RIP Sonny Eliot

Eliot seen in July 1979 outside of The Detroit News. Detroit News Photo Archive

Marvin “Sonny” Eliot was the pilot of a B-24 that was shot down during a bombing mission over Germany during the war and he was captured. He spent 18 months in the Stalagluft I prison camp.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20121116/METRO/211160390#ixzz2COwCC59X

 

“The bell has ‘ring-a-ding-a-dined'” for legendary weatherman Sonny Eliot.

The wacky broadcaster — who became an icon during a 63-year career on Detroit television and radio — was 91.

According to WWJ-AM (950) — the radio station he called home for decades, from 1947 to 2010 — Eliot died at his Farmington Hills home with family by his side. His family made the announcement Friday morning.

For six decades, Eliot delighted listeners — and TV viewers on the Evening News Association’s WWJ-TV, now WDIV-TV — with an unrelenting barrage of quips, funny noises, unusual city names and groaners.

More borscht-belt comedian than meteorologist, he delighted in coining new words (rainy, foggy conditions were “froggy”) and giving the weather in far-flung locales whose names he willfully mispronounced.

His broadcasts were a collection of accents, funny noises, cornball humor and analogies from Mars. Somewhere in there was the forecast.

He went on long tangents unrelated to the weather and lapsed into a foreign language when telling the temperature in that country.

Whatever it took to get a chuckle.

“Sonny just oozed personality,” said Matt Friedman, a Farmington Hills marketing executive who had worked with Eliot at WWJ. “He was the same in person as he was on the radio. He was hysterical.”

Long before Doppler radar and blow-dried anchors, TV news in Detroit was populated by outsized characters such as Eliot.

He loved to combine words, scribbling his inventions on the weatherboard. Snow and fog were “snog.” Sunny and mild were “smild.”

Then there were his goofy expressions.

A lousy day was as pleasant as diaper rash. A town was so small it would take two to make a colon. Never put off until tomorrow what you can ignore altogether.

And there were those favorite bits telling the temperature in distant countries, in the native language.

Eliot would get the actual temperature in Buenos Aires from the wire services on the air and then say “It’s 85 degrees, ochenta y cinco, in Buenos Aires,” in flawless Spanish.

“It’s all about research, robbery and stealth,” he once said about his broadcasts.

Eliot’s early years

Born Marvin Eliot Schlossberg in Detroit in 1920, Eliot grew up on Hastings Street, the youngest child of Latvian immigrants Jacob and Jeanette Schlossberg, who owned a hardware store in Detroit.

The year of his birth was always a matter of conjecture because he was forever shaving years off his age.

Eliot wanted to be an actor, which didn’t surprise anyone aware of his hambone.

While attending Wayne State University, he had small roles in school and professional plays and on national radio programs made in Detroit, such as “The Lone Ranger” and “The Green Hornet.”

He even acted in a German POW camp.

He was the pilot of a B-24 bomber nicknamed Doodley Squat that was shot down over Germany during World War II.

It was poor planning to be captured by the folks you just bombed, he later joked.

During 14 months at Stalag Luft I, he wrote and acted in skits and musicals to entertain the other prisoners.

“I worked up some comedy to entertain the guys,” he said in a 1980 interview. “How could I miss? I had a captive audience.”

A weatherman is born

After returning from the war, he tried to make it on Broadway but failed.

Meanwhile, in 1946, a new medium had arrived in Detroit. WWJ-TV became the first TV station in Michigan.

Eliot got a bit part on a children’s TV show involving puppets, “Let’s See Willy Dooit.”

He was willing to do just about anything to expand his presence on TV, pleading with bosses, auditioning for various roles, taking whatever was offered.

When the TV station was looking for a weatherman in 1956, Eliot jumped at it.

He had little knowledge of meteorology. What he did have was a love of English and shtick.

“Meteorology is just two weeks behind a farmer with arthritis,” he said years later.

During the first three months, his broadcasts were straight, dry recitations of temperatures and weather conditions.

One day, he told TV viewers that it was 55 degrees in Las Vegas.

“Ten the hard way,” someone said off camera, using the craps term.

Crew members laughed. The boss didn’t get mad. And a career was born.

After that, Eliot did whatever he could to get yucks during his four minutes of airtime.

“His reputation for using humor during his weather stint on TV came about by accident,” said Tim Kiska, associate professor at the University of Michigan/Dearborn and author of the book “From Soupy to Nuts: A History of Detroit TV.”

“He made an offhanded remark, which made the anchorman laugh off camera. After that, he started working more and more humor into his broadcasts. During the 1960s, Sonny was the most popular and most recognized personality in Detroit television.”

Eliot also had a serious side.

“Most people only knew the Sonny Eliot personality from TV and radio,” said Kiska, a former reporter for The Detroit News and Free Press. “But the other Sonny was a serious intellectual and very well-read. He could discuss any topic. He also had an amazing grasp of the technical end of broadcasting, both radio and TV.

“When he would give you tips, it was like getting a guitar lesson from Eric Clapton.”

Eliot also tried to give the forecast as quickly as possible to allow more time for his wacky demeanor.

He dispensed safety tips, warning motorists to look out for children, especially if the youngsters were driving.

Former first lady Barbara Bush once listened to Eliot while on hold waiting to be interviewed by the station. All she could talk about during the interview was that crazy weatherman.

“His career was beyond stunning,” Kiska said. “He started TV in the 1940s and finished on radio in 2010; that’s seven decades in the business for goodness sakes. Nobody ever had a career like that and nobody ever will.”

An award winner

Eliot garnered a number of awards, rewards and honors including citations from the American Legion and the American Meteorological Society, the Toastmaster International Award and the Michigan Association of Broadcasters Excellence Award for Broadcast personality.

He was inducted into the Michigan Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame in 2005.

When Eliot was elected to the Michigan Broadcasting Hall of Fame, his boss at WWJ-AM said the electors had no choice.

“It wouldn’t be a Hall of Fame without him,” said Rich Homberg, who now is president of Detroit Public Television. “Sonny is the Michigan history of TV and radio.”

In early days, Eliot’s local fame grew as he hosted the TV station’s yearly coverage of the Thanksgiving Day Parade.

He also was host of “At the Zoo,” a TV children’s program, for 17 years.

When people visited the Detroit Zoo, one of the first things they did was look for Eliot.

For six decades, people looking for the weather or a chuckle did the same thing.

In one his final interviews before retiring in September 2010, Eliot was asked to summarize his career: “As the late Jimmy Stewart said, ‘it’s been a wonderful life.’ I have no complaints.”

fdonnelly@detnews.com

(313) 223-4186

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20121116/METRO/211160390#ixzz2COjfGr8w

 

Mayer Hawthorne

The Walk

This is uniquely Detroit Music!

 

“The bell has ‘ring-a-ding-a-dined'” for legendary weatherman Sonny Eliot.

The wacky broadcaster — who became an icon during a 63-year career on Detroit television and radio — was 91.

According to WWJ-AM (950) — the radio station he called home for decades, from 1947 to 2010 — Eliot died at his Farmington Hills home with family by his side. His family made the announcement Friday morning.

For six decades, Eliot delighted listeners — and TV viewers on the Evening News Association’s WWJ-TV, now WDIV-TV — with an unrelenting barrage of quips, funny noises, unusual city names and groaners.

More borscht-belt comedian than meteorologist, he delighted in coining new words (rainy, foggy conditions were “froggy”) and giving the weather in far-flung locales whose names he willfully mispronounced.

His broadcasts were a collection of accents, funny noises, cornball humor and analogies from Mars. Somewhere in there was the forecast.

He went on long tangents unrelated to the weather and lapsed into a foreign language when telling the temperature in that country.

Whatever it took to get a chuckle.

“Sonny just oozed personality,” said Matt Friedman, a Farmington Hills marketing executive who had worked with Eliot at WWJ. “He was the same in person as he was on the radio. He was hysterical.”

Long before Doppler radar and blow-dried anchors, TV news in Detroit was populated by outsized characters such as Eliot.

He loved to combine words, scribbling his inventions on the weatherboard. Snow and fog were “snog.” Sunny and mild were “smild.”

Then there were his goofy expressions.

A lousy day was as pleasant as diaper rash. A town was so small it would take two to make a colon. Never put off until tomorrow what you can ignore altogether.

And there were those favorite bits telling the temperature in distant countries, in the native language.

Eliot would get the actual temperature in Buenos Aires from the wire services on the air and then say “It’s 85 degrees, ochenta y cinco, in Buenos Aires,” in flawless Spanish.

“It’s all about research, robbery and stealth,” he once said about his broadcasts.

Eliot’s early years

Born Marvin Eliot Schlossberg in Detroit in 1920, Eliot grew up on Hastings Street, the youngest child of Latvian immigrants Jacob and Jeanette Schlossberg, who owned a hardware store in Detroit.

The year of his birth was always a matter of conjecture because he was forever shaving years off his age.

Eliot wanted to be an actor, which didn’t surprise anyone aware of his hambone.

While attending Wayne State University, he had small roles in school and professional plays and on national radio programs made in Detroit, such as “The Lone Ranger” and “The Green Hornet.”

He even acted in a German POW camp.

He was the pilot of a B-24 bomber nicknamed Doodley Squat that was shot down over Germany during World War II.

It was poor planning to be captured by the folks you just bombed, he later joked.

During 14 months at Stalag Luft I, he wrote and acted in skits and musicals to entertain the other prisoners.

“I worked up some comedy to entertain the guys,” he said in a 1980 interview. “How could I miss? I had a captive audience.”

A weatherman is born

After returning from the war, he tried to make it on Broadway but failed.

Meanwhile, in 1946, a new medium had arrived in Detroit. WWJ-TV became the first TV station in Michigan.

Eliot got a bit part on a children’s TV show involving puppets, “Let’s See Willy Dooit.”

He was willing to do just about anything to expand his presence on TV, pleading with bosses, auditioning for various roles, taking whatever was offered.

When the TV station was looking for a weatherman in 1956, Eliot jumped at it.

He had little knowledge of meteorology. What he did have was a love of English and shtick.

“Meteorology is just two weeks behind a farmer with arthritis,” he said years later.

During the first three months, his broadcasts were straight, dry recitations of temperatures and weather conditions.

One day, he told TV viewers that it was 55 degrees in Las Vegas.

“Ten the hard way,” someone said off camera, using the craps term.

Crew members laughed. The boss didn’t get mad. And a career was born.

After that, Eliot did whatever he could to get yucks during his four minutes of airtime.

“His reputation for using humor during his weather stint on TV came about by accident,” said Tim Kiska, associate professor at the University of Michigan/Dearborn and author of the book “From Soupy to Nuts: A History of Detroit TV.”

“He made an offhanded remark, which made the anchorman laugh off camera. After that, he started working more and more humor into his broadcasts. During the 1960s, Sonny was the most popular and most recognized personality in Detroit television.”

Eliot also had a serious side.

“Most people only knew the Sonny Eliot personality from TV and radio,” said Kiska, a former reporter for The Detroit News and Free Press. “But the other Sonny was a serious intellectual and very well-read. He could discuss any topic. He also had an amazing grasp of the technical end of broadcasting, both radio and TV.

“When he would give you tips, it was like getting a guitar lesson from Eric Clapton.”

Eliot also tried to give the forecast as quickly as possible to allow more time for his wacky demeanor.

He dispensed safety tips, warning motorists to look out for children, especially if the youngsters were driving.

Former first lady Barbara Bush once listened to Eliot while on hold waiting to be interviewed by the station. All she could talk about during the interview was that crazy weatherman.

“His career was beyond stunning,” Kiska said. “He started TV in the 1940s and finished on radio in 2010; that’s seven decades in the business for goodness sakes. Nobody ever had a career like that and nobody ever will.”

An award winner

Eliot garnered a number of awards, rewards and honors including citations from the American Legion and the American Meteorological Society, the Toastmaster International Award and the Michigan Association of Broadcasters Excellence Award for Broadcast personality.

He was inducted into the Michigan Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame in 2005.

When Eliot was elected to the Michigan Broadcasting Hall of Fame, his boss at WWJ-AM said the electors had no choice.

“It wouldn’t be a Hall of Fame without him,” said Rich Homberg, who now is president of Detroit Public Television. “Sonny is the Michigan history of TV and radio.”

In early days, Eliot’s local fame grew as he hosted the TV station’s yearly coverage of the Thanksgiving Day Parade.

He also was host of “At the Zoo,” a TV children’s program, for 17 years.

When people visited the Detroit Zoo, one of the first things they did was look for Eliot.

For six decades, people looking for the weather or a chuckle did the same thing.

In one his final interviews before retiring in September 2010, Eliot was asked to summarize his career: “As the late Jimmy Stewart said, ‘it’s been a wonderful life.’ I have no complaints.”

fdonnelly@detnews.com

(313) 223-4186

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20121116/METRO/211160390#ixzz2COjfGr8w

 

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