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Gary Owens' Legacy of Charity and Humor

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It won't be surprising if tribute is paid to Gary Owens when this year's Carousel of Hope gala for the Children's Diabetes Foundation rolls around. The late, great announcer of "Laugh-In" lore and "Roger Ramjet" renown was a long-time supporter of the Foundation, and indeed, his family requested donations to the Foundation be made in lieu of flowers when Owens lost his life to Type 1 diabetes last month after living with the ailment from age 9.

Owens kept his charitable activities comparatively low-key, but Hollywood insiders were well aware of the many times and ways he lent his inimitable baritone to worthy causes as well as going out of his way to help friends, associates and others with advice, encouragement or introductions as needed. He was one of the town's great networkers.

After longtime Honorary Mayor of Hollywood Johnny Grant died in 2008, Owens was among the names short-listed to take over the post. The Radio and TV Hall of Famer/voice actor/author/funny man would have been ideal for the job. A walking wealth of Hollywood history and lore, he'd worked with countless stars of yesteryear and today. He even had experience with the PR demands of honorary mayorship, having taken over as honorary mayor of Woodland Hills, California, from Buster Keaton decades ago, and as Honorary Mayor of Encino from Tim Conway.

Owens' daft humor could be gut-bustingly funny, but it was never mean-spirited — as evidenced by the on-air silliness ("What do pirates wear on Halloween?") of his long-running L.A. radio show. Then there were his impromptu real-world comedy bits with the late Jonathan Winters, his longtime pal. On one occasion, for example, Gary and Jonathan were in a medical building in Toluca Lake and suddenly felt inspired to pretend they were doctors discussing the effects of "Fin Dingler's Disease" on a patient — as they stood near an ever-more-astonished group who could not help but hear as they waited for their prescriptions to be filled.

Fortunately, bits of Owens and Winters survive on YouTube, in the 2007 "Certifiably Jonathan" docu-comedy and "Lunch," Donna Kanter's charming 2012 documentary about the old comedy guys who lunched together every other Wednesday — for decades — and talked shop. The group included Owens, Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Monty Hall, writer/producer John Rappaport and Kanter's father, the esteemed comedy writer Hal Kanter.

Owens seemed happier to discuss his and wife Arleta's two sons' accomplishments than his own. Both became successful producers — Chris, with 25 years under his belt at Warner Bros., and Scott, with shows such as "America's Most Wanted" and "The Amazing Race" to his credit.

Interestingly, to this day the honorary mayor of Hollywood post remains unfilled.

COPYRIGHT 2015 STACY JENEL SMITH

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