VORG #39 may-june-july-aug 2003

Gary At The Mic

Virtually every male voice actor wanna-be has said to themselves, “If I only had pipes like his, I could make a fortune.” The pipes they are usually speaking of are the baritone vocal stylings of the incomparable Gary Owens.

His honors are too numerous to mention, but include induction into the National Broadcasters Hall Of Fame and the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995. Gary’s star is on the world famous Walk of Fame next to Walt Disney’s on Hollywood Blvd. A recent TV Land poll selected Gary as their favorite TV announcer with more than 59% of the national vote. Gary was Vice-President for both Golden West Broadcasters and Gannett Corporation, at the time, the world’s largest media company.

The VORG sat down with the Mitchell, South Dakota native to talk about his incredibly successful career, making money with his voice. Gary, who started his career at age 16, points out that there are about ten people who grew up in or near his hometown, all of whom went into TV or radio, including The Price Is Right’s Bob Barker, NBC’s Tom Brokaw and Entertainment Tonight’s Mary Hart. Gary is probably best remembered for making “Beautiful Downtown Burbank” nearly as famous as Hollywood in his role on the hit 60’s NBC-TV series Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In “Which had 40 million people laughing every Monday night for six seasons…and that was a long time”. He has appeared on over 30,000 commercials and promos, for all the major networks, plus featured with one of his patented cartoon voices in over 3,000 animation episodes. He is still one of the busiest voice-actors in Hollywood. His narration of Ray Harryhausen’s “The Tortoise and the Hare” just won the best short subject award at the “Annies!” “I’ve done 15 series, either as the announcer, a regular or host,” including Bewitched, The Wonderful World Of Disney, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In, The Pat Boone Show, Letters to Laugh In, The Hudson Brothers Show, The Gong Show, Wacko, Breakaway, The Half Hour Comedy Hour, Games People Play, America’s Funniest Videos, That 70’s Show, The Green Hornet & The Rosie O’Donnell Show. From the very beginning in 1969, Gary was a regular voice on the Emmy and Peabody award winning series Sesame Street. For 15 years he announced The American Comedy Awards and has hosted the Grammy’s and announced the Emmy’s on several occasions.

Owens describes his voice today as “a cross between the newscasters and announcers of the sixties,” and is one of the elite people in the business who has successfully made the cross-over from radio personality to voice actor. Gary told us that in the 60’s they used to refer to disc jockey’s voices as the “puker” voices. The producers would say things like, “Oh, we can’t use him…he’s got a puker voice.” Owens says that although disc jockeys may have a “smooth” voice, it’s usually accompanied by a “geeky” sound. “It’s not what a person usually sounds like.” Gary turned that stigma around to become a “signature trademark” and took his incredible gift to Hollywood. During his years as the #1 rated afternoon radio personality on Gene Autry owned 710 KMPC, Gary honed his voice-acting skills doing LIVE spots for tens of thousands of local and national sponsors. It was these LIVE endorsements (bringing the station millions of dollars every year) that got the attention of advertising agencies and their clients, TV Networks and film producers. We asked Gary if he had ever been in a session where the script direction said, “Gary Owens-Type Character”. “Oh, yes about once a week!...and sometimes I don’t win the job. I’ve even asked producers why they don’t just hire Gary Owens.” Gary has also been the voice of most of the superheroes we all grew up with, from Captain Squash to Batman Blue Falcon, Powdered Toast Man (a big hero on Ren & Stimpy), Roger Ramjet and countless others. One of his most memorable characters, which is still airing today, is that of the original Space Ghost. One of his favorites is Badly Animated Man, who Gary describes as “not drawn too well and could fly straight up over a building and straight down, but that was all.” Gary has had the distinction of working with virtually everyone in the voice-over world and is widely-known as not only a true professional but universally one of the nicest guys in the business. He has lent his voice to thousands of charities and public service announcements and has helped hundreds of people get their start in show business. Gary gave us his take on the proliferation of film and TV actors making their way behind the microphone. “Well now, the money is such that Gene Hackman can make a million dollars on a series of spots, Donald Sutherland the same thing. Taking nothing away from their talent, it is a coo for the owner of a company to say, Hey Marge, that guy we got to voice our commercials is coming over for dinner. (And that guy happens to be Gene Hackman.) So fame can play an equal part in who gets a particular job.” Owens says that some of his biggest voice-actor influences included Orson Welles, John Carradine, Ken Nordine, Hugh Douglas (Suspense) and Reed Hadley. Gary is also quick to credit his representation for helping him to keep busy. “What you need is somebody who will sell your particular talent. I go in for certain types of reads. I’m not gonna play a fifteen year old kid. Although I have and I beat him 96-94 in overtime.”

As for how the voice-over business has changed in the last ten or fifteen years? “Well, I think it has become more serious. We used to just have fun doing the thing and if the session lasted two hours, nobody cared. Now it’s get in and out as quickly as you can.”

In addition to the many commercials, on-air promos and movie trailers now running, you can currently hear Gary on his nationally-syndicated radio show on the Music Of Your Life Network, in Los Angeles on KLAC 570AM. He is working on his second comedy CD with his close friend Jonathan Winters and is finishing his new autobiography and VO book “How To Make Money With Your Voice”, which is scheduled to hit shelves this Christmas. Gary Owens had some final advice for all those hoping to make money with their voice… “A man never stands so tall, until he walks a mile with a squirrel in his pants!”