"Lonesome" George Gobel was barely of voting and drinking age when he was first hired as a musician/comic on the WLS radio Barn Dance in his native Chicago. True stardom eluded Gobel until 1954, when he debuted in his own variety series on NBC television. Historians have compared Gobel's low-key, self-effacing style to that of Herb Shriner and Johnny Carson, but anyone who's ever seen him in action will agree that he was in a class by himself. Comporting himself more like the studio janitor than the star of the proceedings, Gobel would quietly assume command by wryly commenting on his surroundings ("You don't hardly get those no more," "I'll be a dirty bird") feigning apprehension when confronted by such potential antagonists as his wife "spooky ol' Alice" (played by several actresses) and dropping a zinger of a punch line when the audience least expected it. Voted "outstanding new personality" by a committee of TV critics in 1954, Gobel remained a ratings-grabber for five years, backed up by a topnotch writing staff including James Allardice, Hal Kanter, Jack Douglas and Bill Dana.
During his first flush of fame, Gobel starred in two theatrical features, The Birds and the Bees (1956) and I Married a Woman (1958), neither of which captured his unique appeal. His NBC series having fallen victim to its competition Gunsmoke in 1959, Gobel switched to CBS, alternating with Jack Benny on Sunday evenings, but was unable to recapture his audience. He spent the next three decades as everybody's favorite guest star, regularly appearing as one of the panelists on The Hollywood Squares and showing up from time to time as Mayor Otis Harper Jr. on the TV sitcom Harper Valley PTA (1981-82). He also made cameo appearances in such films as Rabbit Test (1978) and The Fantastic World of DC Collins (1980). Undoubtedly the high-water mark of the latter stages of his career occurred on an early-1970s telecast of The Tonight Show, where, flanked by inveterate ad-libbers Bob Hope and Dean Martin, he brought down the house by muttering "Did you ever feel like the world was a tuxedo, and you were a pair of brown shoes?"