Wednesday, August 20, 2014

1372 Don Pardo

So an old man dies.  A very old man.  And it’s no surprise, really.  But it’s still shocking. Ninety six and still working?  Except Don Pardo did not consider it work.

Neither did those around him. And a lot of people worked around him.  He had started with NBC as an announcer in 1944.  Everyone knows him as the voice of Saturday Night Live.  But that was just a side job.  

In the early days of the medium, “staff announcer” meant broadcast royalty.  A pretty humble member of the royal family, he was, along with other notables like Bill Wendell and Howard Reig, and Bill Hanrahan, and Roger Tuttle and Fred Facey and Johnny Olson (who also started at NBC in 1944) and Ed Herlihy.

Don was long retired.  But the SNL gig continued well past the days when he’d have to show up at 30 Rock to warm up a quiz show audience and then introduce the program to listeners or viewers.

And what shows! The Colgate Comedy Hour.  The Price is Right. Jeopardy.

Don was more than just an anonymous voice.  He had a style all of his own, that long, drawn out building-to-a-big-finish largo. He had a particular kind of personality that came through even if you couldn’t see him on screen. And a voice and delivery that stood out among standout voices.

While most staff announcers had regularly scheduled programs, they also were assigned miscellaneous voice chores within the company.  So Don and the others worked a full week for a mediocre salary and the fees associated with their programs.  The fees were where the bucks were. No one starved.  Not even when there were almost 40 announcers on staff. (Today, there are none.)

A personal memory:

It was New Year’s eve, sometime in the 1990s, but no later than 2000.  NBC’s holiday show competed with ABC’s for public attention kind of like the Lieutenant Governor of Rhode Island competes with Henry VIII.

But we tried.   And Don had agreed to announce the show’s open and close.

Good thing everyone knew him on sight and on sound because he’d left his company i.d. home.

Well, not everyone.  Everyone but the security guard at the studio elevators at 30 Rock.

The guard may not have known Don, but he knew me, standing there right behind him.  So I said “He’s with me” and we both got in.

In the elevator Don looks.  Says “I think I know you but who the hell are you?”  I tell him, and then he remembers and we have a bit of a laugh over it.

While on the matter of NBC, Salvador Dali appeared on the Today Show in the early 1950s and told his interviewer, probably Dave Garroway, that “In death people become 10-thousand times greater than they were in life.”

Often true.  But not in this case. Don Pardo was a warm, intelligent, sensitive, widely read and talented gentleman then.  We knew it then. We know it now.

Guess St. Peter needed someone new to announce the names of the incoming at the gate.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014

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