‘For God’s Sake, Don’t Make Me Look Pretty’
Arnold Stang
September 28, 1918-December 20, 2009

Reedy-voiced Arnold Stang, who along with Don Knotts and Wally Cox developed the nerd with a heart into a beloved comic character on television and in film, died of pneumonia on December 20, 2009, in Newton, MA. His home was in Needham, MA. Bespectacled and diminutive (Stang stood five-foot three inches, and never weighed much over 100 pounds), Stang once described himself as looking like “a frightened chipmunk who’s been out in the rain too long.” He began his career in radio in the 1930s, at the age of nine, and was a regular on the popular show The Goldbergs, a family series set in the Bronx in which he played the title family’s teenage neighbor, Seymour Fingerhood, and on shows starring Henry Morgan and Milton Berle. When Berle moved to television, Stang came with him, in his character of Francis, a pest of a stagehand who constantly badgered and tested the patience of his boss, Berle. Four roles in particular, though, endeared him to later generations: as Frank Sinatra’s pal Sparrow in Otto Preminger’s 1955 film, The Man With the Golden Arm, in a performance that prefigured Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of a similar character, Ratso Rizzo, in Midnight Cowboy; as the spokesman for Chunky candy bars in the ‘50s, delivering the slogan, “Chunky! What a chunk o’ chocolate!”; as one of two gas station attendants (his counterpart being another beloved nerd character actor, Marvin Kaplan) in Stanley Kramer’s madcap 1963 comedy, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, their big scene being one in which Jonathan Winters completely destroys the gas station; and as the voice of the cartoon character Top Cat, leader of a ragtag gang of urban felines whose schemes and pranks forever bedevil Sgt. Dibble (Marvin Kaplan also voiced one of TC’s sidekicks).

Arnold Stang’s big hit from his 1959 album Waggish Tales, ‘Ivy Will Cling’

Although he claimed to have born in Chelsea, MA, in 1925, Stang was in fact born in Manhattan, on September 28, 1918. Despite protests from his wife, JoAnne Stang, he perpetuated the myth of his Massachusetts birth. “We were married for 60 years and I never got him to correct that,” Mrs. Stang said following her husband’s death. Stang grew up in Brooklyn and attended New Utrecht High School.

Arnold Stang (as Francis) upbraids Uncle Miltie

In addition to his wife, Arnold Stang is survived by a son, David, of Cambridge, MA; a daughter, Deborah Stang, of Brighton, MA; and two granddaughters.

One of Stang’s favorite stories about himself concerned his instructions to a doctor who was going to perform plastic surgery on him following an auto accident in 1959. “For God’s sake,” he says he told the doctor, “don’t make me look pretty.”

Visit our Video File tribute to Arnold Stang, via a complete "Top Cat" cartoon.

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