Born: May 10, 1934
Died: February 12, 2015 (at age 80)
Birthplace: Mitchell, South Dakota, U.S.
Gary Owens (born Gary Bernard Altman; May 10, 1934 - February 12, 2015) was an American disc jockey, voice actor, radio announcer and personality. 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 voice of the titular superhero on Space Ghost and 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. He later served as voice of the over-the-air digital network Antenna TV.
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.
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.
Owens moved to KEWB's sister station KFWB in Los Angeles in 1961. From there, he joined the staff of 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.
According to IMDb, Owens appeared on eight episodes of the 1966-67 television series The Green Hornet.
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).
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.
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. 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.
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 Westwood, Los Angeles, 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, KPRZ (1150 AM), in the early 1980s, hosting mornings at the "Music Of Your Life"-formatted 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 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 two 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. 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".
He also lent his voice as the narrator for Sierra On-Line in the 1995 title Space Quest VI. The very last words spoken are "Thank you for playing Space Quest 6, this is Gary Owens, signing off".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, and Marion Ross, and 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.