Chuck McCann, the goofy, good-natured comedian and TV host who was a hero to kids of all ages in and around New York City in the 1960s before he jumped into films, network television and commercials, has died. He was 83.
McCann died Sunday of congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, publicist Edward Lozzi told The Hollywood Reporter.
With his cherubic face and ever-present grin, McCann epitomized fun. If the situation called for a fun supporting character, he was your guy. An entertainment jack-of-all-trades, McCann worked as a kids show host, puppeteer, nightclub comic, movie actor, voiceover performer and celebrity impersonator.
He had a key supporting role in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968) and starred in the low-budget fantasy film The Projectionist (1971); appeared on scores of TV shows; and did a spot-on imitation of comedy legend Oliver Hardy. (He was a founding member, along with actor Orson Bean, of the Sons of the Desert, the international fan club dedicated to celebrating Laurel & Hardy.)
“I did everything,” McCann told TVParty.com in a 2007 interview. “I never closed doors. If you look at my career — if I had one — I never think of it as a career, I just look at it as things I love to do. I have just as much fun doing a 30-second commercial as I do making a movie.”
In fact, one of McCann’s most memorable roles came in a series of TV spots for Right Guard throughout the 1970s and ’80s.
Sharing a medicine cabinet with his neighbor on the other side of the bathroom wall, McCann would bellow a cheerful “Hi Guy!” from behind the glass shelves to the stunned bathrobed person next door. McCann would then go on to extol the benefits of this particular brand of spray-on deodorant.
McCann also created the voice of Sonny the Cuckoo Bird for General Mills’ Cocoa Puffs TV commercials. His loony intonation of “I’m cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs” endeared the character to generations of cereal lovers.
McCann credited famed New York kids show host Sandy Becker for giving him a big break in the mid-1950s when they two worked together on a kids show for WABD-TV, Channel 5, then a DuMont network station.
“One day he called me over and said he was going and he wanted me to take over the show,” McCann told Steve Fritz in a 2006 article for Animated Shorts. “At first, I couldn’t believe he was talking to me. I said, ‘When do I start?’ He said, ‘Well, today’s Friday. So you start Monday.’
“I said, ‘Well, where are you going?’ and he turned around and said, ‘South America. You start at 7 in the morning. So long!’ The elevator doors close, and off he went. That was my baptism by fire. The first day was just disastrous. It was hell on earth. It was also fun. It was really fun.”
Becker also introduced McCann to Paul Ashley. The master puppeteer took McCann under his wing, teaching him everything there was to know about the craft. Starting with Rootie Kazootie in the 1950s, the pair collaborated well into the ’60s.
Chuck McCann was born in New York City on Sept. 2, 1934. His grandfather performed in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and his father, Val McCann, was a big band leader who served as the music arranger at New York’s Roxy Theatre.
McCann liked to say that he grew up in the orchestra pit in that place. His time at the Roxy exposed him to the top comedians of the day, and he fondly remembered when Lou Costello treated him to ice cream.
Val McCann also had a running gig with CBS Radio, and during one of his appearances there, a director spotted Chuck and offered him a job doing voiceovers. McCann was 7 at the time, and he worked steadily in radio into his teens.
While attending Andrew Jackson High School, McCann would keep his classmates in stitches with his impersonations, and he appeared in nightclubs in and around Manhattan and Long Island. He then helped create Wonderama, a much-loved Sunday morning show that Becker hosted.
In November 1959, McCann started on The Puppet Hotel, a Saturday morning show that emanated from WNTA-TV in Newark, New Jersey. He hosted the program and played the befuddled desk clerk of a hotel populated by puppets created by Ashley.
(Excerpt) Read More in: The Hollywood Reporter