Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It Only Hurts When I Laugh by Stan Freberg

Stan Freberg. It Only Hurts When I Laugh. New York: Times Books, Random House, Inc., 1988.

Freberg first worked in show business as a child in his uncle’s magic act. He would be picked from the audience to go on stage to state there was no rabbit in his uncle’s hat, when there was a rabbit that would then be pulled out by his uncle.

Freberg went to work in Hollywood, despite recalling Fred Allen’s warning that “you could fit all the sincerity of Hollywood into a flea’s navel and still have room left over for two caraway seeds and an agent’s heart.”

Freberg graduated high school, took a bus to Hollywood, walked into a randomly selected agency in front of him, and was interviewed and offering an audition doing cartoon voices at Warner Brothers. Friz Freleng hired him on the spot. He would do cartoon voices for many years.

In 1945, one needed permission to imitate the voice of the President of the United States. Freberg did an impression of Franklin Roosevelt on CBS Radio two days before Roosevelt died, making him the last person to imitate Roosevelt on the air while FDR was still alive.

Freberg was drafted into the Army even though World War II was over. He worked on the “Fort McArthur Alert” base newspaper under editor Forest J. Ackerman. Freberg kept requesting to be placed, and eventually was, into the Special Services, the theater entertainment branch. He worked with Harpo Marx. The soldiers roared with laughter as Harpo shook a General’s hand, refused to let go, and then performed his classic routine with silverware falls from his sleeve. Freberg got a job playing guitar, which he didn’t play, so he quickly learned and faked it and often pretended to be playing.

Freberg landed a job on the children’s show “Time for Beans” in 1949. It was the top rate children’s show that often had a 70 share. For awhile the show’s officers and writers worked in a condemned building. The building was finally torn down with the TV people inside given 15 minutes warning.

Freberg wrote some music for the Fox studio. The TV show refused to let him leave to write music for a Marilyn Monroe movies. Freberg would alter be allowed to do movie roles when not working on the TV show. He would do the show live at 6:30 am and then race to MGM.

Freberg began writing satires of popular songs. He even spoofed Senator Joe McCarthy, with a song “Little Blue Riding Hood”, while McCarthy was still popular.

Freberg was recruited to work in advertising. He focused on comedic ads. He wrote a marketing campaign on Contadina that “Advertising Age” declared one of the two best ads of the year.

Freberg got a radio series. CBS censored his show. They didn’t like a skit about Las Vegas being destroyed by a hydrogen bomb. Instead, they allowed it to be destroyed in the skit by an earthquake. Freberg also had his contract state his show could refuse sponsors he felt were undesirable. Two potential sponsors were turned away. CBS canceled the show after 15 weeks.

Freberg continued writing commercials. One commercial ran six and a half minutes and was releaseds as a record. He also commercials promoting the movie “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”.

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