The Legend of Lorenzo Music (and Henrietta)

There are three fairly discrete phases to the show biz career of multi-talented Lorenzo Music (Gerald Music, 1937-2001): variety/entertainment phase; sit-com phase; and voice-over phase, all of which overlap, but just a little. Any one of the pieces would be enough to make him significant in show business history; added together they are pretty remarkable.

A Brooklyn native, Music spent his later childhood through his college years in Duluth, Minnesota. He became heavily involved in theatre and show business while still in high school, participating in school shows, and working as a production assistant holding up cue-cards at a local TV station. He studied English and speech at the University of Minnesota Duluth, which is where he met his comedy partner and future wife Myrna Johnson (b. 1939). A couple of years older than Myrna, upon his own graduation (1959), he began working the coffeehouse and college campus circuit as a folk musician and entertainer. When Myrna graduated, they married and toured the circuits together as “Gerald and His Hen”. “Hen” of course was “Henrietta”, her adopted name. They toured with this act for eight years. At some point Gerald became “Lorenzo”. Apparently their name changes sprang from their joining of an obscure Indonesian cult called “Subud”.

The combination of comedy and folk music was very much like that of another prominent act of the day, The Smothers Brothers, so it shouldn’t be too surprising to learn that they interacted and admired each others work. When the Smothers Brothers got their own TV variety show in 1967, Lorenzo was brought on as a writer and performer, along with other future somebodies like Steve Martin, Rob Reiner, Don Novello (Father Guido Sarducci), Pat Paulsen, Carl Gottlieb, Bob Einstein, and others. This naturally became a springboard for the rest of his career. When The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was canceled, Music wrote for the short-lived The Leslie Uggams Show (1969).

Sketch writing led naturally to writing segments for Love, American Style in 1969 and 1970, which then led naturally to becoming a regular writer on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1971-1972). His rise was rapid. In 1972 he co-created The Bob Newhart Show, which he also wrote for, and co-wrote that show’s theme music (“Home to Emily”) with his wife Henrietta. Seeing that in the credits, “Theme by Lorenzo Music” (or however it’s worded) misled me as a kid — it had me thinking that it was the name of some sort of company. You must admit that “Music” is a rare, though wonderfully convenient surname! At any rate, who doesn’t love the original Bob Newhart Show? As I wrote here, it’s one of my favorite sit-coms. But that’s far from all Music had going on at this period. With his writing partner David Davis (husband of Julie Kavner), he was also one of the creators of Rhoda in 1974 (their official credit was “Developed By”; the credited creators are James L. Brooks and Allan Burns). More than this, Music was an offscreen regular on the show — the hilarious voice of “Carlton, Your Doorman”.

Music’s peak came in 1975 and 1976. While both of his sit-coms were still running, he and Henrietta were panelists on the game show Tattletales. And then they had their own short-lived variety program The Lorenzo and Henrietta Music Show. Also in 1976, Music had a role in the Peter Bogdanovich movie Nickelodeon. In 1978 both The Bob Newhart Show and Rhoda went off the air, and this began an entirely different phase in Music’s career.

In 1980, Music played a character named “Carlton” in the Chevy Chase comedy Oh, Heavenly Dog. Chase is offscreen for most of that movie, supplying the voice of Benji the titular pooch, as a guy who’s been reincarnated in canine form. Voice-overs, often for animal characters, would come to be the focus of Music’s life now. In 1982, that sleepy, foggy, detached voice we had associated with Carlton the Doorman now became, the voice of Garfield, the animated cat based on Jim Davis’s comic strip, in a series of animated TV specials throughout the decade and then a a Saturday morning kids’ series (1888-1994). He also played Peter Benkman (the Bill Murray character) in the animated kids version of Ghostbusters (1986-87). Murray would return the favor by voicing Garfield in two theatrical films in 2004 and 2006 (after Music had passed away). Music’s other famous voice-over character was Larry, the Crash Test Dummy in a series of witty PSAs for driving safety. He worked steadily doing voice-overs in numerous commercials and animated kids shows through 1998.

By this point Music had been in show business for 40 years, and was a legend within the industry. The wider public may not have known his name, but they certainly knew his voice. He was only 64 when cancer took him in 2001.

For more on variety entertainment (including TV variety), please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.