Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top Cat

A little piece of my childhood is gone.

Last Sunday, Arnold Stang, the voice of Top Cat, died at the age of 91.

Arnold Stang was a character actor with a face like an owl and a nasal voice that reminded you of a smart-alec kid on the streets of New York City. He once told people, "I look like a frightened chipmunk who's been out in the rain too long." Although he stood only 5 foot 3 inches and never tipped the scales at much above 100 pounds, Arnold Stang was a very big man.

Arnold Stang was born in Manhattan on September 28, 1918. His father lost his job as a lawyer after the 1929 stock market crash and later became a salesman. When Arnold was still a student at New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn, he wrote a letter to a New York children's radio program called "Let's Pretend" asking for an audition. He got the job! Later he also worked on another radio show called "The Horn and Hardart Children's Hour."

In addition to doing voice work for one of my all-time favorite cartoons, Arnold had a stunning career. I remember hearing him on the Chunky candy commercials in the 1950's saying, "Chunky! What a chunk-a chocolate!" Later on he became the voice of the Honey Nut Cherrios Bee and a spokesman for Vicks Vapo-Rub.

Arnold played a gas station attendant named Ray whose station was destroyed by Jonathan Winters in the 1963 film "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World." In that same film, by the way, a second gas station attendant named Irwin was played by Marvin Kaplan, who did the voice of Choo-Choo on the Top Cat cartoons (he's still with us at age 82).

In 1955, Arnold Stang was Sparrow, Frank Sinatra's friend, in the Otto Preminger film "The Man With The Golden Arm." He also appeared in another Otto Preminger film called "Skidoo" with Jackie Gleason. He worked with Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Hercules in New York" in 1970, and with Walter Matthau in "Dennis the Menace" in 1993 as a photographer. He also appeared in "Hello Down There" in 1969.

As a teenager, he performed in dozens of radio programs, including 1930's and 1940's soap operas, mysteries, and comedies, often playing multiple roles. He played Seymour Fingerhood, the teenage neighbor in "The Goldbergs," a family series set in the Bronx. Later he became a familiar sidekick to stars like Eddie Cantor, Jack Benny, and Milton Berle. He was a regular on "The Henry Morgan Show" doing skits, like a goofy New Yorker named Gerald.

He got involved with television when that medium first began as a regular on a program called The School House on the DuMont network in 1949. He was a regular on a comedy show called Doc Corkle in 1952. From 1953 to 1955 he played Francis, a stagehand who was always pestering Milton Berle on Texaco Star Theater. His was a regular on a 1960's comedy show called "Broadside," and appeared numerous times as a guest star on "Bonanza," "Batman" and "The Cosby Show," where he appeared with Sammy Davis Jr.. He also appeared as a guest several times on The Colgate Comedy Hour.

He acted on Broadway three times, the last being a revival of "The Front Page" in 1969. He was also the voice of many cartoon characters, other than Top Cat. He was Nurtle The Turtle in "Pinocchio in Outer Space" in 1965. He was the voice of Shorty, Popeye's friend. He was Tubby Tompkins in Little Lulu. He was Catsfish on Misterjaw. He also did voices for the Cartoon Network's Courage The Cowardly Dog. He also did the voice of Herman the Mouse in several Famous Studios cartoons.

He married JoAnne Taggart in 1959 and they stayed together for 60 years. Their wedding rings were made by fellow character actor, Wally Cox, who was also a skilled goldsmith. He and his family lived in New Rochelle, New York until very late in life when he relocated to Needham, Massachusetts. He was also blessed with a son David, daughter Deborah, and two grand-daughters.

According to his wife, Arnold Stang loved the cartoons. He liked doing commercials, too. But most of all, he loved radio. It offered him a great span of roles.

His cartoon character, the mischievous Top Cat, was a parody of Phil Silvers, who was the star of the television show "Sergeant Bilko." Here's the opening theme song from that cartoon, which you will sometimes hear on MusicMaster Oldies, performed by the Golden Orchestra and Chorus:

And here's Arnold Stang doing the voice of Herman The Mouse in a very funny cartoon short. Be patient because it may take several seconds for this clip to download before it begins playing on your browser. It's worth the wait!

We're gonna miss you, T.C.!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what a great post about Top Cat.
    Thanks for sharing.

    (not my link, but one I post at)