Stan Freberg: Right Up To the Edge … and Sometimes Over.
While the family was sitting around over Thanksgiving, somehow the name of Stan Freberg came up in the conversation. I’ll bet almost no one under the age of 40 has any idea who he is and that’s really a shame. I always loved his off-the-wall humor and admired not just the extraordinary creativity, but the underlying messages that went along with much of it.
For example, in 1961, Freberg wrote the words and music for an album called “Stan Freberg Presents: The United States of America” which was nominated for a Grammy. It offered his wacky version of historical events and included a song titled “Take an Indian to Lunch This Week”, which had distinct anti-racism overtones. There was also a skit involving a troop of soldiers in the fledgling Continental Army marching into battle with a fife and drum accompaniment. Every so often, the drummer and the guy playing the fife would break into a three-second syncopated riff that enraged the officer in charge of the troop. Trust me, it was very funny.
In one of his television shows, Freberg came up with a skit in which Betsy Ross was presenting her design for the brand-new American flag to General George Washington for his approval. She unrolled the flag and proudly held it up with a flourish. Washington stared at it dubiously for a moment, then said, “I don’t know. Isn’t it a little busy?” (That’s an ad agency term, which may be why I find it so funny.)
Hoping to capitalize on his reputation, Stan Freberg formed his own advertising agency. Of course. it’s speciality was quirky off-beat ad campaigns. The name of his new firm was
*But Not Very.
At one point, Stan Freberg was hired by Pacific Southwest Airlines (one of four airlines that eventually became US Airways) to create an advertising campaign that would be unconventional and cause the traveling public to really take notice. Freberg certainly came through. He created a series of ads that spoofed the average airline passenger’s fear of flying. Typical copy began “Hey there! You with the sweaty palms …” PSA flight attendants distributed “Survival Kits” to passengers that included a small security blanket and a lucky rabbit’s foot. The campaign was launched with a full-page ad in the New York Times. The public noticed, all right: the campaign didn’t work and PSA stockholders were not amused. Company execs who approved the ads were fired. So was Freberg.
I’m happy to report that the immensely talented Stan Freberg is still with us, too. He’s 88 years old … and probably think that’s funny.