October 18, 2008

Anchor, Actor Gil Stratton Passes

Longtime Southern California sports fixture

October 18, 2008

Gil Stratton, a longtime presence in Southern California as a sports anchor on Channel 2 and KNX-AM 1070, died October 11, 2008, of congestive heart failure at this home in Toluca Lake, California. He was 86.

A former radio, theater and film actor and Pacific Coast League umpire, Stratton used the signature line “Time to call ’em as I see ’em.”

The phrase became familiar to generations of Southern Californians during his 16-year tenure on The Big News, the KNXT (now KCBS-TV Channel 2) broadcast in the mid-1960s that scored huge ratings as the first hour-long news program in the region. The groundbreaking newscast at various times featured Clete Roberts, Jerry Dunphy, Ralph Story, Bill Stout and Bill Keene.

Stratton covered virtually every kind of sporting event, including the Summer Olympics from Rome in 1960. For years, he hosted the feature horse race on Saturdays from Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar. He also worked as an announcer for the Los Angeles Rams football franchise.

Stratton was born June 2, 1922, in Brooklyn, N.Y. He attended Poly Prep in Brooklyn and earned his bachelor’s degree from St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.

He started his acting career as a teenager and, at 19, appeared on Broadway in the George Abbot production Best Foot Forward, also working as a radio actor. Two years later, he appeared in the MGM musical Girl Crazy, with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. In the film, he sang “Embraceable You” in a duet with Garland.

Stratton, who joined the Army Air Forces during World War II, was inducted on stage in Chicago after a performance of Best Foot Forward. He trained at the gunnery school in Las Vegas, but spent much of his service time as a baseball umpire, a skill he had originally learned in college.

When the war ended, he settled in Southern California and became a fixture on dramatic radio. He played opposite Shirley Temple in the radio version of The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer and, according to his website, was a regular on classic programs, including The Life of Riley and The Lux Radio Theater.

When Gale Storm’s My Little Margie went from television to radio, Stratton played her boyfriend, Freddie, for several years. And he also played Ed Tatum, the soda jerk, on Fibber McGee and Molly.

During those years he also appeared in a number of films, including Stalag 17, for which he also supplied the narration. Others included The Wild One, with Marlon Brando; Monkey Business, with Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers and Marilyn Monroe; and Bundle of Joy, starring Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher.

In addition to his work as a performer and announcer, Stratton continued to work as an umpire for the minor league division Pacific Coast League for nearly a decade.

In the mid-1950s, Stratton joined Channel 2 and worked in either radio or television until the late 1990s. He also lived for a time in Hawaii, where he owned a radio station.

Stratton won two Los Angeles Area Emmys and six Golden Mikes from the Radio and Television News Assn. of Southern California. He also was inducted into the Sportscasters Hall of Fame, and was a dedicated member of the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters.

He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Dee, five children, Gilda Stratton, Billy Norvas, Gibby Stratton, Laurie O’Brien and Cary Stratton, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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