Chuck McCann, one of New York television’s quintessential personalities, died Sunday at 83 in a Los Angeles hospital. The cause was congestive heart failure, said his publicist, Edward Lozzi.
A prolific voice-over artist and an actor in numerous series and films, he remains best known as a beloved host of children’s TV programs, including “The Puppet Hotel” on WNTA/13 (now WNET) in 1959 and 1960, and “Laurel & Hardy & Chuck,” “Let’s Have Fun!” and “The Chuck McCann Show” on WPIX/11, his home from 1960 to 1965. That year he moved his namesake show to WNEW/5 (now WNYW), where he added “The Great Bombo’s Magic Cartoon Circus Lunchtime Show” and “Chuck McCann’s Laurel and Hardy Show.”
Alongside such other local kidvid icons as Officer Joe Bolton and Captain Jack McCarthy, McCann projected a friendly, goofy grown-up introducing a generation of baby boomers to gently surreal comedy sketches and the magic of Laurel & Hardy and other 1930s and ’40s comedians. Among McCann’s countless characters and impersonations — from the comic strips’ Little Orphan Annie to untalented ventriloquist Sid Dump to bumbling escape artist the Great Voodini — his standout portrayal was the legendary Stan Laurel, a real-life close friend.
“I think he taught a whole generation of kids not to be afraid to laugh,” says author-screenwriter Mark Evanier, who directed McCann’s vocal performance on the animated TV series “The Garfield Show.” “He just exuded creativity.” McCann did so equally in his personal life, Evanier says. “He lived show business and loved to entertain. He could be at a coffee shop with three people, and he’d put on a show for you. It’s staggering, the number of friends he made.”
“He was just a complete joy to be around,” says another friend, actor Will Hutchins (“Sugarfoot”), of Glen Head, who lauded McCann’s “great expanse of style.”
His sunny face appeared in commercials for products including Right Guard antiperspirant — as the “Hi, Guy” neighbor in a pair of apartments sharing a single medicine chest in a common wall — and his expressive voice could be heard in spots for, among others, General Mills, for which he initially voiced the cereal mascot Sonny the Cuckoo Bird (“I’m cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!”).
A third-generation performer whose grandfather, Arthur McCann, performed in the touring extravaganza “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” and whose father, Val McCann, was a big band leader, McCann was born in Brooklyn on Sept. 2, 1934, and grew up in Queens. He began performing in Manhattan and Long Island nightclubs, and in such children’s shows as “Captain Kangaroo” and “Rootie Kazootie.” In 1962, he was among the voices on the hit comedy album lampooning the Kennedy administration, “The First Family.”
Following his own 1960s children’s shows, he made his film debut playing a deaf-mute in the drama “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” (1968). Among his other movies, he starred in the cult film “The Projectionist” (1971).
McCann made numerous TV guest appearances on shows including “Bonanza,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Kojack,” “The Rockford Files” and many others, up through a recurring role as Judge Byron Fudd in “Boston Legal.” He did innumerable TV voice-overs, from the Saturday-morning spy spoof “Cool McCool” in 1966 to Moe in the avant garde “Adventure Time” in the 2010s.
McCann is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Fanning, and two daughters from a previous marriage.