Gary Owens

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Gary Owens
GaryOwens-cropped.jpg
Owens in San Diego, 1982
Born
Gary Bernard Altman

(1934-05-10)May 10, 1934
DiedFebruary 12, 2015(2015-02-12) (aged 80)
Occupation
  • Radio personality
  • announcer
  • disc jockey
  • voice actor
  • actor
Years active1952–2015
Spouse(s)
Arleta Markell
(
m. 1968)
Children2

Gary Owens (born Gary Bernard Altman; May 10, 1934 – February 12, 2015) was an American radio personality, announcer, disc jockey, voice actor and actor. His polished baritone speaking voice generally offered deadpan recitations of total nonsense, which he frequently demonstrated as the announcer on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. Owens was equally proficient in straight or silly assignments and was frequently heard on television and radio as well as in commercials.

He was best known, aside from being the announcer on Laugh-In, for providing the voices of the titular superhero on Space Ghost and of Blue Falcon in Dynomutt, Dog Wonder. He also played himself in a cameo appearance on Space Ghost Coast to Coast in 1998. Owens' first cartoon-voice acting was performing the voice of Roger Ramjet on the Roger Ramjet cartoons.[1] He later served as announcer of Antenna TV.

Early life[edit]

Owens was born in Mitchell, South Dakota, the son of Venetta (née Clark), an educator and county auditor, and Bernard Joseph Altman, a county treasurer and sheriff.[2]

Career[edit]

1950s[edit]

Gary Owens and Jack Haley, 1979.
Audio clip of Gary Owens as News Director at AM 1490 KORN in Mitchell, South Dakota, early to mid-1950s.

Owens started his radio career in 1952 as a news reporter at KORN, Mitchell, South Dakota, and two years later was promoted to news director. In 1956, he left KORN for a newscaster job at KMA, Shenandoah, Iowa, before moving on to a disc jockey job at KOIL, Omaha, Nebraska. He also worked in Dallas, New Orleans, St. Louis, and at KIMN in Denver before relocating to California in 1959, working at KROY in Sacramento and KEWB in Oakland before finally settling in Los Angeles.

1960s[edit]

Owens moved to KEWB's sister station 980 KFWB in Los Angeles in 1961. From there, he joined the staff of 710 KMPC in 1962, where he remained for the next two decades, replacing previous afternoon host Johnny Grant, 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 & 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, Wayne Doo, for creebling at the turntables" (referring to KMPC engineer Wayne DuBois). 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 amusing radio promotions, such as sending in for "Yours", which turned out to be a postcard from him at the radio station which simply said "Yours" on it; 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 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, 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 appeared on eight episodes of the 1966-67 television series The Green Hornet.[citation needed]

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 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 television 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 hand-on-the-ear announcer in the booth on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, 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.

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.

Gary Owens appeared in the Sesame Street pilots in a sketch called "The Man from Alphabet" as the title character, a bumbling spy in a trench coat who, with the help of a young paperboy called H.B., tried to catch the villainous Digby Dropout and his henchman Dunce using clues from H.B.'s "Alphabet Book". Initially, the Man was also to have had a chief, "Teacher". The segments were created by Sesame Street executive producer David Connell and referenced such tongue-in-cheek spy series as Get Smart and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. Despite the advance publicity, and Connell's investment in the series, "The Man from Alphabet" proved to be a failure with test audiences. The combination of the Man from Alphabet's constant bungling and problem solving attempts confused kids, and the lessons never came across. H.B.'s role as the true problem-solver was not clearly understood, a fact exacerbated by the child actor's stilted delivery and poor diction. As assessed by Edward L. Palmer, "The amount of truly effective educational content, relative to our goals, is virtual nil." The Man from Alphabet also walked through the window of his door to enter his office, a violent movement which might have proved imitable. After reviewing the test results, producer Connell advised that the segments be shelved, referring to them as "Connell's Folly". The segments never aired on Sesame Street.

He was a scriptwriter for Jay Ward Productions, appeared in many series for Walt Disney, and did over 30,000 commercials. He was also a guest star on The Munsters, I Dream of Jeannie, 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.

Owens appeared as the racing correspondent in Disney's The Love Bug (1968).

1970s[edit]

In 1972, he released the comedy LP Put Your Head On My Finger for the MGM-Pride label.

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.

In 1973, Gary Owens appeared in the first season of Barnaby Jones; episode titled, "Twenty Million Alibis"(May 6, 1973). He played the role of Gary Michaels.

On the live album Uptown Rulers by the funk band The Meters, Owens can be heard on the first track introducing the band. 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 RMS Queen Mary.

Owens did the humorous news blurbs that are interspersed throughout the 1975 film The Prisoner of Second Avenue. In 1976-77, he hosted the first season of the nighttime version of The Gong Show; he was replaced by the show's creator, Chuck Barris.[3] In that 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. Also, he narrated Yogi's Space Race in 1978 and announced for Disney's Wonderful World, starting in 1979.

1980s[edit]

Owens received a Hollywood Walk of Fame Star in 1980, between those of Walt Disney and Betty White. On August 30, 1983, Owens emceed the unveiling ceremony for the Hollywood Walk of Fame Star for The Three Stooges. Owens, a long-time friend of the Stooges, had been a major driving force in helping the Stooges get the Star. The ceremony was featured on Entertainment Tonight.

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

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 Inc. chose Owens to replace Murray "The K" Kaufman as permanent host of Soundtrack Of The Sixties, an oldies retrospective show that ran in syndication through 1984. Immediately afterward, he hosted Creative Radio's Gary Owens' Supertracks, which was an oldies retrospective show similar to Soundtrack Of The Sixties, except it presented the fifties, sixties, and seventies.

He was the narrator of Walt Disney World's EPCOT Center pavilion, 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 another Los Angeles station, 1150 KKPZ, in the early 1980s, hosting mornings at the "Music Of Your Life" adult standards station. Owens in the morning and Dick Whittinghill in afternoon drive was an inversion of Owens' 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 its format to all-talk.

Owens had a hilarious bit part as an emcee for "Pimp of the Year", a dream scene in the 1988 comedy I'm Gonna Git You Sucka.

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.

Owens guest starred on an episode of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!

Owens was the voice narrator on the ABC Saturday morning animated series Mighty Orbots in 1984.

In 1989 Owens appeared in Night Court, season 7 episode 7, entitled Auntie Maim. Owens played DeeJay Bobby Bumgartner.

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 announced 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 (Burbank took his stage name from Owens). Owens was also the announcer for America's Funniest Home Videos from 1995 to 1997, the last three years of Bob Saget's hosting tenure, replacing Ernie Anderson.

The cartoon SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron featured Owens as the voice of Commander Ulysses Feral, a police chief constantly butting heads with the two main protagonists.

Owens guest starred on The Ren & Stimpy Show as the voice of Powdered Toast Man.

He lent his voice as the narrator for the 1992 voiced CD-ROM version of Sierra On-Line's Space Quest IV. He again assumed the role in the series' final installment, 1995's Space Quest 6.

In 1996, Owens would narrate the opening and interstitial bumpers of Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad.

In 1998, he appeared on Sabrina the Teenage Witch (episode: "Good Will Haunting"; Season 3, Episode 6) as "Guy Who Thinks He's Gary Owens".

Last years[edit]

In 2004, Owens co-wrote a book titled How to Make a Million Dollars With Your Voice (Or Lose Your Tonsils Trying). In his last years, Owens was the promotional announcing voice for Antenna TV, an over-the-air digital network dedicated to classic shows of the past, like Three's Company, The Monkees, Adam-12 and Gidget. He was married to his wife Arleta for 47 years.

Death[edit]

Owens died on February 12, 2015, at age 80 from complications due to Type 1 diabetes, a condition with which he was first diagnosed at the age of eight.[4][5]

Voice acting[edit]

Owens provided the voices for:

He 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 held his right hand up to his right ear while speaking into a gimbaled boom microphone. This was 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. Owens used this as a running gag and gave various outlandish reasons for this pose: 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 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. This gag was later parodied by Les Lye on the Canadian children's sketch-comedy show You Can't Do That on Television.

Owens coined the phrase "Beautiful downtown Burbank", which was later used on Laugh-In and The Tonight Show.[16]

His trademark self-introduction was "This is Gary Owens, friend of those who want no friends, going places and losing things," or occasionally, "Hello, and also hi; but not necessarily in that order," as a shorter version.

Blast from the Past[edit]

In 2001, TV Land released two computer games titled 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, Todd Bridges, Alan Young, and Marion Ross, among 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. (Players can choose Owens as a celebrity if they wish).

Filmography[edit]

Live-action[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1961 The Naked Witch Prologue Narrator
1965 McHale's Navy The Photographer, The 1st Sailor Episodes: "The Seven Faces of Ensign Parker", "A Star Falls on Taratupa"
McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force Enlisted Man Uncredited
1965–1966 The Munsters Zombo's Announcer, Dick Willet Episodes: "Will Success Spoil Herman Munster?", "Zombo"
1966 The Last of the Secret Agents Voice Uncredited
Summer Fun Henry Episode: "McNab's Lab"
1966–1967 The Green Hornet Newscaster, Commentator 8 episodes
1966–1967 Batman Voice on Radio, T.V. Announcer 3 episodes
1967 Mr. Traffic Announcer Episode: "I Can't Fly"
1968 'The Love Bug Announcer
1968–1973 Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In Announcer, Himself 134 episodes
1969 I Dream of Jeannie Himself Episode: "The Biggest Star in Hollywood"
1969–1990 Sesame Street The Man from Alphabet, Today's Secret Drawing Announcer, various characters 13 episoes
1969 Sesame Street Pitch Reel Unknown role (voice)
1972 Dr. Phibes Rises Again Narrator (voice)
1973 Barnaby Jones Gary Michaels Episode: "Twenty Million Alibis"
1974 Out to Lunch Announcer Television film
1975 Get Christie Love! TV Reporter Episode: "Murder on High C"
The Prisoner of Second Avenue Radio Newscaster (voice) Uncredited
1977 Man from Atlantis Announcer Episode: "Man O'War"
1978 Return from Witch Mountain Newscaster (voice) Uncredited
Coming Attractions Narrator (voice)
1979 Legends of the Superheroes Narrator (voice) Episodes: "The Challenge", "The Roast"
The Magical World of Disney Narrator (voice) Episode: "Baseball Forever"
1980 Galactica 1980 Cy Episode: "The Return of Starbuck"
1982 No Soap, Radio Skit Performer 4 episodes
Buyer Be Wise Narrator (voice) Uncredited
1983 Hysterical TV Announcer (voice)
Breakaway Host, Announcer Unknown episodes
1985 National Lampoon's European Vacation "Pig in a Poke" Announcer Uncredited
Simon & Simon Sanfred Thompson Episode: "Down-Home County Blues"
1987 Sledge Hammer! Sledge's Neighbours, Radio Announcer, Series Announcer Episodes: "A Clockwork Hammer", "Wild About Hammer"
1988 Destroyer Game Show Announcer (voice)
1989 How I Got into College Sports Announcer (voice)
Night Court Bobby Baumgarner Episode: "Auntie Maim"
1990 Kill Crazy The Sheriff
Diggin' Up Business Minister
1992 Dinosaurs Narrator (voice) Episodes: "Nuts to War: Part 1", "Nuts to War: Part 2"
1994 Love & War Announcer Episode: "Ten Cents a Dance"
1995–1997 America's Funniest Home Videos Announcer Reality television series
1996 Spy Hard M.C.
1998 Border to Border Mr. Kirby
Sabrina, the Teenage Witch Guy Who Thinks He's Gary Owens Episode: "Good Will Haunting"
1999 Muppets from Space UFO Mania Announcer Uncredited
That '70s Show Announcer, Narrator 4 episodes
2001 Major Damage Narrator
2002 Jane White Is Sick & Twisted TV Announcer
Frank McKlusky, C.I. Announcer
Ren and Stimpy Rocks Unknown role Episode: "Hard Times for Haggis"
2004 Comic Book: The Movie Himself

Animation[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1965 Roger Ramjet Roger Ramjet 8 episodes
1966–1968 Space Ghost Space Ghost, Narrator 20 episodes
1968 Sally Sargent Blake Jameson, Narrator Television short
1976–1977 Dynomutt, Dog Wonder Blue Falcon 20 episodes
1976 The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour Blue Falcon
1977 Scooby's Laff-A Lympics Blue Falcon
1977–1980 Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels Narrator 40 episodes
1978 Yogi's Space Race Narrator 7 episodes
1981 Space Stars Space Ghost 11 episodes
Superbman: The Other Movie Narrator Short film
1982 Get It Right: Following Directions with Goofy Narrator Short film; Uncredited
1983 Inspector Gadget Inspector Gadget Episode: "Pilot"
1984 The Mighty Orbots Narrator Episode: "Magnetic Menace"
1985–1987 Yogi's Treasure Hunt Narrator 13 episodes
1987 DTV Monster Hits Announcer Television film
1988–1991 Square One Television Lt. Dirk Niblick 5 episodes
1988–1994 Garfield and Friends Announcer, Instructor 42 episodes
1989 The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! Willy White Episode: "Home Radio/Elvin Lives"
1990–1992 Tom and Jerry Kids Additional voices 2 episodes
1990–1998 Bobby's World Captain Squash 23 episodes
1992 Defenders of Dynatron City Announcer Television short
Goof Troop Mr. Hammerhead Episode: "Date with Destiny"
Raw Toonage Badly Animated Man 1 episode
1992–1996 The Ren and Stimpy Show Powdered Toast Man, Announcer, Charles Globe, Player 7 episodes
Eek!stravaganza Reporter, Announcer, Additional voices 30 episodes
1993 Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog Narrator Episode" "Pilot"
2 Stupid Dogs Principal Schneider, Johnny the Announcer 2 episodes
1993–1994 Swat Kats: The Radical Squadron Commander Ulysses Feral, Commander Feral, Cmdr. Ulysses Feral 22 episodes
1994 Fantastic Four: The Animated Series Gary Owens, Bystander #1 2 episodes
Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad Opening Narration 6 episodes
1994–1995 Skeleton Warriors Additional voices 11 episodes
1995 The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat Additional voices 2 episodes
Aaahh!!! Real Monsters Clown, Broadcaster #2 Episode "A Room with No Viewfinder/Krumm Rises to the Top"
1996 Space Ghost Coast to Coast Announcer Episode: "Late Show"
The Mask Channel, Raymond Neilsen Episode: "Channel Surfing'"
1997 What a Cartoon! Announcer, Commander Episode: "Dino in the Great Egg Scape"
101 Dalmatians: The Series TV Announcer Episode: "Tic Track Toe/Lucky All-Star"
1998 The New Batman Adventures 50s Batman Episode: "Legend of the Dark Knight"
1998–2003 Dexter's Laboratory Blue Falcon, TV Announcer 2 episodes
2000 Buzz Lightyear of Star Command Opening Narration 6 episodes
2004 Johnny Bravo Blue Falcon Episode: "Johnny Makeover/Back on Shaq"
2011 Batman: The Brave and the Bold Space Ghost Episode: "Bold Beginnings!"

Video games[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1991 Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers Narrator
1995 Space Quest 6: The Spinal Frontier Narrator
1996 Nickelodeon 3D Movie Maker Powdered Toast Man

Bibliography[edit]

References[edit]

16. Demetria Fulton previewed Gary Owens' appearance in the first season of Barnaby Jones; episode titled, "Twenty Million Alibis"(May 6, 1973). He played the role of Gary Michaels.

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