Tuesday 22 December 2009

Arnold Stang, Top Cat, Dead

I should pass on word via the AP wire that the very funny Arnold Stang has passed away at age 91.

This blog deals in old Hanna-Barbera cartoons, but that’s not the only place where Stang made his mark. Not by a long shot.HERE is great interview he did on an Old Time Radio show about his career on the air in the ‘40s. Stang-ophile Kliph tells you about his career and stuff you may not have known HERE.

Mark Evanier is a great fan of both Kaplan and Stang from It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. He worked with Arnold. Click HERE for Mark’s story.

Stang’s first job in animation was at the Famous (later Paramount) Studio in New York, where he did the bulk of his radio work. His first job at Hanna-Barbera in 1961, not only as Top Cat but as a wolf in the 1961 Loopy De Loop cartoon Kooky Loopy. But there was a cartoon role that Stang didn’t get in 1962. Comic strip artist Mort Walker told Jason Whiton in his autobiographical Conversations:

They [Paramount] wanted to get Arnold Stang to do the voice of Beetle Bailey. And I said Arnold Stang is Brooklyn, Beetle Bailey is Tom Sawyer. He’s got a soft drawl. So they didn’t hire Arnold Stang, but they hired Howard Morris. And Howard Morris did an imitation of Arnold Stang!

Stang may have been Herman the Mouse for Famous Studios and Top Cat for Hanna-Barbera, but he'll be tops to me from his work with Henry Morgan starting in 1946 and then with Milton Berle on radio and later television. As an actor, he was just about perfect. His voice was perfect for radio—distinctive with marvellous inflections. The same applies for cartoon voice-over work. And for children’s records, too; who doesn’t remember Stang in “Shloimy the Subway Train” and “The Happy Hippo” (1953), spinning on a Coral 78? His face was perfect for television—an instant, unforgettable character the moment you laid eyes on him. In the 1940’s Stang described himself as “a scared chipmunk who forgot to come out of the rain.”

As you know, cartoon actors in the Golden Age of Television came from radio. Stang was among them. So it shouldn’t be surprising that two future Hanna-Barbera stars who didn’t work together on cartoons worked together in radio, even though Stang spent much of his career in the east. He was 23 and had graduated from children’s shows to playing the teenaged Seymour in The Goldbergs by late 1940 when this story appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of October 26, 1941:

Put Arnold Stang down as the radio best bet of the year . . . kid was discovered by Director Don Bernard when Bernard hired him to do the commercial on CBS’s Meet Mr. Meek program. In a voice cracking between soprano and bass, Arnold wowed the Meek cast with his reading.
When Bernard decided such a comedy reading would hurt the Meek commercial, he substituted another youngster and ordered Meek scriptwriters to think up a role for Arnold. Stang becomes a permanent member of the Meek program on Oct. 29.

Mr. Meek had a top cast including a chap named Teddy Bergman, who preferred the stage name that you know him as—Alan Reed.

If you ever wonder what Stang thought about not being a big TV star, say in the Uncle Miltie category, he told the Ottawa Citizen in a 1955 interview:

“The work is wonderful...It’s creative and interesting and the pay is fine. I always have plenty of time for my wife and kids and once a week I get together with Hal March for a card game and bull session.
“But the poor top bananas never lead lives like that. Sure, they make lots of money but they have all the worries.
“If anything goes wrong on a show, they [the stars] get the blame. Me, I just do my job, enjoy myself and never have to take stomach pills. I wouldn’t be a top banana at any price. The extra fame isn’t worth the headaches it brings.”

During the interview, he supplied his own visual proof of the benefits of fame without the headaches. He was mobbed by teenaged fans at Rockefeller Center.

Arnold Stang really was unique. And he’ll be missed by fans of great comic acting, cartoon lovers included.


  1. So sad. What a loss. We are losing more and more show business veterans every month. Besides " Top Cat ", " It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World " has to be one of my all time favorite Arnold Stang performances. The gas station scene with Stang, Marvin Kaplan, and Jonathan Winters is PRICELESS!!

  2. Goodbye Mr. Stang, it was a fun ride. You were the original Honey Nut Cheerios Bee.

  3. Rest in peace, Mr. Stang! I’d almost like to go outside and clang two trash can lids together (the method Top Cat used to summon his gang) in memorial to that man who gave voice to TC… but with today’s plastic lids, it just wouldn’t be the same!

    I’m SO GLAD we have the Top Cat DVD interview for a few final moments with this uniquely talented actor!

  4. Indeed he was the original Honey Nut Cheerios Bee on the commercials.

    Just.....another sad loss. There was way too many people who died this year. Better not happen again next year, but I doubt it.

    R.I.P. Arnold Stang (1918-2009). You will be missed as TC (Top Cat).


  5. Joe, I thought Earl Kress did a nice job of the interview. Too many times an interviewer behaves like the star. Earl knows the motto "let the man talk." I thought it was very insightful.

    It's remarkable to think Stang could go from the somewhat dramatic The Goldbergs to the hammy Milton Berle with ease. He showed the versatility the old radio actors had and why the best of them were in so much demand. And he made the transition from child to adult actor. Few in radio did. It speaks to his talent.

    Best of all, for fans, he's left behind a legacy of laughter. I've spent my day off today enjoying old radio shows and his marvellously squawky Brooklyn delivery. I wish I had that kid's record I referred to in the post.

  6. BTW, when I said that too many people died this year, I meant too many famous people.

    R.I.P. Arnold Stang (1918-2009) :(


  7. Another great voice talent gone! Sad, indeed.

  8. RIP, Arnold Stang
    1918-2009 . I know that I didn't get a mmessage here, but I had trouble posting my message..Sorry for being late here. If you want to hear those childrens records that Arnold Stang did, this sitehad a recent post on it. Just put Arnold Stang in the Search.

  9. Apparently, Selma Rich [Brody], who wrote the "Shloimy" and "Hippy Hippo" songs (among several others Stang recorded for Coral in 1953) owned the rights to them, and had those sides reissued on Peter Pan Records in the mid-'60s. She even reused the melody for "Shloimy", with new lyrics, as "Rollo, the Railroad Train" on her Peter Pan "Be A Train" LP around the same period.

  10. I had Arnold's record of the Happy Hippo and Shloimy the Subway Train.....but mine was a 33 RPM LP, and had numerous other stories on it. I played that record to death as a kid. I believe it was on Peter Pan records.