Monday, April 9, 2018

The Late Great Chuck McCann

Children's show host, puppeteer, voice artist, actor, impressionist, and comedian Chuck McCann died yesterday, April 8, at the age of 83. The cause was congestive heart failure.

Chuck McCann was born on September 2 1934 in Brooklyn, New York to a show business family. His grandfather was a performer in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. His father was big band leader Val McCann. Val McCann arranged music at the Roxy Theatre in New York City and later worked for CBS Radio. He was only 7 years old when a director noticed Chuck McCann while at CBS visiting his father and offered him a job doing voice overs. He worked in radio well into his teens.

Chuck McCann began performing in night clubs around New York City. In the mid-Fifties he got a job at New York City DuMont affiliate WABD-TV. It was there that he met children's show host Sandy Becker. Mr. McCann then helped create Wonderama, the classic New York City children's show that Sandy Becker hosted from 1955 to 1956. It was Sandy Becker who introduced Chuck McCann to puppeteer Paul Ashley, with whom he first worked on the children's show Rootie Kazootie. Over the years Messrs. McCann and Ashley would work together on several shows. Mr. McCann also appeared on the classic children's show Captain Kangaroo, on which he played Sailor Clyde. He first appeared on the show in 1959 for a brief time and would return infrequently to the show from the Sixties to the Eighties. It was also in 1959 that Chuck McCann hosted his first children's show, Puppet Hotel for WNTA in Newark, New Jersey, alongside puppeteer Paul Ashley.

Mr. McCann went onto host Let's Have Fun on Sunday mornings on WPIX in New York City, and later The Chuck McCann Show on WPIX and then The Chuck McCann Show, The Great Bombo's Magic Cartoon Circus Lunchtime Show and Chuck McCann's Laurel & Hardy TV Show on WNEW. Chuck McCann's Laurel & Hardy TV Show aired Hanna-Barbera's "Laurel & Hardy" cartoons, and on the show Chuck McCann would perform his Oliver Hardy impersonation.

Chuck McCann would leave children's programming for other projects after the late Sixties, but he would return in 1980 when he made two pilots with Paul Ashley: Tiny TV and LBS Children's Theatre.  In 1989 he hosted Chuck McCann's Funstuff on KCAL.

Chuck McCann also had a long career as a voice artist. In 1962 he originated the voice of Sonny the Cuckoo Bird, the animated mascot for General Mills' breakfast cereal Cocoa Puffs. On the 1966 animated TV series Cool McCool he provided the voices of Number One, The Owl, and Harry McCool. Over the years he would provide voices for a number of animated television series, including such television cartoons as The New Shmoo, Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo, The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show, Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels, Space Stars, Ri¢hie Ri¢h, Pac-Man, The Get Along Gang, Galtar and the Golden Lance, Toxic Crusaders, Where's Waldo, and The Garfield Show. He was the voices of Mummy Man on Drak Pack, Leatherneck on G.I. Joe, Duckworth and Burger Beagle on DuckTales, Dumptruck and Gibbler on TaleSpin, The Thing on the 1995 cartoon Fantastic Four, Blizzard on the 1994 cartoon Iron Man, and Bossman, Skinny, and other voices on The Powerpuff Girls.

Chuck McCann acted in live-action shows as well, and appeared frequently on television in the Seventies and Eighties. He appeared on The Steve Allen Show and Hobby Lobby in 1959. He would have been one of the regulars on the ill-fated show Turn On if more than one episode had aired. It aired only once, on February 5 1969, before ABC cancelled it. In the Seventies he starred on the live-action Saturday morning show Far Out Space Nuts opposite Bob Denver. Centred on a pair of NASA workers who are accidentally launched into space, the show as co-created by Chuck McCann. He guest starred on such shows as Bonanza, Temperatures Rising, The Bob Newhart Show, Columbo, Kojak, Little House on the Prairie, Police Woman, Starsky and Hutch, Switch, The Rockford Files, and Fantasy Island. In the Eighties Mr. McCann appeared several Christmas seasons on the soap opera Santa Barbara in the role of Kris Kringle. He guest starred on such shows as  CHiPs, The Greatest American Hero, One Day at a Time, The Love Boat, St. Elsewhere, Matt Houston, Tales from the Darkside, Cagney & Lacey, 227, and Knot's Landing. In the Nineties he guest starred on such shows as On the Air, Empty Nest, Dream On, Sliders, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Mad About You. In the Naughts Mr. McCann had a recurring role on Boston Legal. In 2017 he guest starred on the comedy/talk show Friend or Foe. Throughout his career Chuck McCann appeared on several talk shows, game shows, and variety shows, including I've Got a Secret, Tonight Starring Jack Paar, The Jimmy Dean Show, The Garry Moore Show, Happy Days, The Dick Cavett Show, The David Frost Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and The Mike Douglas Show.

In addition to providing the voice for Sonny the Cuckoo Bird for many years, Chuck McCann also appeared in several commercials. In the Sixties he appeared in commercials for Maxwell House coffee. In the Seventies he appeared in several commercials for Standard Oil doing his Oliver Hardy impersonation with Jim MacGeorge as Stan Laurel. He also appeared with Mr. MacGeorge as Stan Laurel in commercials for Arby's and Tony's Pizza. From the Seventies into the Eighties Mr. McCann appeared in commercials for Right Guard as a neighbour who shared a medicine cabinet with another fellow (played by Bill Fiore). Mr. McCann's character would greet him with a boisterous, "Hi, guy!" and then go onto talk about how good Right Guard was.

Chuck McCann also had a career in movies. He made his film debut in the drama The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter in 1968. In 1971 he had the lead role in the comedy The Projectionist. In the Seventies he appeared in such films as Jennifer on My Mind (1971), Play It as IT Lays (1972), Herbie Rides Again (1974), Linda Lovelace for President (1975), Silent Movie (1976), Survival (1976), Foul Play (1978), They Went That-A-Way & That-A-Way (1978), C.H.O.M.P.S. (1979), and Up Yours (1979). In the Eighties he appeared in the films Lunch Wagon (1981), The Comeback Trail (1982), The Rosebud Beach Hotel (1984),  Hamburger: The Motion Picture (1986), Thrashin' (1986), Cameron's Closet (1988), That's Adequate (1989), and Guns (1990). He was the voice of  Duckworth in the animated film DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp (1990). From the Nineties to the Teens he appeared in the films Ladybugs (1992), Storyville (1992), Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993), Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995), They Call Him Sasquatch (2003), Night Club (2011), and Horrorween (2011).

Of course, Chuck McCann was famous for his Oliver Hardy impersonation. Given how well he impersonated Mr. Hardy, it should come as no surprise that he had a personal connection to the legendary comedian. When he was 12 years old, living in Queens in New York City, he tried locating Stan Laurel. He eventually contacted Mr. Laurel on the phone and the two talked for hours. It was the beginning of a friendship that lasted until Stan Laurel died in 1965. Mr. McCann first played Oliver Hardy in the Fifties. He would do so opposite Tom Poston, Dick Van Dyke, and Jim MacGeorge as Stan Laurel. He not only played Oliver Hardy in various commercials, but along with Jim MacGeorge in tributes to Laurel and Hardy on stage. Chuck McCann. actor Orson Bean, cartoonist Al Kilgore, and author John McCabe were among the five founding members of the Sons of the Desert, a fraternal organisation dedicated to Laurel and Hardy that would eventually span the globe.

Chuck McCann also participated in various comedy records. He was one of the voices on The First Family, the legendary record album parodying the Kennedys. He also recorded another album parodying the Kennedys, Sing Along with Jack. In 1965 he recorded the children's album Yogi Bear And His Friends--Wake Up America!, on which he voiced a number of the Hanna-Barbera character of the time (he was the only voice actor on the record). 

The word versatile is used of many performers, but it was particularly applicable to Chuck McCann. His talents extended to so many different arts. He could act. He could do impressions. He was a comedian who could tailor his material for children, adults, or both. He had a knack for creating memorable characters, including the number of puppets on his children's show. As a voice artist he was incredible. Over the years he voiced a number of memorable characters, each with his own unique voice, from Sonny the Cuckoo Bird to Number One on Cool McCool to Scrooge McDuck's butler Duckworth on DuckTales to The Thing on Fantastic Four. Chuck McCann should really be counted among the all time great voice artists, alongside Bea Benaderet, Mel Blanc, Stan Freberg, and June Foray.

Of course, Chuck McCann was not great as a voice artist simply because of his very adaptable voice, but also because he was a very good actor. He gave an incredible performance as the deaf mute Spiros Antonapoulos in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, a role that would have been difficult for an experienced dramatic actor. He gave a touching performance in The Projectionist as the lonely movie projectionist who projects himself into films. He was one of the best parts about the comedic Bonanza episode "The Younger Brothers' Younger Brother". Over the years he appeared in a number of memorable roles on television and in film. Even when he was on the screen only briefly, he made an impression.

If Chuck McCann was so loved by his fans, it was not simply because he was an enormous talent. From those who knew him well to those who only met him once, everyone has the same thing to say about Chuck McCann: he was one of the nicest guys one could ever meet. From all reports Chuck McCann was a warm, wonderful, funny man who enjoyed interacting with his fans, whether it was on Facebook, Twitter, or in person. It should be little wonder so many are mourning him so much.

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