Doug Thompson – “GOODNIGHT, FROM BEAUTIFUL DOWNTOWN BURBANK.”

Doug Thompson headshot                                                  

Every week we seem to be losing more and more of our show business icons.  Lesley Gore passed awhile back.  She was my first teenage crush.  I mentioned that to her the first time I interviewed her.  She let me down gently.

quincy-lesley-goreLesley, whose real name is Lesley Sue Goldstein, had an amazing career.  Imagine being a 17 year old girl from Tenafly, New Jersey, working with legendary record producer Quincy Jones and your first record goes to # 1?   It was a different era obviously, but the time line is fascinating.  Lesley and Quincy recorded “It’s My Party” on Saturday March 30, 1963.  She was driving to school a week later on April 6th, and heard it on the radio for the first time.  By June 1st, it was # 1 on Billboards’ Hot 100 chart.

Lesley’s fame lasted for several years and included pop pap hits, “Judy’s Turn To Cry”, Maybe I Know”, She’s A Fool”, “Sunshine, Lollipops And Rainbows” (written by Marvin Hamlish) and “You Don’t Own Me” a song that later became an early feminist anthem, ironically written by two guys – John Madera and Dave White, who also wrote Danny & The Jrs. 1958 # 1 hit, “At The Hop” as well as Len Barry’s 1965 # 2 hit, “1-2-3”.

Lesley’s success in the mid 1960’s led to two guest appearances in 1967 on “Batman”.  She played Pussycat, one of Catwoman’s henchwomen and got to lip sync two songs “Maybe Now” and “California Nights.” 

Cat and Pussy

Did you know that Lesley co-wrote an Academy Award nominated song with her younger brother Michael?  “Out Here On My Own” was written for the movie “Fame” and was recorded by Irene Cara.  Her music continues to be used in such TV series and films as “Glee”, “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs”, “Speed Walkers” and “American Horror Story”.

Lesley Gore died of lung cancer on February 16, 2015.  She was 68.

——————————————-

Gary OwensJust a day or two before Lesley died, one of my voice heroes, Gary Owens passed away.  I was fortunate enough to work with Gary on several occasions.  The first time was in 1983.  I had been hired by Watermark/ABC Radio in Hollywood to write a 25 hour summer radio series on The Beatles.  ABC had made a deal with Ringo Starr to host the series.  I’ve written about this here early on in my blog life.  We recorded the first 24 hours of Ringo script and ad libbed stories at his house at Tittenhurst Park, the big white house that John Lennon owned previously (and featured in John’s “Imagine” video).

The 25th hour was to be a live phone in show in November with listeners calling in and talking to Ringo.  We did that on one of the KLOS/KABC studios on La Cienega Blvd.  Tom Rounds, CEO of Watermark had hired Gary Owens to be the host.  Ringo had asked that I be there as well to help him with any questions he might not know the answer to.  As he put it, “Doug knows more about The Beatles than I do.  I was just there, being a Beatle.”

nov-1983-from-left-gary-owens-ringo-starr-doug-thompson

 

The morning of the live show, Gary, Tom and I met in the coffee shop of the Wilshire Blvd hotel where Ringo and wife Barbara Bach were staying.  Tom went over the format of the program with Gary and I before we headed upstairs to Ringo’s suite.

A Beatlefest was going on in LA that weekend, so a lot of fans congregated Gary Rogeraround the studio gates, but none got in.

Gary did a great job of handling the callers, interviewing Ringo and generally holding it all together.

The next time I worked with him was in 1995.  I hired him to voice a series of radio commercials for Headline Sports in Canada, later known as The Score and now part of Rogers Sportsnet group.  After the session, we sat at the back of the studio while the engineer was assembling the takes and talked about “Roger Ramjet” and other shows Gary had worked on.

Owens and Barney

———————————————————— 

VOICE ARTISTS I ALWAYS LOVED BUT SADLY NEVER WORKED WITH

Mel BlancAs a kid, watching those Warner Bros. cartoons, I had no idea that Mel Blanc was the voice behind most of them.  I probably read his name on the opening credits, but at the time, I had no idea what ‘Voice Characterizations” meant.  I also didn’t realize that when my family and I listened to the Jack Benny program on radio in the mid ‘50’s, that Mel’s voice supplied many of the sound effects, including Benny’s old Maxwell car.  Later, when Jack moved to television, Mel went with him as a cast regular.  My all time favourite Mel Blanc/Jack Benny ‘bits’ were the Mexican music teacher Si.

When I was working for John Candy in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, we’d always give each other birthday and Christmas gifts that were unique and Candyunusual.  I mean seriously, what can you get for someone who can buy whatever they want?  Anyway, one Christmas, I bought John several books, one was Wayne Gretzky’s autobiography, another was Mick Fleetwood’s first autobiography, then there was a coffee table book on the Hanna-Barbera animation company and a forth was a slim book of poems by actor Jimmy Stewart.  But John could have bought these books if he’d wanted to, I had to go the extra mile.

So I saw that both Wayne Gretzky and Mick Fleetwood would be signing their books that weekend.  Mick was to be at Book Soup, an incredible book store on the Sunset strip.  Gretzky was signing at a bookstore in Santa Monica.  I stood in line for an hour for Gretzky’s autograph, half that for Mick Fleetwood.  Then on the following Monday, I called Hanna-Barbera Studios and asked if Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera would sign John’s book.  They checked and said ‘absolutely’, so I drove over to Ventura Blvd in Universal City and waited in the lobby while an assistant came and took the book from me, got the autographs, then brought it back duly signed.

Jimmy StewartFour out of five so far.  Now all that was left was Jimmy Stewart, one of my all-time, bar none, favourite actors EVER!  Now, I was more than a little nervous, but I called his office and asked politely if “Mr. Stewart would have the time to sign a copy of his poetry book for John Candy”.  Jimmy happened to be in the office that day.  The secretary or assistant who answered the phone checked with him and told me, “Jimmy’s leaving for New York tomorrow.  If you can bring it by this afternoon, he’d be happy to sign it”.  Holy crap, I was going to get to meet Jimmy Stewart.  On my way to his office in Beverly Hills, I stopped at a book store and bought a second copy of Jimmy’s poetry.  I wasn’t going to miss my one and only chance to get Jimmy Stewart’s autograph.  When I got to his small-ish office in one of those big office complex buildings, Jimmy was standing by the front desk.  I introduced myself and took the two books out of the bag.  Jimmy had that Jimmy Stewart grin as he signed John’s book.  Then I asked him if he wouldn’t mind signing my copy.  He briefly looked up at me and said in that amazing Jimmy Stewart voice, “Well sure I will.  Be happy to.”

This clip has Jimmy Stewart reading a touching poem about his dog on ”The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson”.

Christmas time came and as John opened the box of books, I watched him skim through each one, then he saw Mick Fleetwood’s autograph and smiled.  Then Candy Christmashe saw Wayne Gretsky’s book with the autograph to him and his smile got bigger (I think they knew each other then, but not well).  The Hanna-Barbera book was next and he leafed through the coffee table book before spotting the two autographs.  “Really?” he said.  “Yep” I replied.  Finally, he pulled out the Jimmy Stewart book of poems.  He turned to me with a quizzical look on his face and said, “You didn’t?” and opened the front of the book and saw that I indeed did.  John always told me that was one of the best Christmas presents he’d ever received.

That's Not All, FolksNow that round about story leads to my birthday the following July.  John comes into my office at Frostbacks (his production company), hands me a beautifully wrapped package that I could tell was a book.  You know it’s easy to tell it’s a book, c’mon people.  I opened it and it was Mel Blanc’s 1988 autobiography, “That’s Not All Folks”.  John knew that Mel was one of my heroes.  I skimmed through the book for awhile until John impatiently said, “Look in the front Doug”.  I did and John had gotten Mel Blanc to sign it for me.  The inscription read, “Eh, what’s up Doug?”

I think he probably signed it that way for everyone, but it’s still one of my most treasured books.  Thanks John…you were one in a billion.

Here’s Mel Blanc on David Letterman’s old NBC late night show.

————————————————-         

Paul FreesEarly in my career, Paul Frees was another of my voice heros.  Paul was an actor and character voice master.  He was Boris Badenov, the Russian spy and all round bad guy in the Rocky & Bullwinkle TV series.  He did the cute little laugh of the Pillsbury Dough Boy and the voice of Little Sprout in the Green Giant TV commercials, “Hey Green Giant, what’s new besides ho ho ho?”  For Walt Disney, he was the voice of Professor Ludwig Von Drake.  If you visit Disneyland or Disney World, Paul’s voice is everywhere, especially in the Haunted House ride.

Frees could even sound like Orson Welles when he wanted to.  In 1979, he recorded a promo for CKLW Windsor/Detroit called “I Survived Skylab” (the Skylab satellite was losing its orbit and NASA scientists had no idea where it was going to land).  You couldn’t tell it wasn’t Orson himself.

—————————————————

Don LaFontaineDon LaFontaine is the man who coined the movie trailer phrase “In a world…”.  You can’t discuss voice over talents without mentioning Don LaFontaine.  The Godfather of movie trailers.  I never met him, but when I worked for John Candy in LA in the late ‘80’s, early ‘90’s, I knew a lot of people who’d worked with him and they all said he was the nicest guy in the world.

He must have been the SECOND nicest guy in the world, because I worked with THE nicest guy in the world, John Candy.

Even with that incredible voice, Don was a writer, producer and director of movie trailers when at a session, the voice talent didn’t show up.  Don stepped in and never stepped out.  He became THE voice of movie trailers.  He even was featured in a Geico TV commercial.

Don LaFontaine is profiled here….

————————————————————-

Hal DouglasHal Douglas is one of the greatest voice over artists to ever sit in front of a microphone.  Never had the honor to work with him, but just watching and listening to his work, I get shivers.  Here’s his comedic trailer narration for Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedian” movie.

And here’s Hal’s demo reel….

—————————————————————-

VOICE ARTISTS I HAVE WORKED WITH

Ernie_Anderson_(I)Ernie Anderson.  Anyone who grew up watching television in the 1970’s will know Ernie’s voice.  For years, he was the promo announcer for the ABC Television network for many years and voiced promos for such series as “The Looove Boat”, “Fantasy Island” and “Charlie’s Angels”.  Ernie was the voice of multi-award winning AT&T radio commercials (through Chuck Blore’s company) as well as the off-camera announcer for “The Carol Burnett Show” on CBS.  He would appear on camera in the occasional sketch and I remember watching one of the shows and Carol, who always began each show with a question and answer session with the studio audience, pointed to someone sitting in an aisle seat and said “Oh look, there’s Ernie Anderson”.  Ernie got up, took a bow and sat down again.  Kind of cool of Carol to do that.

In Tim Conway’s 2013 book, “What’s So Funny?: My Hilarious Life”  he devotes an entire chapter to Ernie.  Clever title too: “The Importance of being Ernest Anderson”.  Tim and Ernie had worked together in Cleveland television before both moved to the West Coast.  Ernie was the on-camera host and Tim was the producer.  Whenever a guest didn’t show up, Ernie called Tim in, made up some name and title and adlibbed through an interview segment.  I have in my archives, an album on Liberty Records of some of those bits titled “Are We On?”

Are We On

In the studio, Ernie could sometimes be a curmudgeon.  I worked with him many times and his reads were always magnificent, but it sometimes took a bit of psychological manoeuvring to get the right read out of him.  Often you had to let him do an ‘experimental’ read that was like nothing you’ve ever heard before, but once he’d done that and you brought him back to reality, he’d say sarcastically, ‘Oh, you want standard read # 87.  Alright, roll tape.”  My favourite line from Ernie, after a harder-than-usual session was – he got up close to the mic and said “You’re a lousy fucking director Doug.”  Then he laughed and winked at me.  I’ve saved that piece of tape for decades.  It always makes me smile.

Paul Thomas AndersonBy the way, Ernie’s son, Paul Thomas Anderson, is a successful Hollywood director, with movies such as “Boogie Nights”, “Magnolia”, “Punch Drunk Love”, “There Will Be Blood”, “The Master” and last year’s “Inherent Vice” to his credit.

Here’s a PM Magazine profile piece on Ernie Anderson….

And another Ernie Anderson profile….

Ernie even made an appearance on Letterman….

———————————————————————

Alan BlevisAlan Blevis has one of those great, smokey voices that draws you in and never lets you go. It helped that Alan is an actor first, and voice over artist second.  He could make the words on a page sing (in any note you asked him to).  He was the voice of the Democratic Party for many Presidential campaigns.  Other long time clients of Alan’s include CNN and Enterprise Car Rentals (“We’ll even pick you up”).  When Bill McDonald and I had our creative company, That Commercial Place in the mid 1970’s, we used Alan on almost everything for over a year.  Then he moved to New York and became a major voice over star.

Ron MoreyRon Morey is a native Canadian who was gifted with an incredibly deep, rich voice.  He was a DJ in Regina, Saskatchewan and Hamilton, Ontario before landing in Toronto on CKEY.  He later became the promo voice for CHUM and my creative partner Bill McDonald and I hired Ron for as many spots as we could.  I remember one session at Eastern Sound when Ron was new in town.  I’d hired some of the top voice over people for a client’s series of spots, none of whom had ever worked with Ron.  During the read through, Patti Van looked over at Ron after he’d finished the announcer read and said, ‘How many balls do you have?“  It broke everyone up.

Ron’s voice helped Bill and I win many international awards.  Thanks Ron.       

Charlie_Van_DykeCharlie Van Dyke – the ultimate radio imaging voice from the 1970’s.  Charlie was a DJ on legendary stations as KHJ, WRKO, CKLW  Charlie was the imaging voice for 1050 CHUM Toronto for many years.  He’s still voicing IDs and promos for radio and television stations across North America today from his home studio in Scottsdale, Arizona.  Charlie is a dream to work with.  Warren Cosford and I hired him to narrate our radio series, “The Producers” back in the early 1980’s.  We recorded 24 episodes with Charlie, flying him to Toronto to record.  I enjoyed the experience so much, I continued to use Charlie for a number of years for several other nationally syndicated radio specials that I produced.

Henry RamerHenry Ramer was the ultimate professional.  From 1977 until 1983, I was a freelance engineer at Eastern Sound on Yorkville Avenue at Bay Street in the heart of downtown Toronto (the magnificent Four Seasons hotel now rises above that very location).  I recorded Henry over a hundred times for various clients and not once did he ever swear on mic.  I used to save outtakes from all the voice over people who came through my studio, and I do have Henry making a flub or two with various scripts, but the most he would say after screwing up was ‘Lak a dee dee” or some other nonsense words, never an ‘f’ or ‘s’ word came out of his mouth (at least not in the studio).  Henry, who was born in Romania and came to Canada with his family in 1928, was also an experienced actor, having performed at the Stratford Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, done many CBC radio and television programs and appeared in such movies as “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz” and “Screamers”.

earl_mann_with_david_lettermanEarl Mann.  Earl was an all night disc jockey on radio station CKEY in Toronto when I first met him.  What a set of pipes, ay yi yi.  He later moved on to CHFI.  Sports fans will recognize Earl as one of the voices for NFL Films.  He also did a funny series of TV promos for David Letterman’s CBS TV show.  I love working with Earl.  He instinctively knows how to interpret a script and he delivers magnificently every time…many times on the first take.

——————————————————————

There are so many more great voices, both past and present that I dearly love.  Some I’ve worked with and some I haven’t, but I admire their talent greatly.  I’m going to write a follow up blog in the coming months about some of the other legendary voice over artists in our industry.

While I did a lot of character voices while I was producing at CHUM for various commercials and promos.  As well, I did a bunch of voices during the two years we did the “Radio Kandy” radio show in LA with John Candy, but that was just playing.  The people I’ve written about here are the crème de la crème, the toppermost of the poppermost (Beatle fans will understand that one), the best of the best, and so on and so forth.  “In a world…filled with voice over people, they are the very, very best.”

It’s an art.  It really is.  Not everyone can do it.  Our very own blogmeister, Bob Segarini, is an extremely talented voice over artist along with his many other talents.  Maybe he’ll tell a tale of two from his days behind the microphone.

I’d love to read that blog.

(Editor’s Note: Here’s a short one. That’s me at the end, not on the couch with the babe….)

=DT=

Doug’s column appears here every 4th Monday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com.

DBAWIS_ButtonDoug Thompson has spent his entire adult life in broadcasting, both in Canada and the U.S. and has won 152 awards for his work.  He worked with Canadian actor John Candy for 17 years, writing and producing commercials, specials and several weekly radio programs.

Currently, he’s writing and producing the second season of a television program for the Hi Fi channel in Canada called “Hi Fi Salutes”, a series of short biographical documentaries on Canadian musicians, producers and record industry pioneers.  One of those programs recently won a Platinum Award at the World Film Festival in Houston.

3 Responses to “Doug Thompson – “GOODNIGHT, FROM BEAUTIFUL DOWNTOWN BURBANK.””

  1. oh I’ve always wanted to do voice overs … but have only done a few. I DID do Simone de Beauvoir for SEX TV, though .. so .. extra points! 😉

  2. greg simpson Says:

    well THAT was fun…thanks Doug.

  3. Late at night and just tripped over this piece from Doug. Thanks for the kind words Doug. You made us all better. Sad to say we lost Alan Bleviss to cancer. Spent the day with him reminiscing about our early days in NY a few days before he passed. Ronald J Morey

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: