George Gobel

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George Gobel
George Gobel photo.jpg
Gobel c. 1954
George Leslie Goebel

(1919-05-20)May 20, 1919
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
DiedFebruary 24, 1991(1991-02-24) (aged 71)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
OccupationSinger, actor and comedian
Years active1940s–1988
Alice Gobel
(m. 1942)

George Leslie Goebel (May 20, 1919 – February 24, 1991) was an American humorist, actor, and comedian. [1] He was best known as the star of his own weekly comedy variety television series, The George Gobel Show, broadcasting from 1954 to 1959 on NBC, and on CBS from 1959 to 1960, [2] (alternating in its final season with The Jack Benny Program ). He was also a familiar panelist on the NBC game show Hollywood Squares .

<i>The Jack Benny Program</i> radio-TV comedy series

The Jack Benny Program, starring Jack Benny, is a radio-TV comedy series that ran for more than three decades and is generally regarded as a high-water mark in 20th-century American comedy.

NBC American television and radio network

The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) is an American English-language commercial terrestrial television network that is a flagship property of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast. The network is headquartered at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, with additional major offices near Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia. The network is one of the Big Three television networks. NBC is sometimes referred to as the "Peacock Network", in reference to its stylized peacock logo, introduced in 1956 to promote the company's innovations in early color broadcasting. It became the network's official emblem in 1979.

<i>Hollywood Squares</i> television series

Hollywood Squares is an American game show in which two contestants play tic-tac-toe to win cash and prizes. The show piloted on NBC in 1965, and the regular series debuted in 1966 on the same network. The board for the game is a 3 × 3 vertical stack of open-faced cubes, each occupied by a celebrity seated at a desk and facing the contestants. The stars are asked questions by the host, and the contestants judge the truth of their answers to gain squares in the right pattern to win the game.


Early years

He was born George Leslie Goebel in Chicago, Illinois, in 1919. [3] His father, Hermann Goebel, who was then working as a butcher and grocer, had emigrated to the United States in the 1890s with his parents from the Austrian Empire. [4] His mother, Lillian (MacDonald) Goebel, was a native of Illinois, as was her mother, while Lillian's father, a tugboat captain, had immigrated from Scotland. [4]

Chicago City in Illinois, United States

{{Infobox settlement | name = Chicago, Illinois | settlement_type = City | image_skyline = Chicago montage1.jpg | imagesize = 300px | image_caption = Clockwise from top: Downtown, the Chicago Theatre, the 'L', Navy Pier, the Pritzker Pavilion, the Field Museum, and Willis Tower | image_flag = Flag of Chicago, Illinois.svg | image_seal = Seal of Chicago, Illinois.svg | nicknames = Windy City, Chi-Town, City of Big Shoulders, Second City, My Kind of Town
(for more, see full list) | motto = Latin: Urbs in Horto, I Will | image_map = | mapsize = 260px | map_caption = Interactive map outlining Chicago | pushpin_map = Illinois#USA#North America | pushpin_relief = 1 | pushpin_map_caption = Location within Illinois##Location within the United States##Location within North America | coordinates = 41°50′13″N87°41′05″W | coordinates_footnotes = | subdivision_type = Country | subdivision_name =  United States | subdivision_type1 = State | subdivision_type2 = Counties | subdivision_name1 =  Illinois | subdivision_name2 = Cook, DuPage | established_title = Settled | established_date = circa 1780 | established_title2 = Incorporated (town) | established_date2 = August 12, 1833 | established_title3 = Incorporated (city) | established_date3 = March 4, 1837 | founder = Jean Baptiste Point du Sable | named_for = Miami-Illinois: shikaakwa
(wild onion or wild garlic) | government_type = Mayor–council | governing_body = Chicago City Council | leader_title = Mayor | leader_name = Rahm Emanuel (D) | leader_title1 = City Clerk | leader_name1 = Anna Valencia (D) | unit_pref = Imperial | area_footnotes = | area_magnitude = | area_total_km2 = 606 | area_total_sq_mi = 234.14 | area_land_km2 = 588 | area_land_sq_mi = 227.34 | area_water_km2 = 17.62 | area_water_sq_mi = 6.80 | area_water_percent = 3.0 | area_urban_km2 = 5,496 | area_urban_sq_mi = 2,122 | area_metro_km2 = | area_metro_sq_mi = 10,874 | elevation_footnotes = (mean) | elevation_m = | elevation_ft = 594 | elevation_min_m = | elevation_min_ft = 578 | elevation_max_footnotes =
– near Blue Island | elevation_min_footnotes =
– at Lake Michigan | population_total = 2,695,598 | population_as_of = 2010 | population_footnotes = | population_density_km2 = 4,593.95 | population_density_sq_mi = 11,898 | population_est = 2,716,450 | pop_est_as_of = 2017 | pop_est_footnotes = | population_urban = 8,667,303 | population_metro = 9,533,040 (3rd) | population_rank = 3rd, U.S. | population_blank1_title = CSA | population_blank1 = 9,901,711 | population_demonym = Chicagoan | population_note = | postal_code_type = ZIP Code Prefixes | postal_code = 606xx, 607xx, 608xx | area_code = 312/872 and 773/872 | area_code_type = Area codes | website = | footnotes = | etymology = Miami-Illinois: shikaakwa
Potawatomi: Gaa-zhigaagwanzhikaag | pushpin_label = Chicago | leader_title2 = City Treasurer | leader_name2 = Kurt Summers Jr. (D) | elevation_max_m = | elevation_max_ft = 672 | timezone = Central | utc_offset = −06:00 | timezone_DST = Central | utc_offset_DST = −05:00 | blank_name = FIPS code | blank_info = 17-14000 | blank1_name = GNIS feature ID | blank1_info = 0428803 | blank_name_sec2 = Major Airports | blank_info_sec2 =

Austrian Empire monarchy in Central Europe between 1804 and 1867

The Austrian Empire was a Central European multinational great power from 1804 to 1867, created by proclamation out of the realms of the Habsburgs. During its existence, it was the third most populous empire after the Russian Empire and the United Kingdom in Europe. Along with Prussia, it was one of the two major powers of the German Confederation. Geographically, it was the third largest empire in Europe after the Russian Empire and the First French Empire. Proclaimed in response to the First French Empire, it partially overlapped with the Holy Roman Empire until the latter's dissolution in 1806.

Scotland Country in Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Sharing a border with England to the southeast, Scotland is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, by the North Sea to the northeast and by the Irish Sea to the south. In addition to the mainland, situated on the northern third of the island of Great Britain, Scotland has over 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.

Following his graduation from Theodore Roosevelt High School in Chicago in 1937, [5] [6] Gobel initially pursued an entertainment career as a country music singer, performing on the National Barn Dance on WLS radio and later on KMOX in St. Louis. [7] During World War II, he enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces and served as a flight instructor in AT-9 aircraft at Altus, Oklahoma, and later in B-26 Marauder bombers at Frederick, Oklahoma. He resumed his career as an entertainer after the war, although he decided to focus predominantly on comedy rather than just singing. Much later, in a 1969 appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson , Gobel joked about his stateside wartime service: "There was not one Japanese aircraft that got past Tulsa."

Country music, also known as country and western, and hillbilly music, is a genre of popular music that originated in the southern United States in the early 1920s. It takes its roots from genres such as folk music and blues.

<i>National Barn Dance</i> American radio program

National Barn Dance, broadcast by WLS-AM in Chicago, Illinois starting in 1924, was one of the first American country music radio programs and a direct precursor of the Grand Ole Opry.

WLS (AM) clear-channel news/talk radio station in Chicago

WLS is a commercial AM radio station in Chicago, Illinois. Owned by Cumulus Media, through licensee Radio License Holdings LLC, the station airs a talk radio format. WLS has its studios in the NBC Tower on North Columbus Drive in the city's Streeterville neighborhood, and its non-directional broadcast tower is located on the southern edge of Tinley Park, Illinois.


Gobel debuted his comedy series on NBC on October 2, 1954. [8] It showcased his quiet, homespun style of humor, a low-key alternative to what audiences had seen on Milton Berle's shows. A huge success, the popular series made the crew-cut Gobel one of the biggest comedy stars of the 1950s. The weekly show featured vocalist Peggy King and actress Jeff Donnell (semi-regularly) as well as numerous guest artists, including such stars as Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Fred MacMurray Kirk Douglas and Tennessee Ernie Ford. In 1955, Gobel won an Emmy Award for "most outstanding new personality." [9]

Milton Berle American comedian and actor

Milton Berle was an American comedian and actor. Berle's career as an entertainer spanned over 80 years, first in silent films and on stage as a child actor, then in radio, movies and television. As the host of NBC's Texaco Star Theater (1948–55), he was the first major American television star and was known to millions of viewers as "Uncle Miltie" and "Mr. Television" during TV's golden age.

Crew cut

A crew cut is a type of haircut in which the upright hair on the top of the head is cut relatively short, graduated in length from the longest hair that forms a short pomp (pompadour) at the front hairline to the shortest at the back of the crown so that in side profile, the outline of the top hair approaches the horizontal. Relative to the front view, and to varying degrees, the outline of the top hair can be arched or flattened at the short pomp front and rounded or flattened over the rest of the top to complement the front hairline, head shape, face shape and facial features. The hair on the sides and back of the head is usually tapered short, semi-short, or medium.

Peggy King American singer

Peggy King is a jazz and pop vocalist and former TV personality. She got her start with the bands of Charlie Spivak, Ralph Flanagan and Ray Anthony and was featured on an early TV series with Mel Tormé.

On October 24, 1954, Gobel did a twelve-minute spot on Light's Diamond Jubilee , a two-hour TV special broadcast on all four US television networks of the time.

Light's Diamond Jubilee (1954) is a two-hour TV special that aired on October 24, 1954, on all four U.S. television networks of the time, DuMont, CBS, NBC, and ABC. The special won a Primetime Emmy Award for Victor Young for Best Music for a Variety or Dramatic series.

Gobel and his business manager David P. O'Malley [10] formed a production company, Gomalco, a composite of their last names, Gobel and O'Malley. This company also produced the first four years (1957–61) of the 1957–63 television series Leave It to Beaver .

<i>Leave It to Beaver</i> American sitcom from the 1950s and 60s

Leave It to Beaver is a late 1950s black-and-white American television sitcom about an inquisitive and often naïve boy, Theodore "The Beaver" Cleaver, and his adventures at home, in school, and around his suburban neighborhood. The show also starred Barbara Billingsley and Hugh Beaumont as Beaver's parents, June and Ward Cleaver, and Tony Dow as Beaver's brother Wally. The show has attained an iconic status in the United States, with the Cleavers exemplifying the idealized suburban family of the mid-20th century.

Hoagy Carmichael and George Gobel in 1954 Hoagy Carmichael George Gobel 1954.JPG
Hoagy Carmichael and George Gobel in 1954

The centerpiece of Gobel's comedy show was his monologue about his supposed past situations and experiences, with stories and sketches allegedly about his real-life wife, Alice (nicknamed "Spooky Old Alice"), played by actress Jeff Donnell (for the first four years of the series' run). Gobel's hesitant, almost shy delivery and penchant for tangled digressions were the chief sources of comedy, more important than the actual content of the stories. His monologues popularized several catchphrases, notably "Well, I'll be a dirty bird" (spoken by the Kathy Bates character in the 1990 film Misery ), "You can't hardly get them like that no more" and "Well then there now" (spoken by James Dean during a brief imitation of Gobel in the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause and as part of the closing lyric in Perry Como's 1956 hit record "Juke Box Baby").

Gobel's show used some of television's top writers of the era: Hal Kanter, Jack Brooks and Norman Lear. Peggy King was a regular on the series as a vocalist, and the guest stars ranged from Shirley MacLaine and Evelyn Rudie to Bob Feller, Phyllis Avery and Vampira.

Gobel labeled himself "Lonesome George," and the nickname stuck for the rest of his career. The TV show sometimes included a segment in which Gobel appeared with a guitar, started to sing, then got sidetracked into a story, with the song always left unfinished after fitful starts and stops, a comedy approach (akin to one used by Victor Borge) that prefigured the Smothers Brothers. He had a special version of the Gibson L-5 archtop guitar constructed featuring diminished dimensions of neck scale and body depth, befitting his own smaller stature. Several dozen of this "L-5CT" or "George Gobel" model were produced in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He also played the harmonica.

In 1957, three U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bombers made the first nonstop round-the-world flight by turbojet aircraft. One of the bombers was called "Lonesome George." The crew later appeared on Gobel's primetime television show and recounted the mission, which took them 45 hours and 19 minutes. Lonesome George, the non-breeding Galapagos tortoise that was the last of its subspecies and that died in June 2012, was also named after Gobel.

From 1958 to 1961, Gobel appeared in Las Vegas at the El Rancho Vegas and in Reno at the Mapes Hotel. In 1961, Gobel starred (with Sam Levene, Barbara Nichols, and Paula Stewart) in a Broadway musical called Let It Ride , with a score by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. Critics compared the show unfavorably to How to Succeed in Business ... and it closed after only a couple of months in New York. He continued to work club dates and performed in many of the Playboy Club properties.[ citation needed ]

TV guest appearances

Gobel was a guest on various TV programs, including The Dean Martin Show ; The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford ; The Bing Crosby Show ; The Dinah Shore Show ; Death Valley Days ; Wagon Train ; and Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show. An episode of My Three Sons starring Fred MacMurray in December, 1960 was titled "Lonesome George", in which Gobel played himself on the episode. He appeared on F Troop as Henry Terkel in the 1966 episode: "Go for Broke."

In an often-replayed segment from a 1969 episode of The Tonight Show, Gobel followed Bob Hope and Dean Martin, walking onstage with a plastic cup with an unidentified drink. Gobel ribbed Carson about coming on last and having to follow major stars Hope and Martin. He quipped to Carson, "Did you ever get the feeling that the world was a black tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes?", to which Carson, Hope, Martin, and the audience came unglued with laughter. After the laughter died down, Carson asked Gobel about his career in World War II as a fighter pilot. Gobel feigned bewilderment at why people laugh when he says that he spent the war in Oklahoma, pointing out with mock pride that no Japanese plane ever got past Tulsa deep in the center of the continental US. Gobel also began to get some unexpected laughs, being unaware that Dean Martin had begun flicking his cigarette ashes into Gobel's drink. Observing all of this, Carson finally asked rhetorically, "Exactly what time did I lose control of the show?!"

Gobel had employed the tuxedo joke at least once before, on the June 22, 1957 episode of his show. The comedian complained that the TV director and crew treated him: " if they were a tuxedo and I was a pair of brown shoes." On that occasion, the gag received a respectable, but not overwhelming, response.

In the 1970s, Gobel was a regular panelist on the television game show Hollywood Squares hosted by Peter Marshall. He was also the voice of Father Mouse in the 1974 Christmas special Twas the Night Before Christmas , and sang the song Give Your Heart a Try in that production. He also made a guest appearance on Hee Haw in 1976. In the early 1980s Gobel played Otis Harper, Jr., the mayor of Harper Valley in the television series based on the film Harper Valley PTA .


When ratings soared on The George Gobel Show (rated in the top ten of 1954–55), Paramount promoted Gobel as their new comedy star, casting him as the lead in The Birds and the Bees (1956, filmed over the summer of '55), a remake of The Lady Eve (1941) featuring David Niven playing a third-billed supporting role under Gobel and leading lady Mitzi Gaynor.

However, Gobel's TV success did not translate to the big screen. The film performed so poorly at the box office that release was delayed on his second movie, I Married a Woman , filmed in 1956 by RKO Radio but not released until 1958. Although scripted by Goodman Ace, it also resulted in disappointing ticket sales, and Gobel's career as a Paramount movie star came to an abrupt end. He settled into a succession of TV guest star appearances and did not return to movie screens until two decades later, as a character actor in Joan Rivers' Rabbit Test (1978), followed by The Day It Came to Earth (1979) and Ellie (1984). He appeared in nine TV movies during the 1970s and 1980s.

Gobel was considered for the voice of Winnie-the-Pooh by Walt Disney, but turned it down after reading the books and finding Pooh to be "an awful bore." [11]


George Gobel died in 1991, shortly after undergoing heart surgery. He was survived by his wife Alice and three children. He is interred in the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, Los Angeles, California.


  1. Obituary Variety , March 4, 1991.
  3. TCM Overview, the only child of Hermann and Lillian (MacDonald) Goebel.
  4. 1 2 "The Fourteenth Census of the United States: Population—1920", digital image of original census enumeration page, January 7–8, 1920; Chicago City (Ward 27), Cook County, Illinois. United States Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Washington, D.C. FamilySearch, online genealogical database provided as a public service by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah. Retrieved June 6, 2017.
  5. "Roosevelt at a glance". Chicago Sun-Times. June 15, 1994. 95
  6. CPS Alumni-Journalists & Media Personalities-George Gobel
  7. For Gobel, KMOX Was A Step On The Ladder, St. Louis Media History Foundation, retrieved 2013-10-04
  8. The George Gobel Show (TV series 1954–1960)
  9. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shoes, 1946–Present. Ballantine Books. 2003. p. 1412. ISBN   0-345-45542-8.
  10. Movie director, producer, writer
  11. Jim Hill: From the Archives – April 3, 2001

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