Arnold Stang

d. December 20, 2009

Arnold Stang, radio actor and cartoon voice artist who also became a favorite in television and movie character parts, died Dec. 20 from pneumonia at a hospital in Newton, Mass. He was 91.

Stang’s family confirmed that he was a native New Yorker, born in Manhattan in 1918 and raised in Brooklyn. Stang’s old show-biz bios claimed he was born in 1925 in Chelsea, Mass., where he had relatives, and that he started his radio career at age nine after writing a letter to the Let’s Pretend series heard Saturday mornings on CBS. In fact, he broke into radio as a teenager and did work on Let’s Pretend before getting steady work on many of the network radio shows emanating from New York.

Stang played a neighborhood kid on The Goldbergs, Jughead in the last years of Archie Andrews, and brash sidekicks to Henry Morgan and Milton Berle, as well as “a lot of half-wit murderers or bereaved boys from broken homes,” as he told the Associated Press in 1983. Like many other radio actors who played a wide range of roles in that medium, Stang found that his appearance limited him in television to mostly stereotyped parts as nerds and milquetoasts.

“I’ve portrayed roles on radio completely unlike my appearance,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1954. “I even played several romantic leads on radio, and I’d like to try that kind of role on television. After all, there are many persons who look or act like I do. A lot of them do heroic acts, are involved in romantic problems, face tragedy and, in general, lead just as colorful lives as some of the handsome brutes who hog all this type of role on the screen.”

Such TV roles did not come his way. Stang reunited with Berle for two years, played comic parts on such sitcoms as December Bride and got occasional dramatic supporting roles on Playhouse 90 and The Jane Wyman Show. Berle considered him “a dependable, multi-faceted actor with a one-of-a-kind delivery,” as he told The New York Times. “Like many superb character actors, he has never been properly acclaimed for his talent.”

One exception was Stang’s biggest movie role as Sparrow, the unscrupulous friend of the drug addict played by Frank Sinatra in 1955’s “The Man with the Golden Arm.” He was famous enough by then to have appeared as the mystery guest on What’s My Line? earlier that year.

His other film roles included “Dondi” (1961), “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm” (1962), “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (1963), “Skidoo” (1968), “Hercules in New York” (1970), “Ghost Dad” (1990) and “Dennis the Menace” (1993).

On television, he also appeared in episodes of Captain Video, The Goldbergs, Producers Showcase, The Red Skelton Show, Wagon Train, Bonanza, The Dick Powell Show, Batman, Emergency, Chico and the Man and The Cosby Show. In 1965, he was a regular for part of the single season of Broadside, the ABC service comedy starring Kathy Nolan and Edward Andrews.

Also like other radio actors, Stang found work doing cartoon voices after radio died. He’d been the voice of Herman the mouse in Paramount’s long-running series of Herman and Katnip cartoons in the 1940s and 50s. Harvey Comics bought those and the rest of Paramount’s cartoon library, lined up Mattel Toys as a sponsor, and sold the package to ABC in 1959 as Matty’s Funday Funnies. Stang provided voices for new bridging animated spots.

Then in 1961, ABC and Hanna-Barbera followed up the success of The Flintstones with Top Cat, in which Stang gave voice to the conniving leader of a group of disreputable alley cats. Just as The Flintstones was obviously an animated, stone-age Honeymooners, Top Cat and his gang were the feline cartoon version of Sgt. Bilko and his platoon (Bilko’s Maurice Gosfield even provided one of the cat’s voices). Unlike The Flintstones, which had a long prime-time run and remains ubiquitous in kid’s TV, Top Cat lasted only one season and had little afterlife, in spite of a cult following devoted to its wiseacre characters and attitude.

Stang continued to do cartoon work for Hanna-Barbera and other producers, including the voice of Churchy La Femme in “I Go Pogo,” the 1980 animated version of Walt Kelly’s classic comic strip.

He was also a familiar face in commercials over the years, most memorably as the spokesman for the thick, square candy bar Chunky in the late 50s and early 60s. The ads always closed with Stang’s inimitable delivery of the slogan, “Chunky, what a chunk o’ chocolate!”

Arnold Stang in radio days, above;

with Frank Sinatra in “The Man with

the Golden Arm,” below; with Top Cat, bottom.