I would imagine that most of us remember comedian George Gobel, even though he died over two decades ago. Often introduced as ‘Lonesome’ George Gobel, he was a fixture on TV for many years beginning in the early 1950s. He even hosted his own show for a while, and later appeared in movies and on stage. But what you might not know is that he began his career as a child star, a country music singer often billed as Little Georgie Gobel or ‘The Littlest Cowboy”.
The Chicago native began life as George Leslie Goebel (he would later drop the extra ‘e’), the son of an immigrant Austrian butcher and his wife who was second generation Scottish. Although the details from those days are a little fuzzy, it appears that young Georgie was musically inclined, and since Chicago was the home of the popular WLS National Barn Dance radio show, he was certainly in the right place at the right time. During the 1920s and 1930s the program was one of the highest profile showcases for country music, and it provided an opportunity for a lot of performers to gain national attention. According to one source he was around 11 or 12 when he first appeared, which would have made it 1930 or so.
Although he was never a huge radio star, Gobel gained a lot of experience while appearing on that show and others, and by spending years touring with various country bands. But like many performers of the era, his career was put on hold by the outbreak of World War II, during which he was trained and utilized as a pilot instructor. He also found the time to entertain his buddies with his comic talents, and by the post-war years he was ready to take his efforts the next level, working the club circuit for a number of years and eventually breaking through to TV.
It appears that recordings of the original Little Georgie Gobel are scarce, but I have included below a video of him appearing on Johnny Cash’s TV show. It shows him reminiscing about the early days and also singing a little song.
For those who can’t get the video (or don’t want to wait for it) I’ve also excerpted the song, and you can find it in the music widget in the left column.
When George Gobel died at age 71 in 1991, he was survived by his wife of almost a half-century, Alice (who was often mentioned in his comedy routines), and three children.