Advertising Legend, Comedian Stan Freberg Dies at 88

Copywriter, Humorist and Satirist Was One Of Ad Age's Top 100 People In Advertising

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Stan Freberg, renowned advertising copywriter often referred to as "the father of the funny commercial" and one of Ad Age's top 100 advertising people of the last century has died. He was 88.

The Grammy, Clio and Silver Lion award winner was born in 1926 in Pasadena, Calif., the only son of a Baptist minister. A self-described lonely child, he spent long hours listening to Fred Allen and Jack Benny on the radio and loved to perform comedy routines for his pet rabbits. After graduating from high school in 1944, he began supplying voices for Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoons. He was also the voice of the beaver in Walt Disney's "Lady & the Tramp" in 1955 and appeared in several movies, including "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World."

Stan Freberg on the cover of his Greatest Hits album.
Stan Freberg on the cover of his Greatest Hits album.

In 1950, Mr. Freberg emerged as a comedy recording artist with a Capitol record, "John & Marsha." He went on to parody many of the cultural trends of the day with a satiric version of the song "On Top of Old Smokey" in 1951, a send-up of crooner Johnny Ray's overwrought ballad "Cry" in 1952 and even a parody of the infamous U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy called "Point of Order." Probably his most successful comic record was a satiric version of the police show "Dragnet."

In the summer of 1957, Mr. Freberg and his stock company of performers starred in radio's final attempt to present a full-scale, weekly comedy variety show, "The Stan Freberg Show." It ran for 13 weeks and took deadly satiric aim at the advertising business.

As the creator of radio comedy shows and a recording artist, Mr. Freberg had already made a name for himself when adman Howard Luck Gossage persuaded him to start writing commercials in 1956. In 1957, Messrs. Gossage and Freberg, along with a third partner, J. Joseph Weiner, formed Weiner & Gossage in San Francisco.

During the second half of the 20th century, Mr. Freberg delivered many memorable campaigns and set the standard for humor in advertising. His accounts included Chun King, Jeno's Pizza, Sunsweet prunes ("Today the pits, tomorrow the wrinkles"), Contadina tomato paste ("Who puts 8 great tomatoes in that little bitty can? You know who. You know who. You know who"), and Encyclopaedia Britannica.

The Sunsweet spot landed the No. 63 spot on Ad Age's Top 100 Advertising Campaigns of the Century list published in 1999.

That same year, Ad Age reported that the Museum of Television & Radio honored his career with a seminar titled "Leapin' Lizards! Stan Freberg Here" that was attended by his longtime friend Ray Bradbury, who had appeared in another ad Mr. Freberg created for Sunsweet.

Jeff Goodby, who wrote an essay for the booklet accompanying Mr. Freberg's "Tip of the Freberg," called the man a "martial arts master of advertising" and wrote that "the brilliant ones, like Stan, realize that the mundaneness of what must be conveyed [in an ad] can actually augment the humor when it's placed in an unfamiliar context." (In a 1999 interview with Creativity, Mr. Freberg said Goodby Silverstein's "Got Milk" was the only current ad that he coveted.)

Mr. Freberg, who has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and also appeared on The Dick Cavett Show, said that he was sidetracked into the ad business from a successful career as a radio and TV satirist because he disliked the way most advertisers attempted to communicate with him as a consumer. In his book, "It Only Hurts When I Laugh," he wrote: "If you don't like an ad, why should anybody else? . . . We're all consumers. . . . That's why I always create commercials for myself first of all. I am the consumer I know best. If I think it's a great commercial, I figure the rest of the people might think so, too. I haven't been wrong so far."

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