May 9, 2018

Making fun of TV, successfully

If there's ever been a better satirist than Stan Freberg, I don't know who it might be. That isn't to say that he's the best, just that there's nobody better.

I thought we might quickly look at a couple of Freberg's greatest television satires (of which there are many). The first is his famous "St. George and the Dragonet" spoof of Dragnet. I can't remember if I've written about that here, although I have a paragraph about it in my new book. It is, at any rate, hilarious (as well as the true source of the "Just the facts, ma'am" quote that many people mistakenly think was actually on Dragnet).

The second is, I think, less well-known - I just heard it for the first time this last weekend - but no less funny. It's Freberg's take on Lawrence Welk, called "Wun'erful, Wun'erful!" It's satire with a real edge; the great arranger Billy May, who worked with Freberg regularly and despised Welk's sound, does a great job of mimicking it, working with an orchestra of big band veterans and jazzmen who also despised Welk.

It's said that Lawrence disliked this spoof intensely and I can see why, which is why I loved it. I suspect you may feel the same way. TV  


  1. I used to have an LP with Freberg's collected singles. I wore it out!

  2. Freberg's Welk parody was, no doubt, the inspiration of the Schmenge brothers and the ill-fated Plattsburgh concert...

  3. ...and the Lemon Twins...all three of them...

  4. Freberg also skewered Arthur Godfrey with a parody titled "That's Right, Arthur," which, so goes the story, didn't see the light of day until the '90s because Capitol Records was worried Godfrey would sue. It's a very well-done production with terrific voice work, especially Daws Butler's uncanny imitation of Godfrey's announcer Tony Marvin. It's merciless, and it's a hoot.

    1. Around this same time, Bob and Ray did their own running Godfrey takeoff, with Bob Elliott playing "Arthur Sturdley".
      Apparently, Arthur Godfrey didn't mind this at all; in fact, he booked Bob & Ray as guests on his show several times.
      On another occasion, Godfrey played a tape of the B&R "Sturdley" bit and remarked - on air - "I swear to goodness he (Bob) does it better than I do ...".
      (My source is David Pollock's book Bob And Ray: Keener Than Most Persons.)
      Years afterward, Godfrey even provided a blurb for Write If You Get Work, the first book collection of Bob and Ray's comedy scripts, so there's that.

      How Godfrey may have felt about Stan Freberg has been lost to history; most accounts indicate that actions against "That's right, Arthur" may have been taken in his name, rather by him directly.

      Hearing the Freberg version recently, it seems to fall into a pattern that Stan had of mean-spiritedness, which in my view came to hurt the quality of his work, especially late in his life.

      One added note (personal): Looking at the Lawrence Welk shows that run endlessly on PBS, they actually seem to me to hold up pretty well these days. The level of musicianship is always high, and the performers are mainly ingratiating and quite likable.
      Full disclosure: I am not now, nor have I ever been, "hip".
      To me, "hipness" has always been just another form of snobbery: putting a hipster and a snob in the same room just cancels each other out.
      So There Too.

      While I'm here, congrats on your new gig on Eventually Supertrain, covering the Bourbon Street Beat beat (sorry - couldn't resist).
      My "collectors" DVD set of BSB stands at the ready to correct every little mistake you might make, so consider yourself warned ...
      ... in particular, when you get to Episode 4 - that one I'm really looking forward to ...

  5. "Gee, WAS a Wurlitzer!"


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!