Monday, February 16, 2015

Baritone Banter

Gary Owens 1934-2015

Gary Owens died a few days ago of complications from diabetes, a disease that had plagued him since childhood. In fact, he once overheard a doctor tell his parents that he probably wouldn't make it out of his teens! He did anyway, as an adult becoming a very popular afternoon disc jockey in Los Angeles. Actually, a suburb of Los Angeles: "beautiful downtown Burbank" a phrase first heard on his radio show. As I grew up in neither Los Angeles nor Burbank in the 1960s, I can't vouch for you just how funny or entertaining he may have been as a deejay, only that there's been many tributes on-line from Angelenos who laughed their asses off at his radio antics, which included asking the audience to "send in for yours", only to receive a postcard with nothing but the word "yours" on it.

What I can vouch for is a TV show I saw first as a kid and then decades later when it popped up on Nick at Nite. Before I tell you what it was, let me tell you how Owens came to be on it. He walked into the men's room at a popular LA restaurant and saw an acquaintance of his, a TV producer by the name of George Schlatter. As a joke, Owens shouted "George! The acoustics are great in here!", his rich baritone bouncing off the tiled walls. Now it just so happens Schlatter had a show in development, one composed almost entirely of blackout gags, i.e. short skits lasting less than five minutes, sometimes less than a single minute. Owens comic announcing would be the perfect linking devices for those gags. Of course that show was Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In:

Some of Owen's Laugh-In announcements not found on YouTube:

"This show was prerecorded earlier, because it didn't make much sense to prerecorded it later."

"The preceding was recorded earlier because we were ashamed to do it now."

"Meanwhile, later that evening..."

"What you're about to see is true. [the word "false" appears on screen, hands on clock moved back] Only names and faces have been left protect the innocent."

And, of course the phrase I mentioned earlier, first on his radio show, "Coming to you from beautiful downtown Burbank!"

A phrase later appropriated by the fellow above.

Owens did more straightforward announcing as well, including stints on The Wonderful World of Disney and America's Funniest Home Videos.

And he did cartoons. Unlike Mel Blanc or Daws Butler, Owens didn't have a hundred different voices at his disposal. Basically he had just two--dramatic macho posturing and comedic macho posturing.

His dramatic macho posturing.

Owens didn't do the tongue-in-cheek version of Space Ghost that aired on the Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" in the late '90s. However, his own comedic macho posturing could be heard in plenty of other places.

Such as Roger Ramjet in the '60s...

Or, a decade later, as the Blue Falcon in Dynomutt, the Dog Wonder.

Back to announcing. One of Owens most recent gigs was doing the voice-over promos for a digital network devoted to reruns Antenna TV: "Classic television, but without that musty odor!"

One last tribute from a former Laugh-In cast mate:

"Gary will be greatly missed...His presence of optimism and joy will live on! He was a gift to us all."

--Goldie Hawn





  1. It was very new and different.
    I enjoyed Gary Owens the best and Ruth Bussey.
    Also the way they cracked each other up.
    The first year was fun but then it when downhill after that for me.
    Great post as always.
    Sorry I am so late.

    cheers, parsnip

    1. Better late than never, parsnip. If by first year you mean the year with the original cast, I agree, though I think Lily Tomlin, who I believe joined the cast in the show's second year, was a good, actually excellent, addition.

      Ruth Buzzi and Goldi Hawn follow each other on Twitter. Nice that they still keep in touch.

  2. I loved Laugh In. Didn't miss a show. Glad to know Gary was the originator of "...coming to you from beautiful downtown Burbank."

    1. Though I can't vouch for every single example I have listed above, Kass, Owens is said to have written many of his own joke announcements. Remember, he was a disc jockey who needed to come up with his own material between songs (this back in the days when deejays actually TALKED.)

  3. That was such a famous show. I always liked him and Goldie Hawn. I am sorry he has gone.

  4. Hi, Kirk!

    It's February 2015 and you and I don't even know each other yet. Therefore, kindly disregard this comment.

    This is a great tribute to a genuinely funny man, Gary Owens. He rose to fame on Laugh-In but, as you pointed out, his rich voice also brought cartoon characters to life and lent itself to advertising and promotions.

    Thank you, good buddy of the future!

    1. You're welcome from the future, Shady. I hope I see you time-traveling again sometimes.


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