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Lennie Weinrib, 71; Actor Voiced H.R. Pufnstuf

July 02, 2006|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Lennie Weinrib, a character actor and prolific voice-over artist who supplied the voice for the title character in the children's fantasy television series "H.R. Pufnstuf," has died. He was 71.

Weinrib died Wednesday at a hospital in Santiago, Chile, after suffering a stroke, said his daughter Linda Weinrib. He had retired from show business in the early '90s and moved to Chile, the native country of his second wife, Sonia.

Known as warm, funny and full of gusto, Weinrib had a varied career that included working as a stand-up comic, appearing in the "Billy Barnes Revue" on Broadway in 1959 and co-writing the 1963 joke classic "The Elephant Book."

As a character actor, he appeared on such TV series as "My Favorite Martian," "77 Sunset Strip," "The Twilight Zone," "The Munsters" and the "Dick Van Dyke Show," including an episode in which he played an insult comic who asks the bald Mel Cooley (played by Richard Deacon), "Do you pluck your scalp?"

Weinrib also had a stint as a director of low-budget teen flicks in the mid-1960s, directing the comedy "Beach Ball," the spy spoof "Out of Sight," and the ski-slope comedy "Wild, Wild Winter."

But it was as a voice-over artist for more than 30 years that he had his greatest success.

By the mid-1960s, he was considered one of the top 10 voice-over talents working in commercials -- supplying voices for everything from Ford and Avis to Pepsodent toothpaste and Hunt's tomato sauce.

He also provided voices for numerous TV cartoon series, including "The Flintstones," "The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show," "The New Tom & Jerry Show," "Garfield and Friends," and "Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo" (on which he did the original voice of Scrappy-Doo).

"Made a quarter of a million every year for years," Weinrib said in a 1995 interview with The Times. "Spent it on Rolls-Royces, boats, first editions, guns, knives. Never thought about money. Did about 100 cartoons, Olympia beer, McDonald's commercials. I was Mr. Pringle of Pringle's potato chips."

On the Sid and Marty Krofft-produced "H.R. Pufnstuf," which was set on "Living Island," Weinrib provided the voice for Pufnstuf, the island's dragon mayor, as well as many other characters.

Weinrib was instrumental in developing the live-action Saturday morning series, which debuted in 1969, and was its main writer. Although only 17 episodes were made, the series ran continuously on NBC and ABC for five years and has aired intermittently since then.

"This guy is one of the all-time great talents, between his voices and writing," Marty Krofft told The Times on Friday. "Mel Blanc was the Joe DiMaggio of voices, and Lennie was the Ted Williams."

Krofft said that even after Weinrib retired to Chile, he continued doing occasional voices for him via a recording studio in Santiago.

A movie version of "H.R. Pufnstuf" is in development, and Weinrib would have done the voice of Pufnstuf and probably other characters, Krofft said.

"Nobody ever captured H.R. Pufnstuf like this guy."

Weinrib did voices for other Krofft productions and was the on-camera star (as a genie) on "Magic Mongo," part of "The Krofft Supershow," in the late 1970s.

"He was the best guy we ever used," said Krofft. "His personality was over the top; he was a bigger-than-life character."

The Bronx-born Weinrib moved to Los Angeles with his family as a child. After graduating from Fairfax High School, he went to UCLA.

His father, a traveling salesman, wanted him to become a dentist. But his daughter said he made up his own mind on a career after running into fellow student Carol Burnett, who invited him to see her in a campus production.

"He went to see her," said Linda Weinrib, "and he told me he had an epiphany that night: 'I don't want to be a doctor. I want to make people laugh; I want to entertain.' "

Lennie Weinrib's first big TV exposure came on zany bandleader Spike Jones' CBS summer show in 1960.

"I heard they were looking for a comic," Weinrib told The Times in 1966. "So I decided to call the show's writer, Bill Dana, and ask to read. While waiting for him on the phone, I thumbed through the trades and spotted Mort Sahl's name, a close friend of Dana's. Suddenly it came to me. When Bill answered, I went into Mort's voice and fooled Bill for five minutes. They signed me the next day."

His flair for doing voices, including various dialects, came naturally to Weinrib.

In the 1960s, he dubbed David Niven's voice on "The Rogues" TV pilot, dubbed Peter Sellers for "Pink Panther" movie spots and did a variety of voices for the movie comedy "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."

"Lennie over the years was the guy brought in all the time for films and TV shows to dub other actors," said TV writer Mark Evanier, a friend who worked with Weinrib on half a dozen TV cartoons and shows.

Evanier recalled that while watching movies or TV shows, he'd often hear a dubbed-in voice in a crowd or a small part in another scene and say, "That's Lennie."

In addition to his wife and daughter, Weinrib is survived by two other daughters, Grace and Heidi; and two grandchildren.

A memorial service is pending.

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