Dear Straight Dope: My wife and I have taken to watching the Game Show Network to unwind. Pathetic isn’t it? Anyway, we were watching a rerun of the Hollywood Squares and it dawned on us that neither one of us has any clue who George Gobel was, or why he was on every single episode. Apparently he wasn’t that busy, so who the hell is he and if he was such a big star, why did they keep him in that lonely, bottom corner? I think he was someone’s grandpa. My wife, Laura, thinks he was a homeless mental patient that slept there one night and no one had the heart to tell him to leave. Settle this once and for all for us please. My marriage is riding on your answer. Michael J Swiney, Jersey City, NJ
“Lonesome George” Gobel was a comedy star on TV in the 1950s. If the Hollywood Squares used the term “lonely” to refer to his corner, it was a jesting reference to his nickname. By the time Gobel got to Hollywood Squares he was sort of a “retired” star. You can get biographical info from the library, but my mother-in-law went to high school with him, so I’m gonna give you the Straight Dope. He started as a child star in Chicago on WLS National Barn Dance in the mid 1930s, and graduated from Roosevelt High School in Chicago in 1937. He went on to do comedy acts and was an early star in television. From 1954 to 1960 he hosted a popular variety show on Saturday nights (a very big TV night in those days), carried his guitar and told folksy, funny stories. One of his trademark phrases was, “Well, I’ll be a dirty bird.”
His style was laid-back and quiet. If we need a modern comparison, probably his comic style could be described as something like Garrison Keillor (but less intellectual). He spoke softly and slowly; his quick wit and gentle manner made him a popular guest on the night club circuit and talk shows in the era of Jack Paar and the early days of Johnny Carson.
As you saw, he wound up late in life on the Hollywood Squares, among the likes of Wally Cox and Paul Lynde. Hey, it paid the rent. Among other credits,SDSTAFF Scott reminds me, he was the voice of Father Mouse in the Rankin/Bass special “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” TV reruns have made him one of the immortals, but his physical manifestation wasn’t so lucky. He died in 1991 at age 71.
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