Gil Stratton, the former minor-league umpire who became a long-time Southern California sportscaster for more than 40 years who claimed to “call ’em as I see ’em,” died at his home in Toluca Lake of congestive heart failure Saturday. He was 86.
Known mostly for a career spent in the 1960s and ’70s at KNXT-Channel 2 (which became KCBS) and on KNX-AM (1070) news radio, Stratton also did broadcasts of the Los Angeles Rams and hosted horse racing shows from Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar.
(A story today on KCBS linked here)
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Stratton served in the Army Air Forces during World War II and was also an actor who was in the film “Stalag 17,” with William Holden, as well as “The Wild One” with Marlon Brando and “Monkey Business” with Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers. He was also in the film “Girl Crazy,” where he sang with Judy Garland.
Stratton is survived by his wife Dee, and children, Gilda Stratton, Billy Norvas, Gibby Stratton, Laurie O’Brien and Cary Stratton, as well as eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
As tributes filled up on Stratton’s website (linked here), we flash back to an extended interview Bill Seward did with Stratton for LARadio.com late in 2007.
Some excerpts from those stories:
==On growing up: “When I was a kid I loved getting the mail from the mailman. I was named a junior and I would see something for Gil Stratton in the mail and of course I opened it. My father said I was not Gil Stratton, I was Gil Stratton, Jr. ‘And don’t open my mail.’ It was that way until I was about to open on Broadway and they asked me how I wanted to be billed as Gil Stratton or Gil Stratton, Jr. I said bill me as Gil Stratton, Jr. I did it really just to show my father and then it just kinda stuck. Particularly after World War II where I primarily made my living as a radio actor the junior part would lead to what part I played on the show. They would read all the parts and if there was a kid’s role and they saw junior they would pick me and it stayed with me all that time.
==On watching the Brooklyn Dodgers play: “Somebody in our apartment had a pass and all it cost me was a 10-cent tax plus a nickel each way on the subway. In 1941, the Dodgers won their first pennant in 25 years. I saw the only game that the Dodgers won in the 41 World Series. They beat the Yankees 3 – 2 in Yankee Stadium in Game 2 on October the 2nd.”
==On acting: “It was something I did easily and I guess fairly well because I was busy doing those things. I used to do summer stock in the Brighton Theatre, which is right near the start of Coney Island. It was a legitimate theatre and a girl I went to high school with had gone on to the American Academy. She was in Brother Rat and I went down to see her. I had spent a year in military school, so I had the uniform on. Saw the matinee and went to dinner with the whole cast and we can back and they thought it would great idea to put me on stage because I was in uniform, just like they were on stage. That was probably my real stage debut.”
==On his first acting break, in 1939, offered a featured role in the George Abbot production of “Life With Father” with June Allyson and Nancy Walker on Broadway: “There was nothing like it. I was 17 and going to high school and I had my hair dyed red every two weeks. They would touch it up and it was a god-awful color that they tried to match with another kid in the play who had natural red hair and it turned out to be flaming red hair. On the subway at 11:15 at night, it probably looked a little funny, but nobody ever bothered me so it worked out OK.”
==On becoming a sportscaster, starting in 1954: “I was a sports announcer, mostly at CBS. I was doing “My Little Margie” and went to visit my friend Tom Harmon who anchored a coupled of the TV sportscasts. Tom mentioned that he was going to be leaving the late news at Channel 2. His wife had put her foot down and told Tom that he had to choose between the two newscasts. I told him that’s what I wanted to do since I was eight years old. He told me about an audition and when I showed up about half of the guys on the Rams team were auditioning along with most of the sports writers in town. I got the job.”
==On umpiring for 10 years, from 1947 to ’57: “I spent five years in Class C baseball; so I did pay my dues. I finally ended up in the Pacific Coast League. I could have done that as a career.”
==On becoming a TV sportscaster at Channel 2: “It happened when George Nicholaw took over as general manager. He was smart enough to recognize the pull and success of The Big News and its people. He proceeded to put all of us from TV on radio. Bill Keene and I used to the sports and weather together and we kind of kidded each other as we went along. More people came up to us and said they enjoyed what we did on radio, more so than on television. Television was meant for me. It was that kind of medium. Having been an actor I was loose in front of the camera. I don’t mean that as conceit, it is just kind of like I am. On the radio you are reading everything word for word. When I was a radio actor it was the best job I ever had. I can’t think of anything easier. That was the best job we ever had. The Lux Radio Theatre paid $133. That was scale. That was a lot of money back in those days.”
==On doing sports in Los Angeles: “John McKay was winning the college football championships at USC. John Wooden was winning the college basketball championships at UCLA. The Lakers were winning. The Dodgers were winning. There were 50,000 people on a Saturday afternoon at Santa Anita. This was the sports capital of the world. The Rams were an institution. They came out here from Cleveland in 1946. It was a big deal. We had two of the greatest quarterbacks in football – Bob Waterfield and Van Brocklin. Other players like Elroy Hirsch on the end. Ollie Matson came later. He was in a deal for 11 men. There was also Tank Younger and Jon Arnett. It was wonderful. I can remember 100,000 people in the Coliseum for the Chicago Bears games. It was a great rivalry. Everyone was a fan. I was fortunate to be their play-by-play on television for a few years and I certainly enjoyed it.”
==On the story about how he reported on the Channel 2 news that the Brooklyn Dodgers were not moving to Los Angeles after getting a tip from a course, saying he would jump off the Santa Monica Pier if they did leave New York — and then doing so: “It was just a high jump off the pier into the Pacific Ocean, that was all.”
==On the state of radio today: “What I don’t like is what they call sports radio, which is these call-in shows. These people who know nothing more about sports than you do. They are calling in and they are such regulars that the anchor gets to know them but we don’t care what they have to say. If they are going to have Joe Torre on as a guest, yes, I would love to hear that but most of them fill their shows with all the trash from listeners. I think it is a waste of time.”