August 19, 2014

Don Pardo, R.I.P.

Was there a better voice for television than Don Pardo's?  At the same time, he was able to project warmth, authority, credibility.  He could announce a game show like the original Jeopardy!, while he could also break the news of JFK's shooting, and be absolutely the right voice for both.

Many of us, of course, know him best as the announcer and occasional foil on Saturday Night Live, and there was more than one time when his introduction of the cast was the best thing about the show.  It was then that his voice called not for authority, but humor - and the little tremor he put into it was just right.

Was he the most famous television personality that nobody would have recognized?  He did appear on-camera occasionally on SNL, but most of what he did was behind the scenes.  Nonetheless, he was elected to the Television Hall of Fame, and rightfully so.  The fine obit in The New York Times mentions that new SNL cast members "couldn’t wait to hear their name said by him,” according to Lorne Michaels.  It must have been like a kid growing up dreaming of playing baseball in Yankee Stadium and having his name announced by Bob Sheppard.

That Times bit also tells us something of what early radio and television was like.  Pardo, of course, got his start on radio, as a staff announcer.  But if you think that was a simple job, waiting around to give the time and station ID, you're wrong.  "As a staff announcer, he did more than introduce shows and read commercials. The announcer also played the role of engineer, getting the radio programs going and cuing up the right bits at the right time. If you could not do those chores, he said, you would not last as a radio announcer."  I wonder how many of our radio and television personalities could do that today?

His voice will continue in reruns of SNL, but many of his other work is lost, either literally in the sense that the shows (like Jeopardy!) no longer exist, or lost because his voice can't be used again - there's no occasion to play a pre-recorded Pardo introducing a show like SNL, because the cast names are all different.  I haven't watched SNL for years - in fact, though I think of myself as having a pretty good memory, I literally can't recall the last time I saw it.  Probably when Dennis Miller was doing Weekend Update.  But Michaels says the show will present a tribute to him this fall, and I'll probably tune in for that.  For SNL is one of TV's longest-running shows, and Don Pardo was its longest-running cast member.

Here's a wonderful appearance he made on Weird Al's video I Lost on Jeopardy (along with original host Art Fleming), which gives you a pretty good feel for the original show.  I love his line, "You don't even get a lousy copy of the home game!"  As is always the case with parody, it's the little details that make the difference.

Here is his voiceover on NBC television bringing the first news bulletin on JFK:

And here he is talking about getting the SNL gig:

Don Pardo died at the ripe old age of 96, one of only two people (the other being Bob Hope) to have a lifetime contract with NBC.  He had a great career, working right through the end of this season's SNL.  And best of all, he sounds like he was a good man.  R.I.P., Don Pardio - we'll miss your voice, and we'll miss you.


  1. People are dying these days who have never died before ...

    That's the feeling I've been getting the last couple of weeks.

    Last week, Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall, and Ed Nelson (in the order that I found out about them).

    Very late last night, I learn about Don Pardo.
    So I look at all the clips (you missed a couple - did you see the 90th birthday clip, where he blows out all the candles on the cake, while Mike Huckabee is watching off to the side?), and wondering why the news didn't make the newspapers here, and checking out the showbiz news shows (surprisingly little coverage), and cruising the websites ...

    I don't suppose you've ever heard of Michael A. Hoey.
    He spent a lifetime in movies and TV - literally.
    His father was Dennis Hoey, who among many other roles was Inspector Lestrade in the Rathbone-Bruce Sherlock Holmes movies.
    Michael Hoey went into film on the other side of the camera, as editor, writer, producer, and director, in both movies and TV, from the '60s though to the early '90s.
    In his retirement, he turned to writing, producing four books:
    Elvis, Sherlock, And Me, an autobiography;
    Inside Fame On Television, about the series he worked on in many capacities throughout its run;
    Sherlock Holmes & The Fabulous Faces, about the Rathbone/Holmes films and the performers therein;
    Elvis's Favorite Director, a biography of the veteran director Norman Taurog, who was Hoey's mentor.
    I have the first three; the fourth one just came out this year, and I'd been meaning to order it.
    I finally did, just now - after I read that Michael Hoey passed on this past Saturday.
    I saw the news in Mark Evanier's News From ME blog, which deserves a spot on your sidebar.
    All of Michael Hoey's books are well worth your time - and I say that sight unseen about the fourth one, which I won't receive until later this week, but the other three are definitely worth it.

    Okay, I went off-topic here, but this whole mortality thing is getting to me, and this is how I'm dealing with it, so there too.

    * ... and if there's a Don Pardo memoir out there somewhere, sign me up for a copy.
    ( It'll look good next to the books I already have on Bill Cullen and Johnny Olson ...)*

  2. Pardo's description of the staff announcer job still held in radio until the 1990s. DJs had to operate the transmitter, get taped programs ready and play them at the right time, play commercials inside of sports broadcasts and such---nowadays you pretty much walk into a room, stop the continuous stream of pre-recorded music and commercials to talk, and then start it up again. It still requires talent to do it well, but I suspect that there are many talented people on the air today who would seem less talented if they still had to do all the other stuff at the same time.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!