Who Is Stan Freberg?Blake Harris 08.26.2015
Yesterday, our art director (and talented author!) Robert Kopecky asked if I’d ever heard of a “Stan Freberg.” When I shook my head, a curious smile curled across his face as he waved me over for an introduction to his work. So who, exactly, is Stan Freberg? A man of many talents…
Perhaps most famously–and the first thing that Robert told me–was Freberg was the guy who introduced satire to advertising. And by doing so, this being the late 1950’s, he changed the way that commercials were made. Here’s an example:
With campaigns for products like Banquet Frozen Dinners (above), Butternut Coffee and Jacobsen Lawn Mowers (below), Freberg was able to take a risk and help elevate the status of these second and third tier brands.
If these spots seem over-the-top absurd, then that means they’re still working after all these years since bizarre, silly and ridiculous were exactly the objective. That’s because he believed that funny commercials made products more likable and therefore desirable. He also thought (especially in contrast to the stoic, stiff-upper-lip commercials of that era) that injecting unexpected humor into an ad would make that spot more memorable. So that even after televisions were turned off, his strange creation might remain stuck in a viewer’s head–playing over and over for free.
Here are a few more of Stan Freberg’s now-classic spots…
Jeno’s Pizza Rolls:
Sunsweet Pitted Prunes (with Ray Bradbury!):
Amazing work, and even more amazing that so much of it feels similar to what we see on the air today. But in addition to hawking Banquet Frozen Dinners, he was also a modern day renaissance man. So let’s take a look at some of the contributions he made to radio, animation and a few other spheres of cultural influence.
Shortly after graduating from high school, Stan Freberg got on a bus and—according to his autobiography It Only Hurts When I Laugh— he asked the driver to drop him off “in Hollywood.” From there, he noticed the sign of a nearby talent agency and proceeded to step inside, meet with some agents, and dazzle them into arranging an audition for him at Warner Bros. Following his audition, Freberg was promptly hired to voice cartoon characters for the studio.
Below are some of his credits from those early years:
- Junyer Bear Bugs Bunny and the Three Bears (1944)
- Bertie Roughly Squeaking (1946)
- Charlie Horse It’s a Grand Old Nag (1947)
- Tosh Two Gophers from Texas (1948)
- Zookeeper Chow Hound (1951)
- Junkyward Owner Susie the Little Blue Coupe (1952)
- Mr. Busy (Beaver) Lady and the Tramp (1955)
In 1951, as his voice acting career was taking off, Freberg started doing satirical recordings for Capitol Records. His first release was John and Marsha, a soap opera parody in which the two main characters (John and Marsha, both played by Freberg) did nothing but repeat each other’s name…but with varying degrees of histrionic vigor. Later that same year, Freberg co-produced a Dragnet parody called St. George and the Dragonet, which eventually hit #1 on the charts and went on to sell over a million copies. He continued this for several years, highlighted by satirical impressions of Johnnie Ray, Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley.
The success of Stan Freberg’s recordings eventually led to a radio program of his own. The show, That’s Rich, launched in 1954 and starred Freberg as a bumbling-but-cynical paper products salesman. Then, in 1957, Freberg took over for Jack Benny on CBS radio. In addition to his prowess as a radio personality, he also became known for his refusal to accept sponsorships from alcohol and tobacco manufacturers. As a result, Freberg failed to attract sponsors and so, instead of actual commercial, he routinely mocked traditional advertising by doing faux spots for things like food, puffed grass and himself.
All of this is just the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully provides the outlines of an intriguingly eccentric figure. To learn more about Stan Freberg—and hear it from the horses mouth—check out his autobiography.