George Gobel, the folksy, flat-topped commedian whose 60-year entertainment career spanned Broadway, feature films and TV, died Sunday from complications stemming from arterial bypass surgery. He was 71.
Gobel was perhaps best known for hosting several TV variety comedy shows during the early days of the medium.In his later years he was a fixture on the syndicated "Hollywood Squares" game show and made several appearances on the "Tonight Show," where his laconic wisecracks made him an audience favorite.
Although his first aspiration was to become a professional baseball player, Gobel traded his bat for a guitar in his early teens, joining a group of country and western entertainers on the WLS' "Barn Dance" in Gobel's hometown of Chicago.
Comedy did not become part of Gobel's repertoire until his Air Force days during World War II. Although he wanted to be a fighter pilot, he was assigned as a B-26 pilot instructor in Frederic, Okla.
After leaving the service, Gobel played small clubs, hotels and county fairs, slowly rising to top supper clubs and hotel engagements.
His first TV appearance in 1952 was followed by guest apearances on virtually every variety show, including 40 guest shots on "The Garry Moore Show."
After seven consecutive appearances on NBC's "Saturday Night Revue" in 1954, the network gave him his own vehicle, "The George Gobel Show."
Now considered a classic, the program was the top-rated comedy show for the next three years.
In the mid 1950s, he starred in two feature films, "The Birds and the Bees" and "I Married a Woman."
Gobel made his Broadway debut in 1961 in a musical adaptation of George Abbot's "Three Men on a Horse."