Tributes went out after legendary announcer/voice actor Gary Owens died on Thursday at age 80. Many have remembered his most famous gig as the announcer for the monumental TV comedy “Laugh-In.” Some younger viewers will also note his voice work as Space Ghost and Powdered Toast Man on “Ren and Stimpy.”
What may go unnoticed, however, is that if it weren’t for him, a cult music legend may have gone forever in obscurity.
As a disc jockey in the early 1960s, Owens recorded a very rare disc based on his radio show with goofy characters possessing funny names. The album was called “Song Festoons” and featured a track by a character named “Phoebe Phestoon.”
Religious music director Fred Bock introduced the woman singing “Slumber Boat” on that album and Gary Owens went to work. As Kliph Nesteroff of the great blog Classic Television Showbiz learned in an interview with the announcing great, Gary Owens created the persona of Mrs. Miller:
…a man named Fred Bock who was a musician; wonderful song writer; dealt mainly in religious music. He and Dick Friesen were friends of mine. The very first album I did was one calledSong-Festoons. I had a character named Earl C. Festoon who was kind of a dottering guy. “Earl C. Festoon here. Hello, Gary. Which way am I facing?” “You’re facing the microphone today, Earl.” “Oh. Hello.” Those kinds of things. Anyway, I did my first album and it was produced by Dick Friesen and Fred Bock. That’s how this all came about.
The album “Mrs. Miller’s Greatest Hits” on Capitol Records was born and Mrs.
Miller became a sensation of sorts in the mid-1960’s, appearing on American Bandstand, The Ed Sullivan Show, Hollywood Palace and repeatedly on The Merv Griffin Show as well as having a prominent role in the hip 60’s musical The Cool Ones. Her name became synonymous with the “worst” in music (even though she eventually went in on the joke, making lots of money in the process) and her albums became the go-to starting point for anyone interested in creating a cult record collection.
So many thanks to Gary Owens for redirecting my record collection!
You can hear an episode of Mediatrocities featuring TyPi and myself recalling Mrs. Miller here.