EXPIRED: 12/20/09 – Arnold Stang, 91, was known for his nerdy looks and distinctive nasal voice. He was a diminutive, bespectacled, nebbish little man who made a living playing diminutive, bespectacled, caustic little men – and sometimes heroic cats!
He’s best known for being part of the ensemble cast of the classic 60’s movie comedy “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” and providing the voice for the brash lead alley cat character in the 1960s Hanna-Barbera animated TV series “Top Cat.”
Stang was born in Manhattan and grew up in Brooklyn. He made his radio debut as a kid on “The Horn and Hardart’s Children’s Hour.” He later played the brash Gerard on comedian Henry Morgan’s radio show in the 1940s and appeared as the equally brash stagehand Francis on Milton Berle’s comedy-variety TV show in the early ’50s. To counter Berle, they reversed roles. Stang did the heckling. He delivered the put-downs. Berle was the straight man. It worked.
Stang’s talent also extended to drama, most notably playing Frank Sinatra’s devoted friend Sparrow in the 1955 movie “The Man With the Golden Arm.”
But he was best known for his flair for comedy.
In “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World,” director Stanley Kramer’s 1963 epic comedy tale of greed, Stang and Marvin Kaplan played the operators of a gas station that ended up being destroyed by Jonathan Winters. It’s such a great film.
Stang continued to work later in life, appearing in movies alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill Cosby, continuing to act into his 80s, playing a role in the 1993 movie “Dennis the Menace.”
But his wife of 60 years, JoAnne Stang, said that of all the things her husband did — radio, television, films, commercials, animated films — his favorite was radio. She remembers her husband zipping across Manhattan in the 1940s and ’50s, from radio show to radio show, all live and challenging in their own way because all the acting is done through voice, with no facial expressions or body language, she said.
“That was his education,” she said.