Promotional photo for Your Funny, Funny Films, 1963.
|Born||George Watt Fenneman
November 10, 1919
|Died||May 29, 1997 (aged 77)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Game show host, announcer|
|Spouse(s)||Peggy Clifford (1943-1997) (his death) (3 children)|
George Watt Fenneman (November 10, 1919 – May 29, 1997) was an American radio and television announcer.
Fenneman was born in Peking (now Beijing), China, the only child of American parents in the import-export business. He was nine months old when his parents moved to San Francisco, California where he grew up. In 1942 he graduated from San Francisco State College with a degree in speech and drama, and took a job as an announcer with a local radio station. During the Second World War he worked as a broadcast correspondent for the U.S. Office of War Information. In 1946 he moved to Los Angeles and resumed his radio career.
He is most remembered as the announcer and good-natured sidekick for Groucho Marx's comedy/quiz show vehicle You Bet Your Life, which began in 1947 on radio and moved to television in 1950, where it remained on NBC for 11 years. Fenneman's mellifluous voice, clean-cut good looks, and gentlemanly manner provided the ideal foil for Marx's zany antics and bawdy ad libs.
Fenneman was a resilient target of Marx's frequent mispronunciations of his name ("Feminine") and other light-hearted teasing. "Groucho called [Fenneman] the male Margaret Dumont", according to Frank Ferrante, who portrayed Marx onstage in Groucho: A Life in Revue. "George took it as the highest praise. Groucho called him the perfect straight man." He was also selected because of his intelligence and ability to calculate the scores of the contestants, whom Groucho frequently encouraged to bet odd amounts, making the arithmetic difficult to keep straight on the fly during a live show. Fenneman remained friends with Marx until the latter's death in 1977.
Fenneman was one of a pair of announcers on Dragnet; he shared narration duties with Hal Gibney on radio and the original television series, and then with John Stephenson when Dragnet returned to TV in 1967. It was Fenneman's voice which announced, "The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent." while Stephenson would be heard at the end of the episode describing the court trials and verdicts. He was also the principal commercial announcer for the radio version of Gunsmoke, and frequently introduced "Matt Dillon" (William Conrad) after the episode to extoll the virtues of L&M or Chesterfield cigarettes.
He appeared on screen in the 1951 film The Thing from Another World and the 1967 film adaption of the Broadway show How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in substantial but uncredited roles. He and his wife were neighbors of The Thing from Another World's director, Christian Nyby. A spontaneous on-set script revision convinced Fenneman his future was not in movie acting. Producer Howard Hawks took a long scientific speech away from Robert O. Cornthwaite's character Dr. Carrington, preferring to give exposition to a minor character (Fenneman). As a radio performer accustomed to reading from a script and not used to quick memorization, Fenneman stumbled over the technical gobbledegook ("We have the time of arrival on the seisomograph..."), resulting in 27 takes of the scene. In the final film, viewers can see the other actors trying not to smile as Fenneman spouts the lines. He also appeared in an obscure film, Mystery Lake. He avoided on-screen performances thereafter, except as himself, mostly in documentaries. In 1966 he appeared in episode 48 of Batman as a newsman.
Fenneman also hosted two game shows: Anybody Can Play in 1958, and Your Surprise Package in 1961. In 1966 he hosted two pilots for Crossword, a game show that would be renamed The Cross-Wits in 1975 and aired with Jack Clark as host. He was the commercial spokesman for Lipton Tea during much of the 1960s, and in that role appeared live on The Ed Sullivan Show when the Beatles made their second U.S. TV appearance on February 16, 1964. He also was the voiceover artist for Home Savings & Loan commercials from the late 1960's to the end of his life. In 1963 he hosted an ABC Television program called Your Funny, Funny Films, a precursor to America's Funniest Home Videos. He hosted Talk About Pictures on PBS from 1978-1982. His last credit was as narrator of The Naked Monster, released posthumously in 2005.
Fenneman married his high school sweetheart, Peggy Clifford, in 1943 and had three children. He died from emphysema in Los Angeles, California, on May 29, 1997, at the age of 77. Oft-repeated statements that Fenneman is the voice of the US Naval Observatory Master Clock or the National Institute of Standards and Technology's radio station WWV are unsubstantiated, according to at least one source.
- Vosburgh, Dick (July 1, 1997) The Independent (UK) Retrieved 2010-06-21
- "George Fenneman, Sidekick To Groucho Marx, Dies at 77" New York Times (June 5, 1997) Retrieved 2010-06-21
- Van Gelder, Lawrence (June 1, 1977): "George Fenneman, 77, Dies; Courtly Foil for Groucho" New York Times Retrieved 2010-06-21
- DCRTV.COM archives dated 2004-12-03.