Harry von Zell (July 11, 1906 – November 21, 1981), born in Indianapolis, Indiana, made his mark as an announcer of radio programs and an actor in films and television shows.
Life and career
His family moved to California, where von Zell studied music and drama at the University of California, Los Angeles and worked at a variety of jobs. After friends tricked him into singing on a radio program, he received offers from radio stations, and his radio career began. Auditioning for Paul Whiteman's radio show, he beat out 250 other announcers. When that series came to an end in 1930, he headed for New York and became a CBS staff announcer, working with Fred Allen, Phil Baker, Eddie Cantor, Eddy Duchin and Ed Wynn. He also announced for The March of Time and The Birds Eye Open House with Dinah Shore.
As a young announcer, von Zell made a memorable verbal slip in 1931 when he referred to U.S. President Herbert Hoover as "Hoobert Heever" during a live tribute on Hoover's birthday. Hoover was not present at this tribute. Von Zell's blooper came at the end of a lengthy coverage of Hoover's career in which he had correctly pronounced the President's name several times. Some mistakenly believe Hoover was present when the incident happened because of a re-enactment fabricated by Kermit Schaefer for his Pardon My Blooper record album.
Von Zell was the vocalist for the first recording session of Charlie Barnet's musical career; a session on October 9, 1933 has von Zell singing "I Want You, I Need You" (which was remade on October 25, 1933), as well as "What Is Sweeter (Than the Sweetness of 'I Love You')?".
As an actor, von Zell appeared on the Joan Davis radio series as the love interest of Verna Felton's character. When von Zell entered a room, Felton would often shout excitedly, "Why Mr. von Zellllllllllll!" Von Zell headlined his own short-lived radio program, The Smiths of Hollywood, which featured Arthur Treacher and Jan Ford (who would later becomeHoward Hughes' paramour Terry Moore).
Films and Television
As a film actor, von Zell appeared in at least 28 features and in his own series of slapstick comedy shorts for Columbia Pictures (1946–50). The exposure he received from the Columbia comedies led to his being hired for The Burns and Allen Show. Von Zell replaced the radio version's announcer, Bill Goodwin, in September 1951. Appearing under his own name (as Goodwin did), von Zell played the befuddled friend of the Burns family and the show-within-a-show's announcer. Prior to this, von Zell's first major television exposure was as announcer and spokesman for Pabst Blue Ribbon beer on Jackie Gleason's The Life of Riley in early 1950.
From 1958-1959, von Zell wrote the teleplays for four episodes of NBC's Wagon Train and acted in one of them. In 1962 he appeared in the Perry Mason episode "The Case of the Ancient Romeo." He was also cast in an episode of NBC's western series, The Tall Man.
Von Zell delivered the commentary on Celebrity Golf, a series of half-hour nine-hole golf matches made in 1960 with Sam Snead taking on Hollywood celebrities at Los Angeles golf courses such as Woodland Hills and Lakeside Country Club. Those matches can now be viewed late nights on the Golf Channel. In his later years he was a commercial spokesman for Los Angeles-based savings & loan Home Savings of America. In 1976 he was one of the many leading radio announcers who participated in a television special, The Good Old Days of Radio.
Harry von Zell died of cancer in 1981 at the age of seventy-five.