Monday, 26 December 2016

The Late Great George S. Irving

Tony Award winning actor and voice artist George S. Irving died today at the age of 94. He appeared on Broadway in such productions as Oklahoma!, Irene, and Me and My Girl. He was the narrator on Underdog and provided incidental voices as well. He as also the voice of Heat Miser on the cult TV special The Year Without a Santa Claus.

George S. Irving was born George Irving Shelasky on November 1 1922 in Springfield, Massachusetts. By his early teens he was singing in synagogues and churches.  During his senior year in high school he attended a drama school in Boston. In 1942 he was cast in the chorus of the Municipal Theatre Association of St. Louis (better known simply as the Muny). In 1943 he was part of the original Broadway cast of Oklahoma!, playing Joe. Unfortunately he was in the part for only a few days before he was drafted into military service during World War II.

Following the war George S. Irving returned to acting. In the late Forties he appeared on Broadway in Call Me Mister, Along Fifth Avenue, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In the Fifties George S. Irving continued to appear on Broadway in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. He also appeared in the productions Two's Company, Can-Can, Me and Juliet, Bells Are Ringing, Shinbone Alley, The Good Soup, and Irma La Douce. He made his television debut in 1955 in a guest appearance on The Goldbergs. He also appeared on Producer's Showcase. He provided the voice of the Wolf in the TV special Art Carney Meets Peter and the Wolf. It was in 1960 that he began a long association with animated cartoon production company TTV. He provided various voices for their Saturday morning cartoon King Leonardo and His Short Subjects.

In the Sixties George S. Irving continued his association with TTV. He was the narrator on Underdog and also provided various voices on the show. He provided various voices for Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales and was the voice of Running Board on Go Go Gophers. He guest starred on Car 54, Where Are You?, The Naked City, and The Patty Duke Show. He appeared in a 1967 TV production of Anastasia. He appeared on Broadway in Romulus, Bravo Giovanni, Seidman and Son, Tovarich, A Murderer Among Us, Alfie!, Anya, Galileo, and The Happy Tree.

In the Seventies George S. Irving was one of the stars of the short-lived sitcom The Dumplings. He was the voice of Heat Miser on the TV special The Year Without a Santa Claus. He appeared in the 1976 special That Was the Year That Was. He guest starred on All in the Family. He appeared in the films Up the Sandbox (1972), Foreplay (1975), and Deadly Hero (1975). He provided the voice of the Captain in the animated feature Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure (1977). On Broadway he won Tony Awards for An Evening With Richard Nixon and... and Irene. He also appeared in the productions Four on a Garden, Who's Who in Hell, All Over Town, So Long, 174th Street, Once in a Lifetime, and I Remember Mama.

In the Eighties George S. Irving appeared in several episodes of the soap opera Ryan's Hope. He appeared on Broadway in The Pirates of Penzance, Copperfield, On Your Toes, and Me and My Girl. In 1996 he appeared on television on Live from Lincoln Centre in a production of The Merry Widow with the New York City Opera. In 2005 he appeared in the one night benefit event A Wonderful Life. In 2008 he reprised the voice of Heat Miser in the TV special A Miser Brothers' Christmas. He also appeared in the Off-Broadway production Enter Laughing. His last appearance on film was in the short "37" (2013).

I rather suspect most Gen Xers like myself remember George S. Irving best as the narrator on Underdog and Heat Miser on A Year Without a Santa Claus. To this day I can still hear his words as the narrator of Underdog, "Looks like this is the end...," as clearly as if I had just watched an episode of the show. Mr. Irving had an incredible voice that was adaptable enough for him to do a number of different characters. Indeed, it was also perfect for singing.

As beloved as George S. Irving was a voice artist, however, he also had a long and prolific career on Broadway. It spanned well over forty years, from 1943 to 1989. On Broadway he played a wide array of characters. He was Joe in Oklahoma!. He was Richard M. Nixon in An Evening With Richard Nixon and... He was Major General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance. He was Mr. Micawber in Copperfield. In his long Broadway career Mr. Irving won two Tony Awards and was nominated for one other.

In the end George S. Irving was a particularly gifted performer. He could act. He could sing. He do a number of different voices. There aren't many performers who could grace both the Broadway stage and TV screens in Saturday morning cartoons.

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