Satirist Stan Freberg Dies at 88

The legendary humorist Stan Freberg died of pneumonia on Tuesday at a Santa Monica, California hospital on Tuesday, April 7th. He was 88.

Although he described himself as a “guerrilla satirist,” Freberg was a man of many talents. Starting in the 1950s, he wrote and performed hit comedy records such as “St. George and the Dragonet,” a “Dragnet” parody that was a number-one hit for four weeks in October 1953. The B-side, “Little Blue Riding Hood,” contained such salacious lines as “But Grandma, what a big subpoena you have in your pocket / All the better to serve you with, ma’am.” Paul McCartney has cited Freberg as an important influence on the anarchich humor in The Beatles’ work. Perhaps unsurprisingly, “Weird Al” Yankovic has also said he's a fan.

But Freberg’s biggest legacy may be his groundbreaking work in advertising. Advertising Age Magazine credits him as the father of the funny commercial. As Freberg told Jim Fleming in a 2003 interview, “I wondered why advertising had to be so unbearable and boring. Why couldn’t it be as entertaining as anything people ever heard on the radio? Or television?”

Freberg’s successful ad campaigns include a commercial for Sunsweet pitted prunes in which the product is presented as the “food of the future” in a suitably science-fictional setting. (Obviously, this was pre-“Soylent Green.”) At one point, legendary sci-fi author Ray Bradbury appears on a giant television screen and says, “I never mentioned prunes in any of my stories.”

Freberg also pioneered truth in advertising. As he told Fleming, there was a lot of deception going on in the industry, such as the Campbell Soup Company “putting clear glass marbles in the bottom of their bowls of soup so the few scant vegetables would be forced up near the surface so that they could photograph it [and say], ‘Look at this. Chock full of vegetables.’”

But he wasn’t afraid to bite the hand that fed him, as he made clear with his 1958 single, “Green Christmas” (aka “Green Chri$tma$”). The sketch attacks the commercialization of Christmas and refers to seasonal advertising by Coca-Cola and Marlboro cigarettes. The song was widely criticized in advertising trade magazines.

Occasionally Freberg combined his satirical musical interests with his work in advertising. Long before Peyton Manning was heard shouting the phrase, Freberg made a nine-minute long musical called “Omaha!” for Butternut coffee. He also recorded “Try”, based on Johnnie Ray’s 1951 number-one U.S. hit, “Cry.”

Listen below for our full 2003 interview with Stan Freberg.

Stan Freburg

Stan Freberg on Humor in Advertising

Stan Freberg visits Jim Fleming and explains how he got into advertising, and why his commercials always tell the truth.

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