The George Gobel Show
Variety Show 1954 - 1960
Get the Flash Player to see this player.
George Leslie Goebel was born in Chicago in 1919. His parents ran a grocery store. When he was just 13, his mother, Lillian, would bring him regularly to the Eighth Street Theater to witness WLS Radio's pioneering National Barn Dance shows. This country music-based variety show was hugely popular with Chicago city-dwellers as well as the surrounding farmland folk. Having great faith in George's ukulele playing, Lillian soon managed to get him on stage - and so on to the fledgling medium of radio.
George soon gained in confidence as he realized that his talent could match that of regulars such as Gene Autry and Red Foley. Within a year he was a regular performer on the show, billed as Little Georgie Goebel. Having swapped the ukulele for a guitar, he added singing to his repertoire, even taking occasional lead parts.
The relaxed atmosphere of the show suited George and, by the time he was 19, he would introduce some small-talk between songs which would expand into mini comedy routines. By now he was playing at local county fairs and small venues and had cut some records, including four made with Gene Autry playing guitar (who appeared under the pseudonym of Johnny Dodds). He had also landed the part of Jimmy on The Tom Mix Show on radio. So, before hitting 20, George Goebel was already a musician, singer, raconteur and actor! And when he did hit 20 he purchased a light airplane - and learned to fly!
George managed to mix determination and ambition with a self-effacing manner. He also had an ability to get along with a wide variety of folk, whether they were entertainers, cowboys or businessmen. Whenever he came into contact with somebody, he would usually be remembered with affection and respect.
He demonstrated these abilities when, after the marriage to his childhood sweetheart, Alice Humecki, he joined the Army Air Corps. In true show business style, George was sworn in live on WLS radio and served as a B-26 pilot instructor in Oklahoma. During his years of war service (when he never actually left the U.S.), he developed his story-telling patter and was a favorite act in the officer's clubs. His experiences in the forces sharpened his act and especially his wit. He still, however, maintained his laid back, unassuming style which made the delivery of whatever lines he spoke so engrossing. After leaving the Air Corps he became George Gobel (dropping the "e") and played many clubs around the country.
By now George was a minor celebrity - well at least in the Chicago area. In 1953 his stand up routines and all-round talent came to the attention of Harold Koplar, whose father owned The Chase Park Plaza in St. Louis. Harold insisted on booking the best acts in the country, whether they were established household names or new discoveries. It was on one of his talent spotting expeditions - this time to Chicago - that he caught sight of Gobel in the Chez Paris Club. He was sufficiently impressed to sign George up there and then. When he turned up for the agreed spot, Harold had forgotten all about it, but honored the booking anyway. George Gobel was a great success and was booked many more times. At The Chase Park Plaza, George was in the company of the cream of the country's talent. He would never look back from here. George had already landed spots on CBS television's The Garry Moore Show. This pioneering daytime show was another showcase for his talents - and the considerable writing skills of George's pal Bill Dana. When Bill was asked to produce NBC's The Spike Jones Show, he managed to get a spot for George on that show too.
At around this time Pat Weaver had become president of NBC. He was a great visionary who was passionate about producing quality television without undue interference from commercial sponsors. His drive for quality brought about his comedy development plan and writers' development plan. The idea was to develop new talent for television rather than rely on formula imports from radio shows. As well as his appearance on The Spike Jones Show, George Gobel was also booked onto their prime time show The Colgate Comedy Hour for the 1953 end of year show. Pat Weaver now decided it was time to invest in him in a go-for-broke approach. To that end he assembled a talented writing team including James B. Allardice who had written the widely admired play At War with the Army which had been made into the movie that began the Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin partnership. Also in the writing team was Norman Lear. Both these two men and other writers for the show went on to achieve even greater successes in television. They were part of the new writer's development plan. This new blood that flowed into NBC, proved to be very lucrative over subsequent years.
The George Gobel Show usually started with a monologue by George where he would give us an insight into his family life. Not his real family life of course: these were everyday stories that tended to be laced with fantasy. His managed to mix bizarre and surreal images with everyday language, using an understated delivery that matched the understated character that he portrayed. Here he is explaining how he came to be called George Gobel [audio]. His wife, Alice, would often be brought into the monologue. George would portray himself as a downtrodden husband, with Alice wearing the boots. At some stage in the show Alice would appear and the two of them would act out a sketch. Of course, the on-screen Alice had no connection to George's real wife, who was also called Alice.
The show would also feature musical acts and more sketches, often featuring one of the show's guest stars. The long run that The George Gobel Show enjoyed was undoubtedly due to the chemistry between the writers and George. The perfectly tailored lines went hand-in-glove with George's unique delivery. He would often twist sentences around to produce some surreal phrases and images. The humor that emerged comprised of bizarre and almost surreal imagery from his downtrodden life as "Lonesome George" as he came to be known.
Who was Who?
George Gobel was the only performer to appear in all 36 shows. The part of his wife, Alice, was played from 1954 to 1958 by Jeff Donnell and then by Phyllis Avery. Other regular performers included Eddie Fisher and Peggy King (George Gobel always introduced her as "Pretty Perky Peggy King").
Guest spots were filled by, among others, Jack Carson, Fred MacMurray, Angela Lansbury and Peggy Lee.