Saturday, April 14, 2007

Stan Freberg and the Mystery of Ronald Long

Not much of a mystery, and a mystery no longer.

Mysteries are only mysteries until they're not.

Here's the story:

Perhaps ten years ago, my friend Eric gave me a framed photograph, the one pictured here.

Eric was once in the habit of giving me odd items he'd found in thrift stores or flea markets as gifts.
Xmas, birthdays, there'd be a black velvet painting of a praying toddler, or a yellow 1970's piggy bank that looked like a pop-art Picasso-esque bull.

"I thought this was cool, but I don't want it in MY place", he'd say. You get the idea.

This photo was baffling, not just to me, but to everyone who saw it.

'Okay, it looks like a publicity shot... but who IS that guy? And why is he regarding what looks like a prune?'
The part that was the most difficult was the feeling of *almost* recognizing this man, and a sense of familiarity, like the origin of the image *should* be obvious, but... was frustrating, and so it went for a long time.

A month or so ago I did a double-take when I thought I saw the actor in an old TV rerun, and so started some preliminary research.
Then out of the blue, a couple weeks back I was trolling aimlessly about the web, minding my own business, and suddenly I stumbled upon this classic 1967 ad for Sunsweet Prunes...

(WARNING: Beware of pop-ups when playing this video!)

Duh. Of course - - and the memory had been out of reach because it'd been so gosh-darn long since seeing the ad on TV.

The actor is Ronald Long. A stage and film performer, but if he seems familiar it's likely because once upon a time he was all over the television as a character actor in sitcoms and dramas.

Basically, name a 1960's TV show and he probably made an appearance on it. Peter Gunn, 77 Sunset Strip, Alfred Hitchcock, Perry Mason, Man From U.N.C.L.E., Wild Wild West, Batman, Lost In Space, Green Acres, I Dream Of Jeannie, Mannix, Mission: Impossible, Ironside, Hogan's Heroes, Hawaii Five-O, Get Smart, Bewitched, Columbo...

So I guess the only part of this mystery that remains is: What's the story behind the publicity photo for Ronald Long in the Sunsweet Prunes ad, and how did there come to be a framed copy of it sitting in a thrift store?

Some things are best left a mystery.

The other voice in the video clip is that of the ad's creator, Stan Freberg.

In the 1950's, at the end of the 'golden age' of radio, Stan had already released several great satirical comedy records when he landed a network show that replaced the Jack Benny Program after it went solely to TV.

Following that short run on radio, he entered the world of advertising and became 'the master of the funny commercial'. For better or worse, much of the approach he helped introduce lingers in the ads we see today.

So speaking of Freberg, just for FUN here's one of my favorite Stan cuts from my favorite Stan LP, and it's one that has often avoided re-issue. Likely because it's satirical qualities are less pointed than some of Freberg's hits, and it relies heavier on some archaic pop-culture references that were topical in the 1950's.

Mostly it sounds like Stan and Billy May's orchestra cutting loose and having fun in the studio...
...It rocks!

Listen to: Stan Freberg - Wide-Screen Mama Blues (click for audio)


Anonymous said...

You talk about a shock. I'm 55 going on 56. We lived in Scotland for two years as a kid. It was a somewhat odd life growing up in our family. In seven moves including going to Scotland and returning I held onto one childhood gift. A puppet that gave us great laughter even to this day as tattered as "Jocko" may be. Because of leaving the U.K. we didn't have relatives here so close friends of my parents who came to the U.S. were adopted as our relatives. "Jocko" was given to me by my "Uncle Ronnie" who my father played along with on the London stage. I have always wanted a picture of him and a recording of this commercial which we would all fall all about the place when we saw. If at all possible please return an e-mail so I might be able to make arrangements if possible to get a re-print of the photo an a copy of the commercial on CD. Talk of suprises...

The In Crowd said...


What a great story! You've made my day.

Of course I'd be happy to help, BUT - -
- - You haven't included an e-mail address.

Leaving a comment does not automatically give me your address. (For many, that's the beauty of such comments) You need to either tell me your address, OR you can find mine in the brown sidebar on the right-hand side of any page on my blog.

Scroll down, just past the 'shinola' image, and you'll find my e-mail link.

PLEASE get in touch with me, and we'll work out arrangements of some sort!

For now, my big question to you is:
Did you stumble onto my Ronald Long post by accident while looking at the blog, or had you arrived by 'googling' Ronald Long? I'm very curious, regarding the extent of your own surprise factor...

I look forward to hearing from you, and I'd love to hear more about your 'Uncle Ronnie' (and/or your father's experiences with him) if you have anything to share.


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