I got a note yesterday from my friend Eric Boardman who sent me the unfortunate news that Dick Orkin passed away the other day, at the age of 84.
Many of you may know of Dick Orkin without knowing it, but he was wildly popular in Chicago for decades. It began in the late-60s/early-70s when he created (and did most of the voices for) the often-hilarious parody Chickenman for WCFL radio. The radio series, with 3-4 minute episodes, later branched out on its own and was syndicated on 326 radio stations in six countries. It told the misadventures of an oddball shoe salesman named Benton Harbor who lived with his mother, but freelanced when it was convenient as the Wonderful White-Winged Warrior to help Midland City, but usually screwed things up.
Later, Orkin and his partner Bert Berdis created wildly successful and wonderfully radio ads that were heard through the country, but Chicago was their centerpiece. They were so fun (sort of in the Stan Freberg mode, but with their own unique twists) that my folks -- especially my mother -- who were generally annoyed at having to listen to ads would actually hope to hear one of their commercials, notable for Orkin's recognizable voice, when listening to the WBBM All News station, and would often tell me about the latest one. My mother's favorites were for the First American Bank, but she loved them all. (Eventually Orkin and Berdis went their separate ways, but Orkin had his own ad agency that continues to work today. His daughter Lisa is carrying the company on, and Orkin was still working having recorded a new one only a couple weeks ago.) Side note: Eric Boardman worked with Orkin and Berdis for several years.
Here's a nice obituary on Dick Orkin in the Chicago Tribune.
In case you've never heard the show, here's an episode of Chickenman. No explanation is necessary, it should all be pretty clear. The only thing to note is that the Commissioner's secretary was this world-weary the whole time. She was voiced by Jane Roberts (later Runyon), and the show's narrator was her subsequent husband, Jim Runyon, both who worked at WCFL.
(Trivia note: their daughter Jennifer has had a fairly successful career as an actress, mainly on television, such as the soap opera Another World for a few years, but also some film work, including a small role in Ghostbusters. In fact, has a film credit as recently as last year.)
And though I couldn't find a radio spot for First American Bank (yet -- I'll keep looking), this is a typical Orkin-Berdis radio ad for K-Mart. Orkin plays the manager.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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