American entertainer and comedian
Home grown talent
George Leslie Goebel was born May 20, 1920 in Chicago, Illinois. Young George Goebel started his career as a singer at the age of 13, singing on radio station WLS in Chicago. He was one of the favorites, as well as the youngest performer at the time on WLS' National Barn Dance, a homegrown program which was hugely popular from its inception in 1924 and enduring for over 50 years. George's era started with his debut in 1933. George played the ukulele, which was not a union instrument, thereby avoiding paying union dues. By 1941, George had his own touring group named "Georgie Goebel's Barn Dance Band", capitalizing from his association with the National Barn Dance.
George learned to fly at a young age, and owned his own airplane. During World War II he served in the Army Air Corp as a flight instructor, earning the rank of 1st lieutenant.
George discovers the small screen
George Goebel made the transition to television in the 1950's, and soon dropped the first 'e' from his last name. He brought his own brand of comedy to the new medium. He was a gentle character, bemused and non agressive, unlike the current style of comedy. His monologues about his weird wife Alice, patterned on his actual wife Alice, were hallmarks of his program. He would often take off on a tangent, straying from the story he was telling. His trademark phrase "Well I'll be a dirty bird" was known all over the TV viewing US. He called himself "Lonesome George", and it's a name that stuck to him for the remainder of his career. The era saw him dressed in a suit with a flat top haircut, sometimes with a custom made acoustic guitar. "The George Gobel Show" ran from 1954 until 1960. His style included jokes, some of which were a bit stale, interjections and observations delivered with impeccable timing, and a little musicianship. His show garnered an Emmy Award and was nominated 4 additional times.
The big screen
George Gobel also appeared in several movies. They include "The Birds and the Bees", (1956), I Married A Woman (1958), "Rabbit Test" (1978), and "The Fantastic World of DC Collins" (1980).
George Gobel presented a picture foreign to today's hip comic. He, along with contemporaries such as Red Skelton reigned in a time when comedy was clean, depending more on a turn of phrase than mere shock value. He was an influence on newer artists, among them Tom Smothers. Smothers, in an interview, recalls seeing George Gobel on The Ed Sullivan Show watching his style and thinking "God, that is pretty good! I'd like to do that!" You can see the influence of George Gobel in the Smothers Brothers own technique. Garrison Keillor of "A Prairie Home Companion" fame also bears more than a passing resemblance to Gobel's style.
Following his own program's cancellation, George was a popular guest on other variety/comedy programs, including "The Tonight Show". He was a panelist on the game show "Hollywood Squares". George had the role of Otis Harper, Jr. on "Harper Valley PTA", a comedy show during the early 80's based on the country song and film of the same title.
In 1957, three B-52 Stratofortress bombers made the first nonstop flight around the world by turbojet aircraft. One of those aircraft was named "Lonesome George".
George Leslie Gobel died at Encino, California on February 24, 1991. He was survived by his wife Alice and three children. He was laid to rest at the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, Los Angeles, California.
Quotes from Lonesome George
In an appearance on "The Tonight Show" while following Bob Hope and Dean Martin, George asked host Johnny Carson "Did you ever get the feeling that the world was a tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes?"
On the game show "Hollywood Squares" when asked by host Peter Marshall "True or false- a pea can last 5000 years."
George responded "Boy, it sure seems that way sometimes."
Peter Marshall: "According to the Reverend Billy Graham, what sin have you committed if you drink too much?"
George: "Gluttony. The neighbors say I ate their cat."