Harry von Zell

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Harry von Zell
Harry-von-Zell-1940.jpg
Harry von Zell (1940)
Born (1906-07-11)July 11, 1906
Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.
Died November 21, 1981(1981-11-21) (aged 75)
Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Cancer
Alma mater University of California, Los Angeles
Occupation Radio announcer, film and television actor
Years active 1929–1975
Spouse(s) Minerva McGarvey (married 1925–1981)

Harry von Zell (July 11, 1906 – November 21, 1981) was an announcer of radio programs and an actor in films and television shows. He is best remembered for his work on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, and for once mispronouncing President Herbert Hoover's name on the air, a slip that was exaggerated on a later comedy record album.

Life and career[edit]

Early years[edit]

Harry von Zell was born July 11, 1906, in Indianapolis, Indiana, where his father was a sports reporter. The family moved to Sioux City, Iowa, where von Zell graduated from high school.[1] Later, the family moved to California, where von Zell studied music and drama at the University of California, Los Angeles and worked at a variety of jobs. After friends tricked him into singing on a radio program, he received offers from radio stations, and his radio career began.

Announcing[edit]

Von Zell broke into show business as a singer and announcer at radio station KMIC in Inglewood, California in the mid-1920s. Later, auditioning for Paul Whiteman's radio show in 1929, he was chosen from a field of 250 announcers.[1] When that series came to an end in 1930, he headed for New York and became a CBS staff announcer, working with Fred Allen, Phil Baker, Eddy Duchin and Ed Wynn. He also announced for The Aldrich Family, The Amazing Mr. Smith,[2] and The March of Time. During the 1920s and 1930s von Zell served as announcer on some 20 shows a week.[1]

His longest-running radio partnership was his nine seasons with veteran comedian Eddie Cantor. From October 1940 to June 1949 von Zell served as Cantor's commercial spokesperson and straight man. As Cantor cast member Dinah Shore's solo career began to blossom, she brought von Zell in as announcer on her Birds Eye Open House program.

As a young announcer, von Zell made a memorable verbal slip in 1931 when he referred to U.S. President Herbert Hoover as "Hoobert Heever" during a live tribute on Hoover's birthday. Hoover was not present at this tribute. Zell's blooper came at the end of a lengthy coverage of Hoover's career, in which Zell had pronounced the President's name correctly several times. Some mistakenly believe Hoover was present when the incident happened, because of a re-enactment fabricated by Kermit Schaefer for his Pardon My Blooper record album.

Music[edit]

Von Zell was the vocalist for the first recording session of Charlie Barnet's musical career. A session on October 9, 1933, has von Zell singing, "I Want You, I Need You" (which was remade on October 25, 1933), as well as "What Is Sweeter (Than the Sweetness of 'I Love You')?".

In 1941 von Zell sang on NBC's popular "jam session" program, The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street. He and three other staff announcers became a makeshift barbershop quartet, with von Zell offering commentary in a florid, Victorian style.

Radio comedy[edit]

As an actor, von Zell appeared on the Joan Davis radio series as the love interest of the character played by Verna Felton. When he entered a room, Felton would often shout excitedly, "Why, Mr. von Zellllllllllll!" After this von Zell headlined his own short-lived radio program, The Smiths of Hollywood, which featured Arthur Treacher and Jan Ford (who would later become Howard Hughes' paramour under the name of Terry Moore).

Film[edit]

As a film actor, von Zell appeared in at least 28 features and in his own series of slapstick comedy shorts for Columbia Pictures (1946–50). His film debut came in 1943, when he provided the offscreen narration for four entries in the Flicker Flashbacks series of silent-film satires. His face was first seen on screen in feature films of 1945.[3] His movies included Saxon Charm, Dear Wife, Son of Paleface, Two Flags West, USS Teakettle, and For Heaven's Sake.[1]

Television[edit]

Von Zell worked in the early days of television, in 1931 describing boxing matches on experimental television boxing broadcasts.[4] Nearly 20 years later, the exposure von Zell received from the Columbia comedies led to his being hired for television shows as the medium began to reach a mass audience. In early 1950, he had his first major television exposure as announcer and spokesman for Pabst Blue Ribbon beer on Jackie Gleason's The Life of Riley. In September 1951, when The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show moved from radio to television he replaced the radio show's announcer, Bill Goodwin. Appearing under his own name (as Goodwin had), Harry von Zell continued to play the befuddled friend of the Burns family and the show-within-a-show's announcer until 1958, the year of Gracie Allen's retirement and the series conclusion. Von Zell also appeared in an episode of McHale's Navy, as Admiral Parker the uncle of Tim Conway's character Ensign Parker.

During the 1958-59 television season, von Zell continued working with George Burns on his short-lived 25 week NBC sitcom, The George Burns Show. That same year he wrote the teleplays for four episodes of NBC's Wagon Train and acted in one of them. In 1959 he joined comedian George Gobel, announcing for his single-season half-hour program on CBS.

He appeared in the Perry Mason episodes, "The Case of the Ancient Romeo" (1962) and "The Case of the Libelous Locket" (1963). He was also cast in an episode of NBC's western series, The Tall Man. Between 1960 and 1961 von Zell appeared in five episodes of the television series Bachelor Father, as Bentley Gregg's (John Forsythe) good friend Frank Curtis.

Von Zell delivered the commentary on Celebrity Golf, a series of half-hour, nine-hole golf matches made in 1960 with Sam Snead taking on Hollywood celebrities at Los Angeles golf courses such as Woodland Hills and Lakeside Country Club. Those matches can now be viewed late nights on the Golf Channel. In his later years Zell was a commercial spokesman for Los Angeles-based savings and loan association Home Savings of America. In 1976 he was one of the many leading radio announcers who participated in a television special, The Good Old Days of Radio.[citation needed] He also appeared on one of the Ellery Queen shows in 1975.

Death[edit]

Harry von Zell died of cancer November 21, 1981, at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital.[1]

Radio credits[edit]

  • Stars in the Air - Episode: "Weekend for Three" (1952)[5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "Longtime Entertainer Harry Von Zell Dies". Santa Cruz Sentinel. November 23, 1981. p. 22. Retrieved May 22, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication - free to read
  2. ^ Dunning, John. (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. P. 21, 24.
  3. ^ "Harry Von Zell Makes Movie Debut—At Last". The Lincoln Star. August 12, 1945. p. 32. Retrieved May 23, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication - free to read
  4. ^ Radio Dial Log in The New York Sun dated August 20, 1931
  5. ^ Kirby, Walter (March 23, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 44. Retrieved May 21, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication - free to read

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