I first became aware of Gary Owens when he was a disc jockey on KFWB. You couldn’t miss his distinctive voice. He followed that gig by hosting a daily 3:00 -5:00PM daily show for KMPC in Los Angeles. He had a lot of freedom at KMPC. They allowed him to do some of the wildest radio comedy I had ever heard — laugh-out-loud funny stuff. IHis show was so unique and out there, it felt like I was listening to something that probably should have been forbidden to my teenage ears.
Gary was similar to Jonathan Winters in a few ways. Both had a knack for creating wildly funny characters with W. C. Fields-ish wacky names. Gary’s included the gruff old Earl C. Festoon and his wife Phoebe, the stuffy old businessman Endocrine J. Sternwallow, the goofy corn-poner Merle Clyde Gumpf and the cranky old curmudgeon Mergenthaler Waisleywillow.
Owens and Winters also both began as cartoonists. Gary was a member and active participant in CAPS, the Comic Art Professional Society, a group based in Los Angeles.
Gary was a master of double-talk, inventing words like krenellemuffin, creeble and insegrievious. He would describe a dress as being a beautiful shade of veister with krelb accents.
You might know Gary as the voice of Space Ghost and Roger Ramjet. More likely, you remember him as the hand-on-the-ear announcer in the booth on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In or as the TV newscaster on The Green Hornet TV show.
My pal Richard Jones produced a series of dinosaur specials (and one on prehistoric mammals) for ABC-TV. My art was peppered all through those shows (they are all back in print and currently available on DVD). Gary and Eric Boardman were the shows’ humorous hosts. Gary actually acted with my wife, who played his nurse on the prehistoric mammals show (a show my young sons at the time referred to as “Mommy and the Mammals”).
Gary is also famous for coining the phrase “beautiful downtown Burbank”, which was used on both Laugh-In and The Tonight Show.
Gary was one of the kindest and most generous entertainers I have ever met. He never failed to cheerfully pitch in when we approached him regarding the possibility of helping out with hosting or presenting at a CAPS event. In my entire life I have never heard anyone say anything even slightly derogatory in regards to Gary Owens. Believe me, in show business, that’s something that is as rare as it gets.
Gary’s death is a big loss to the entertainment business, to the world of comic art and to this great man’s vast legion of friends and admirers (I am proud to be able to count myself as both).