Harry von Zell

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Harry von Zell
Harry von Zell in 1940
Harry Rudolph von Zell

(1906-07-11)July 11, 1906
DiedNovember 21, 1981(1981-11-21) (aged 75)
Alma mater University of California, Los Angeles
OccupationRadio announcer, film and television actor
Years active1929–1975
Spouse(s)Minerva McGarvey (married 1925–1981)

Harry Rudolph von Zell (July 11, 1906 November 21, 1981) was an American announcer of radio programs, and an actor in films and television shows. He is best remembered for his work on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show , and for once mispronouncing President Herbert Hoover's name on the air, a slip that was exaggerated on a later comedy record album.

<i>The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show</i> American television series 1950-1958

The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, sometimes called The Burns and Allen Show, is a half-hour television series broadcast from 1950 to 1958 on CBS. It stars George Burns and Gracie Allen, one of the most enduring acts in entertainment history. Burns and Allen were headliners in vaudeville in the 1920s, and radio stars in the 1930s and 1940s. Their situation comedy TV series received Emmy Award nominations throughout its eight-year run.

Herbert Hoover 31st president of the United States

Herbert Clark Hoover was an American engineer, businessman, and politician who served as the 31st president of the United States from 1929 to 1933. A member of the Republican Party, he held office during the onset of the Great Depression. Prior to serving as president, Hoover led the Commission for Relief in Belgium, served as the director of the U.S. Food Administration, and served as the 3rd U.S. Secretary of Commerce.


Life and career

Early years

Harry von Zell was born July 11, 1906, in Indianapolis, Indiana, where his father was a sports reporter. The family moved to Sioux City, Iowa, where von Zell graduated from high school. [1] Later, the family moved to California, where he studied music and drama at the University of California, Los Angeles, and worked at a variety of jobs. After friends tricked him into singing on a radio program, he began receiving offers from radio stations, and his career in that medium began.

Sioux City, Iowa City in Iowa, United States

Sioux City is a city in Woodbury and Plymouth counties in the northwestern part of the U.S. state of Iowa. The population was 82,684 in the 2010 census, which makes it the fourth largest city in Iowa. The bulk of the city is in Woodbury County, of which it is the county seat, though a small portion is in Plymouth County. Sioux City is located at the navigational head of the Missouri River. The city is home to several cultural points of interest including the Sioux City Public Museum, Sioux City Art Center and Sergeant Floyd Monument, which is a National Historic Landmark. The city is also home to Chris Larsen Park, commonly referred to as “the Riverfront,” includes the Anderson Dance Pavilion, Sergeant Floyd Riverboat Museum and Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Sioux City is the primary city of the five-county Sioux City, IA–NE–SD Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), with a population of 168,825 in 2010 and a slight increase to an estimated 169,405 in 2018. The Sioux City–Vermillion, IA–NE–SD Combined Statistical Area had a population of 182,675 as of 2010 but has decreased to an estimated population of 178,448 as of 2018.

California State of the United States of America

California is a state in the Pacific Region of the United States. With 39.6 million residents, California is the most populous U.S. state and the third-largest by area. The state capital is Sacramento. The Greater Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area are the nation's second- and fifth-most populous urban regions, with 18.7 million and 9.7 million residents respectively. Los Angeles is California's most populous city, and the country's second-most populous, after New York City. California also has the nation's most populous county, Los Angeles County, and its largest county by area, San Bernardino County. The City and County of San Francisco is both the country's second-most densely populated major city after New York City and the fifth-most densely populated county, behind only four of the five New York City boroughs.

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The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), is a public research university in Los Angeles. It became the Southern Branch of the University of California in 1919, making it the fourth-oldest of the 10-campus University of California system. It offers 337 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in a wide range of disciplines. UCLA enrolls about 31,000 undergraduate and 13,000 graduate students and had 119,000 applicants for Fall 2016, including transfer applicants, making the school the most applied-to of any American university.


Von Zell broke into show business as a singer and announcer at radio station KMIC in Inglewood, California, in the mid-1920s. In late 1926, von Zell sang on the "Times de Luxe Program" on KHJ in Los Angeles [2] , and was eventually employed as the manager of KMTR Los Angeles, [3] , moving to KGB San Diego in January 1929. [4] Auditioning for Paul Whiteman's radio show later that year, he was chosen from a field of 250 announcers. [1] When that series came to an end in 1930, he headed for New York and became a CBS staff announcer, working with Fred Allen, Phil Baker, Eddy Duchin and Ed Wynn. He also announced for The Aldrich Family , The Amazing Mr. Smith, [5] and The March of Time . During the 1920s and 1930s, von Zell served as announcer on some 20 shows a week. [1]

KEIB Talk radio station in Los Angeles

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Paul Whiteman American jazz musician and radio personality

Paul Samuel Whiteman was an American bandleader, composer, orchestral director, and violist.

His longest-running radio partnership was his nine seasons with veteran comedian Eddie Cantor. From October, 1940 to June, 1949 von Zell served as Cantor's commercial spokesperson and straight man. Then, as Cantor cast member Dinah Shore's solo career began to blossom, she brought von Zell in as announcer on her Birds Eye Open House program.

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As a young announcer, von Zell made a memorable verbal slip in 1931 when he referred to U.S. President Herbert Hoover as "Hoobert Heever" during a live tribute on Hoover's birthday. Hoover was not present at this tribute. Von Zell's blooper came at the end of a lengthy summation of Hoover's career, during which von Zell had pronounced the President's name correctly several times. [6] Some mistakenly believe Hoover was present when the incident occurred, because of a re-enactment fabricated by Kermit Schaefer for his Pardon My Blooper record album, a number of years later.


Von Zell was the vocalist for the first recording session of Charlie Barnet's musical career. A session on October 9, 1933 has von Zell singing, "I Want You, I Need You" (which was remade on October 25, 1933), as well as "What Is Sweeter (Than the Sweetness of 'I Love You')?".

Charlie Barnet American saxophonist, composer, bandleader

Charles Daly Barnet was an American jazz saxophonist, composer, and bandleader.

In 1941 von Zell sang on NBC's popular "jam session" program The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street . He and three other staff announcers became an impromptu barbershop quartet, with von Zell offering commentary in a florid, Victorian style.

Radio comedy

As an actor, von Zell appeared on the Joan Davis radio series as the love interest of the character played by Verna Felton. When he entered a room, Felton would often shout excitedly, "Why, Mr. von Zellllllllllll!" After this, von Zell headlined his own short-lived radio program, The Smiths of Hollywood, which featured Arthur Treacher and Jan Ford (who would later become Howard Hughes' paramour under the name Terry Moore).


As a film actor, von Zell appeared in at least 28 features and in his own series of slapstick comedy shorts for Columbia Pictures (1946–50). His film debut came in 1943, when he provided the offscreen narration for four entries in the Flicker Flashbacks series of silent-film satires. His face was first seen on screen in feature films of 1945. [7] His movies included The Saxon Charm , Dear Wife , Son of Paleface , Two Flags West , USS Teakettle, and For Heaven's Sake . [1]


Von Zell worked in the early days of television, in 1931 describing boxing matches on experimental television boxing broadcasts. [8] Nearly 20 years later, the exposure von Zell received from the Columbia comedies led to his being hired for television shows as the medium began to reach a mass audience. In early 1950, he had his first major television exposure as announcer and spokesman for Pabst Blue Ribbon beer on Jackie Gleason's The Life of Riley . In September 1951, at the beginning of the second television season of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show , he replaced the first season's announcer Bill Goodwin, who had also announced for the Burns & Allen radio show for many years. Appearing under his own name (as Goodwin had), Harry von Zell continued to play the befuddled friend of the Burns family, and the show-within-a-show's announcer, until 1958, the year of Gracie Allen's retirement and the series' conclusion. Von Zell also appeared in an episode of McHale's Navy as Admiral Parker, the uncle of Tim Conway's character Ensign Parker.

During the 1958-59 television season, von Zell continued working with George Burns on his short-lived 25-week NBC sitcom, The George Burns Show . That same year he wrote the teleplays for four episodes of NBC's Wagon Train , appearing in one of them. In 1959 he joined comedian George Gobel, announcing for his single-season half-hour program on CBS.

He appeared in the Perry Mason episodes "The Case of the Ancient Romeo" (1962), and as the murderer Sidney Hawes in "The Case of the Libelous Locket" (1963). He was also cast in an episode of NBC's western series, The Tall Man . During 1960 and 1961 von Zell appeared in five episodes of the television series Bachelor Father as Frank Curtis, a good friend of Bentley Gregg (played by John Forsythe).

Von Zell delivered the commentary on Celebrity Golf, a series of half-hour, nine-hole golf matches made in 1960 with Sam Snead taking on such Hollywood celebrities as Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope at Los Angeles golf courses such as Woodland Hills and Lakeside Country Club. Those matches were rerun in recent years on the Golf Channel. In his later years von Zell was a commercial spokesman for Los Angeles-based savings and loan association Home Savings of America. In 1976 he was one of the many leading radio announcers who participated in a television special, The Good Old Days of Radio. He also appeared on an episode of Ellery Queen in 1975.


Von Zell died of cancer November 21, 1981, aged 75, at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital [1] in Woodland Hills, California.

Radio credits

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "Longtime Entertainer Harry Von Zell Dies". Santa Cruz Sentinel . November 23, 1981. p. 22. Retrieved May 22, 2015 via Newspapers.com. Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg
  2. Los Angeles Times , Nov. 9, Nov. 16, 1926[ full citation needed ]
  3. Variety , June 25, 1930[ full citation needed ]
  4. Los Angeles Times, Jan. 20, 1929[ full citation needed ]
  5. Dunning, John. (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0-19-507678-3. P. 21, 24.
  6. "Harry von Zell and Hoobert Heever". Snopes. Archived from the original on 5 October 2013. Retrieved 11 July 2017.
  7. "Harry Von Zell Makes Movie Debut—At Last". The Lincoln Star . August 12, 1945. p. 32. Retrieved May 23, 2015 via Newspapers.com. Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg
  8. Radio Dial Log in The New York Sun dated August 20, 1931
  9. Kirby, Walter (March 23, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review . p. 44. Retrieved May 21, 2015 via Newspapers.com. Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg