Gifted with both one of the all-time great radio-announcer voices and the barbed mind of an unrepentant social satirist, Stan Freberg was a singular artist. A familiar voiceover artist best known for his work on Warner Brothers cartoons and as the originator of Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent for Bob Clampett's "Beany and Cecil," Freberg also scored several hit singles through the 1950s, with biting parodies of popular hits like Johnnie Ray's "Cry," Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" and the Drifters' "The Great Pretender." These were interspersed with even more pointed sketch-comedy recordings like "Point of Order," a vicious backhand to right-wing demagogue Senator Joseph McCarthy, and "Green Chri$tma$," a rebuke to holiday commercialism so stinging that Capitol Records originally refused to release it. Not that Freberg thought advertising was in itself evil: beginning in the mid-'50s, he became a visionary advertising man, the first to bring humor and surrealism to radio and television ads, with slogans like "Today the pits, tomorrow the wrinkles!" for a brand of pitted prunes and "Can I have a bite of your pencil?" for a termite exterminator. The timelessly inventive Freberg's career stretched from World War II well into the 21st century. Stan Freberg died on April 7, 2015, at the age of 88.
Stanley Friburg was born August 7, 1926 in Pasadena, California. His father, a Baptist minister of Swedish descent, later changed the spelling of the family name to Freberg to better match its pronunciation. Growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Freberg was fascinated by radio and animated cartoons. By the time he was attending Alhambra High School, Freberg was writing his own comic radio scripts, which he performed over the school's loudspeakers, doing all the voices and sound effects by himself. During the summer between his high school graduation and a planned education at Stanford University, Freberg decided on a whim to take a bus into Hollywood and try to find an agent. The first office he walked into took him on as a client; within a week he was doing voices for Warner Brothers cartoons alongside animation giants like Mel Blanc and June Foray. His most memorable Warner Brothers characters included Pete Puma, a slow-witted cat who tangled with Bugs Bunny in several cartoons, and one half of The Goofy Gophers, a pair of extremely polite British-accented gophers played by Freberg and Blanc.
In 1949, Freberg and fellow voice actor Daws Butler joined Warner Brothers writer/director Bob Clampett on his new puppet animation TV series "Time For Beany" (Paramount 1949-1955), on which Freberg played Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent. Though Freberg and Butler weren't involved with Clampett's later animated version of the show, "Beany and Cecil" (ABC 1962), the characters remained pop-culture touchstones of the baby-boom generation. While continuing his animation and TV work, Freberg started making hit comedy records for the Capitol label. Beginning with the soap opera parody "John and Marsha" in 1951, Freberg had a long string of big-selling singles, split between stinging parodies of the growing folk, jazz and rock and roll scenes to surreal dialogues that co-starred Butler and Furay, such as "St. George and the Dragonet" and the political satire "Little Blue Riding Hood." As LPs came into fashion, Freberg created a brilliant long-form comic piece, the 1961 musical spoof Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America, Volume One: The Early Years.
But by 1961, Freberg had found his true métier: radio and television advertising. In 1955, Freberg started his own commercial production house, Freberg Ltd. (But Not Very). From its punning name onward, the long-running company almost single-handedly changed the tone of radio and television advertising. Instead of either the pummeling hard sell or the slicker soft sell, Freberg's commercials caught the listener or viewer off-guard with oddball surrealism and deadpan irony. For example, a brand of milk was sold with the grandiose tag line "So good, it's almost too much to endure!" Though he continued occasional appearances on television (mostly in voiceover roles) and released sporadic albums, like a 1996 sequel to The United States of America, Volume One and a four-CD box set, Tip of the Freberg: The Stan Freberg Collection 1951-1998 (Rhino Records 1999), Freberg spent the remainder of his career working almost entirely in advertising. He died of pneumonia in Santa Monica on April 7, 2015.