a county treasurer and sheriff.[1]

Career[edit]

The 1950s[edit]

Jack Haley and Gary Owens, 1979.

Owens started his radio career at KORN, Mitchell, South Dakota in 1952 where he served as News Director. In 1956, he left KORN for a job at KMA, Shenandoah, Iowa before moving on to KOIL, Omaha, Nebraska. He also worked in Dallas, New Orleans, St. Louis and Denver where he got his first television experience. He made the move to California in 1959 working at KROY in Sacramento, and KEWB in Oakland, finally setting in Los Angeles.

The 1960s[edit]

Owens moved to KEWB's sister station KFWB in Los Angeles in 1961. From there, he joined the staff of KMPC in 1962, replacing previous host Johnny Grant, where he remained for the next two decades working the 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. shift, Monday through Friday. A gifted punster, Owens became known for his surrealistic humor. Among his trademarks were daily appearances by The Story Lady (played by Joan Gerber); the Rumor of the Day; myriad varieties of "The Nurney Song"; and the introduction of the nonsense word "insegrevious", which was briefly included in the Funk and Wagnalls Dictionary.

His regular on-air radio terms included "krenellemuffin," as in, "We'll be back in just a krenellemuffin." Gary always credited his radio engineer at the end of his broadcast: "I'd like to thank my engineer, Bob Jones, for creebling at the turntables." He also created the previously non-existent colors "veister" and "krelb".

In the early 1960s, like punster-TV star comic colleagues Ernie Kovacs, Steve Allen, and Jonathan Winters, Gary Owens created a few comic characters of his own, such as the gruff old man Earl C. Festoon and his wife Phoebe Festoon, the stuffy old businessman Endocrine J. Sternwallow, and the goofy good ol' boy, Merle Clyde Gumpf. Another character was crotchety old cantankerous Mergenthaler Waisleywillow.

Owens also did very funny radio promotions like sending in for "Yours," which turned out to be a postcard from him at the radio station which simply said "Yours" on it; and autographed pictures of the Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles; and his famous "Moo Cow Report" in which Gary and his character Earl C. Festoon would describe where moo cows were moving inbound on the crowded freeways of Los Angeles.

During this time Owens was also known as "Superbeard," because like his contemporary radio icon Wolfman Jack, he sported a goatee-beard, wore Hawaiian shirts, baggy Bermuda shorts, and his "1941 wide necktie with a hula girl on it." Often, during these comedy sketches on the air, he would have the assistance of other radio comics, most notably Bob Arbogast (known as "Arbo" to his adoring fans), Stan Ross (of "Drowning in the Surf" fame in 1963), and Jim "Weather Eyes" Hawthorne.

Owens also did his famous "Good Evening Kiss" on KMPC when he was on from 9 p.m. to Midnight, by saying, "Now I'll just snuggle up to a nice warm microphone, and embracemoi," making a big wet kiss sound effect followed by the sound effect of a gong striking. In 1966, Owens collaborated with Bob Arbogast, June Foray, Daws Butler, Paul Frees and others on a hilarious comedy spoof record album titled "Sunday Morning With the Funnies" with the Jimmy Haskell Orchestra on Reprise Records.

During this period, Owens became more widely known as the voice of the eponymous TV cartoon characters in Roger Ramjet and Space Ghost, the excitable narrator/announcer from The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, and perhaps most well-known, as the announcer on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In,[2] all the while continuing his show on KMPC. He also hosted its daily game show spin-off, Letters to Laugh-In, during its brief run in 1969. In addition, he appeared regularly as a television newscaster on The Green Hornet during the 1966–1967 season. Capitalizing on Owens' "Laugh-In" fame, Mel Blanc Audiomedia, an audio production company based in Beverly Hills, California, developed and marketed "The Gary Owens Special Report," a 260-episode package of syndicated radio comedy shows. He also appeared in the Sesame Street pilot in a sketch called "The Man from Alphabet."

He was a scriptwriter for Jay Ward Productions, has appeared in many series for Walt Disney, and has done over 30,000 commercials. He was also a guest star on The Munsters and McHale's Navy.

During the late 1960s, when the films of 1930s comedians such as The Marx Brothers, W. C. Fields and Mae West were finding a new audience, Owens narrated phonograph records containing sound clips from the films.

The 1970s[edit]

In 1973, Owens wrote The (What to Do While You're Holding the) Phone Book (ISBN 0-87477-015-7), a comedic look at the history of the telephone.

On the album Uptown Rulers, Owens can be heard on the first track introducing New Orleans funkadelic band, The Meters. The live recording took place on March 24, 1975 at Paul and Linda McCartney's release party for the Venus And Mars album held aboard the Queen Mary.

Owens did the humorous news blurbs that are interspersed throughout the 1975 film The Prisoner of Second Avenue. In 1976, he hosted the first season of the nighttime version of The Gong Show; he was replaced by the show's creator, Chuck Barris. (On at least one occasion, he was a judge on Gong's late 1980's revival.) The same year Owens became the voice of a new cartoon character, the Blue Falcon, a character who fought crime in fictional Big City with the "help" of his clumsy sidekick, Dynomutt, also known as Dynomutt, Dog Wonder. The series was a parody of Batman, specifically the live-action version starring Adam West. It was not uncommon to see the Blue Falcon use various "falcon gadgets," much like Batman used various "Bat-Equipment" items. The falcon belt was used in a similar fashion to Batman's utility belt with an endless supply of weapons and other devices. Owens would provide the voice of the Blue Falcon from 1976 through 1977 in 20 half-hour episodes. The 1977 episodes were broken into two parts that ran 11 minutes each — 16 episodes in 1976 and 4 episodes in 1977.

The 1980s[edit]

Owens received a Hollywood Walk of Fame Star in 1980, between Walt Disney and Betty White.

In the 1980s, he announced on jazz radio station KKJZ (then KKGO-FM) in Westwood, Los Angeles, California.

On August 8, 1981, Gary announced the Corps at the Drum Corps International Midwestern Championship. It was held at Warhawk Stadium, UW Whitewater.

On the weekend of September 12–13, 1981, Owens substituted for his old KEWB station partner Casey Kasem on American Top 40; this was his only appearance on radio's first nationally syndicated countdown show. In that same year, Watermark chose Owens to replace Murray "The K" Kaufman as permanent host of Soundtrack Of The Sixties, an oldies retrospective show. It ran in syndication through 1984.

He was the voice of Walt Disney's Epcot Center ride, World of Motion, which operated between 1982 and 1996. His television special was "The Roots of Goofy" which aired from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s.

Owens moved from KMPC to KPRZ (both Los Angeles) in the early 1980s, hosting mornings at the "Music Of Your Life"-formatted station. Owens in morning, and Dick Whittinghill in afternoon drive was an inversion of his KMPC years.

When Roger Barkley surprisingly walked out of the long-running "Lohman and Barkley Show" on KFI in Los Angeles, Owens briefly teamed with Al Lohman for the successful morning commute show. Jeff Gehringer was brought on as producer. The program ended after the station changed format to talk.

Owens also co-starred in a number of documentaries about dinosaurs in the 1980s alongside Chicago's Eric Boardman. These documentaries were distributed by the Midwich Entertainment group for the Disney Channel before it went from being a premium pay channel on cable to a standard channel.

The 1990s[edit]

In the late 1990s, Owens hosted the morning show on the Music of Your Life radio network, where he later had the evening shift and hosted a weekend afternoon show until 2006. He also announces pre-recorded station IDs for Parksville, British Columbia radio station CHPQ-FM (The Lounge), and for humorist Gary Burbank's long-running afternoon show on WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio. Owens was also the announcer for America's Funniest Home Videos from 1995–1997, replacing Ernie Anderson.

The present[edit]

In 2004, Owens co-wrote with celebrity biographer and entertainment historian Jeff Lenburg an insightful and entertaining book on how to break into and succeed in the voice business, titled "How to Make a Million Dollars With Your Voice (Or Lose Your Tonsils Trying)," for McGraw-Hill. Most recently, Owens has become the promotional announcing voice for Antenna TV, a cable channel dedicated to classic shows of the past, like The Monkees, Adam-12, and Gidget.

Voice acting[edit]

Owens has provided the voices for:

He has also narrated or announced dozens of other cartoons, as well as the fourth and sixth installments of the Space Quest PC game series.

Trademarks[edit]

When appearing "in character" on camera as Gary Owens, the announcer, Owens holds his right hand up to his right ear while speaking into a gimbaled boom microphone. This is done in imitation of the announcers in the early days of radio, who had to rely upon the acoustic feedback of their cupped hand to hear how they sounded to the audience. However, on his KMPC radio show in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he claimed that this was because a piece of shrapnel took off his ear during the war; sometimes he said it would come loose and he had to hold it on; at other times he said that he was given a wooden ear, and was keeping the termites warm.

Owens coined the phrase "Beautiful downtown Burbank" which was later used on Laugh-In and The Tonight Show.

Blast From the Past[edit]

In 2001, TV Land released two computer games entitled Blast From the Past, hosted by Owens and featuring other TV celebrities including Florence Henderson, Ed Asner, Davy Jones, Bob Denver, Don Adams, Barbara Eden, and Marion Ross, and others. The games spoofed a game show and the prize for winners was an interview with the chosen celebrity the contestant selected at the start of the game.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Gary Owens Biography (1936-)
  2. ^ After identifying the other participants in each episode, he would introduce himself last and end with, "And Morvil as 'The Friendly Droud.'"[citation needed]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Role originator
Actors portraying Space Ghost
1966-1982
Succeeded by
Andy Merrill
Preceded by
Ernie Anderson
1989-1995
Announcer for America's Funniest Home Videos
1995-1997
Succeeded by
Jess Harnell
1998-present