Chances are you couldn’t pick his face out of a lineup, but everybody recognizes Don Pardo’s sonorous baritone voice. The long-time Saturday Night Live announcer died Monday at Tucson, Ariz. He was 96.
Perhaps best remembered as the announcer for 38 of SNL’s 39 seasons, Pardo had a career that began in the radio age. Through a series of serendipitous event,s Pardo landed a succession of jobs in radio and then in television.
In the early days he worked for a variety of programs, including The Colgate Comedy Hour and some early game shows. His first big break came in 1956 when he was given a job with the original Price Is Right, hosted by Bill Cullen. Then as now the show was wildly popular. Riding the show’s popularity, Pardo himself gained fame.
In an Archive of American Television History interview, Pardo discussed how The Price Is Right helped him craft his signature elongated delivery, “The cameras are moving so slowly (covering the prizes and merchandise), and that’s the way I had to describe it: slowly. Those cameras were large then. You want to make sure you describe what the camera is on.”
Pardo’s decision was fortuitous because that left him available to announce a new NBC show that made its debut in 1964, Jeopardy! In those days the show was hosted by Art Fleming, who made a point of thanking Pardo by name in each episode, helping to elevate him further out of the announcer anonymity of radio.
The original incarnation of Jeopardy! ran until 1975, but here again fate intervened as Saturday Night Live began the next year. The show’s creator, Lorne Michaels, said he liked Pardo for the announcer’s job as a sort of counterpoint to the wackiness of the show.
“Every year the new cast couldn’t wait to hear their name said by him,” said Michaels.
As long-time SNL cast member, Maya Rudolph, told Pardo in a video tribute when he was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame in 2010, “The moment you said my name was the height of my career.”
Pardo’s decades at SNL gave rise to many odd moments and opportunities. As recounted by the New York Times, in 1976, he appeared in a Frank Zappa performance on SNL. In 1984, he had a voice cameo in the Weird Al Yankovic song “I Lost on Jeopardy.” He was in the Woody Allen movie, Radio Days, in 1987 and was a guest star on a 2009 episode of 30 Rock.
In many ways Pardo occupies the rarest of comedic ground —- the straight man with the funniest lines. Like actor Leslie Nielsen, who many remember for movies like Airplane and The Naked Gun —- but who began playing a succession of heavies and villains —- Pardo’s career began playing it straight. But that straight-laced persona became a perfect backdrop against which to hang comedy. That kind of perfect juxtaposition makes for comedy gold.
It’s hard to imagine the opening credits of SNL without Pardo’s voiceover. While the show will likely find a fine substitute there’s no replacement. It may be Saturday Night, but it won’t feel quite as Live.