“George Watt Fenneman (November 10, 1919 – May 29, 1997) was an American radio and television announcer.
Fenneman was born in Peking (now Beijing), China, the only child of American parents in the import-export business. He was nine months old when his parents moved to San Francisco, California, where he grew up. In 1942 he graduated from San Francisco State College with a degree in speech and drama, and took a job as an announcer with a local radio station. During the Second World War he worked as a broadcast correspondent for the U.S. Office of War Information. In 1946 he moved to Los Angeles and resumed his radio career.
He is most remembered as the announcer and good-natured sidekick for Groucho Marx’s comedy/quiz show vehicle You Bet Your Life, which began in 1947 on radio and moved to television in 1950, where it remained on NBC for 11 years. Fenneman’s mellifluous voice, clean-cut good looks, and gentlemanly manner provided the ideal foil for Marx’s zany antics and bawdy ad libs.
Fenneman was a resilient target of Marx’s frequent mispronunciations of his name (“Feminine”) and other light-hearted teasing. “Groucho called [Fenneman] the male Margaret Dumont”, according to Frank Ferrante, who portrayed Marx onstage in Groucho: A Life in Revue. “George took it as the highest praise. Groucho called him the perfect straight man.” He was also selected because of his intelligence and ability to calculate the scores of the contestants, whom Groucho frequently encouraged to bet odd amounts, making the arithmetic difficult to keep straight on the fly during a live show. Fenneman remained friends with Marx until the latter’s death in 1977.
Fenneman married his college sweetheart, Peggy Clifford, in 1943 and had three children.”
Dick Vosburgh wrote in an obituary for The Independent of Sunday 23 October 2011:
“ “There never was a comedian who was any good unless he had a good straight man,” wrote Groucho Marx in 1976. “And George was straight on all four sides.”
A square was just one of the many things Groucho called his straight man during their long association; tall, handsome and elegant, George Fenneman bore the Marxian wisecracks with gentlemanly dignity for 14 years on the high-rated comedy quiz You Bet Your Life. Starting on radio in 1947 and transferring to television in 1950, the show was less a quiz than a vehicle for Groucho’s wit, with Fenneman reading the commercials, introducing the contestants and working out the scores.
Until the series ended in 1961, Marx subjected his foil to a relentless stream of politically incorrect Chinese laundry jokes, all because he happened to have been born in Peking. “My father was in Import-Export,” Fenneman told the biographer Hector Arce. “He and my mother’d been married for 10 years. I guess they didn’t expect any children, and I’m an only child.”
…”I can’t impress on you too much what it meant to be working with a legend,” Fenneman told Hector Arce. “I was 30 years old and working with this man who was 60 at the time, who’d been the biggest star of all the media.” His association with Groucho didn’t end with the closure of their quiz show; he visited him often. In the last year of Marx’s life the 87-year- old comedian was so enfeebled that, before leaving, Fenneman had to walk him to his bed in a bear hug.
“Fenneman,” said Groucho faintly, “you always were a lousy dancer.” “