As a radio personality, newscaster and television announcer, Charlie O’Donnell enjoyed an exemplary career that spanned an astounding 58 years. From all-night movies, morning radio shows, mid-day newscasts, afternoon game shows, and prime-time specials he logged over 25,000 hours behind microphones in Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles. For decades, his mighty baritone voice boomed daily from coast-to-coast, and was often heard around the globe.
A rare mix of stentorian formality, power, and friendly personal charm was evident in all of his work. Those aural qualities combined with generous measures of professionalism, versatility and adaptability made Charlie O. equally adept at introducing movie stars and rock stars, as well as visiting royalty that ran the gamut from The Beatles to the Pope.
For those privileged to have known him, Charlie O. will always be remembered as a loving husband, father and grandfather; a genuine, generous, kind and charismatic man who always exuded good cheer. He selflessly offered friendship, fellowship, encouragement and support whenever and wherever it was needed. As a result, Charlie leaves a legacy of goodwill among the many whom he captivated with his warmth, his spirit and the wonderful stories of his experiences.
In 1932, the year Charlie O’Donnell was born, radio was a mere infant. NBC was only 6 years old that year when the company began the earliest experimental television broadcasts from New York's Empire State Building. TV didn’t find its way into America’s living rooms until late in the next decade, and it seems as though Charlie was there from the very beginning.
Blessed with a natural affinity for people and a temperament that his mother believed made him well-suited for the priesthood, Charlie utilized that charm in secular pursuits that ultimately allowed him to spread joy to millions. He recalled knowing early on that he wanted to make broadcasting his life’s work. When Charlie was just 12 years old, his sister was working in downtown Philadelphia, across the street from radio station KYW, and she asked him if he would like to see a live broadcast of a spelling bee. Upon their arrival he was immediately impressed with the well-appointed, modern studio. Once seated, a handsome man came out to the stage microphone and spoke with the audience for a few minutes, telling them what to expect and instructing them to refrain from helping the contestants. Charlie recalled that minutes later, when the music began and that man put his hand to his ear and began to announce the opening of the show, “I said to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do!’”
It didn’t take long before Charlie traded his part time job as a caddy at the Bala Golf Club in Philadelphia for a seat behind the microphone at WCHA, 160 miles west in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. He soon advanced to WHAT-AM, a small 250-watt black-formatted radio station back in his hometown. The Philadelphia Inquirer credited WHAT as being the first U.S. radio station to hire a full-time African-American announcer. The focus on the urban market continued as Charlie joined a racially-mixed airstaff that, during the 1950s, included local legends Hy Lit, Sonny Hopson and Jerry Blavat.
As WHAT’s Program Director in 1954, Charlie served as midwife at the birth of an exciting new era for music and radio in Philadelphia. He remembered, “Georgie Woods was our morning guy, a big black DJ. One weekend he went to Cleveland to visit his wife. On the following Monday morning I was running the board when Georgie walked in. ‘I listened to a guy named Alan Freed in Cleveland and we’re gonna steal it and it is called rock and roll,’ Georgie told me. He was the guy who brought the words rock and roll to Philly.”
Charlie rode the new music’s breaking wave through the city’s legendary WIBG radio, and, in 1957, on into television. “Wibbage” radio owned the teen audience, and was an ideal platform for young Charlie to showcase his talents and develop a reputation as a pro. His move to TV and his legendary pairing with Dick Clark was facilitated by a neighbor, local television executive Jack Hyland, who encouraged Charlie to apply for a staff announcer job at WFIL. Charlie said, “I auditioned and never thought any more about it. A lot of guys were much better than me. I was surprised when the (program director) called and said I got the job. They asked if I knew what the job was. I didn’t. They told me it was the announcing job on ‘American Bandstand’ with Dick Clark hosting.”
Charlie had already met Dick before the pair was teamed for the groundbreaking afternoon TV dance show. Dick was working at the more stayed, mainline WFIL radio as a staff announcer and afternoon DJ, playing the pop standards of the day, and "Bandstand" was a local program hosted by WFIL's Bob Horn. Of the original "Bandstand" Charlie said, "I knew it was a hit immediately… you had to rush home to watch Bob Horn if you wanted to know what was happening in music."
In the year before the fledgling ABC-TV network prepared to take the program national, the show was re-cast and a life-long partnership was soon formed. Dick Clark debuted as the new host of "Bandstand" on July 9, 1956, and Charlie remembered in a 2009 interview, "Dick was on the air with the network show for a little while and they decided his commercial load was such that he needed a second banana… they hired me to relieve him of some of the commercial load." Charlie noted, "We hit it off immediately." As to the cultural impact of rock and roll, Charlie said, "We knew this thing was a monster, but nobody knew where it was going to go or how long it was going to last."
The success of "American Bandstand" precipitated the O'Donnell family's move across the country. Seven years into its network run, with The Beach Boys, The Righteous Brothers and Jan & Dean topping the charts, Dick Clark shared his thoughts with Charlie about his sense that a new trend was developing in the music. Dick told Charlie that he would be moving the show to California, and invited his sidekick to be one of three valued members of the "American Bandstand" team to make the move.
Always a devoted family man, Charlie recalled wrestling with the decision of uprooting his wife and four young children, aged 10, 9, 8, and 3. With the program having been reduced from a daily hour to a once-weekly Saturday timeslot in September of 1963, Charlie was uncertain that he would be able to adequately supplement his income in a city where he was little-known and had few connections. Charlie's East-coast network of radio friends led him to an interview at the New York offices of RKO General's radio division where he landed a full-time job as afternoon DJ at the chain's Los Angeles outlet, KHJ. While all the pieces seemed to be fitting together well, The O'Donnells soon faced a major challenge.
Charlie arrived in L.A., checked into a hotel and called KHJ. "Didn't you get our telegram?" asked the station manager. In fact, there was no longer a job, and Charlie had yet to receive that telegram. "I was stranded in L.A.," Charlie recalled, "and thankful I had at least the ‘American Bandstand' gig, but it was only once a week. I was confident and cocky. I guess you have to be young to be that. I was disappointed that KHJ reneged. To this day, a handshake is my word." Within three months, Charlie had gone through his savings.
Martoni's Restaurant and its bar was the unofficial headquarters of the Hollywood music and radio industries. The era's top DJs, programmers, recording artists and record producers, including Phil Spector and, later, Bill Drake, met and mingled nightly. Charlie, always the consummate people person, quickly developed friendships at Martoni's that led to his auditioning for and winning the mid-morning slot on KRLA radio.
Joining an air force that included radio superstars Bob Eubanks, Casey Kasem and "Hullabalooer" Dave Hull, Charlie reflected, "I found myself in the middle of these people and wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into… I never worked with more wonderful people in all my life than I did during the years at KRLA. Forty years later we're still the best of friends. There's not a month that goes by that I don't hear from somebody. It always remained a very close community."
In the summer of 1964, Bob Eubanks mortgaged his home to book The Beatles into The Hollywood Bowl for their first Los Angeles appearance. Eubanks shared the coup with his KRLA brethren, but they were unprepared for the pandemonium that ensued. "We looked out at 18,000 screaming kids and these guys were nervous," recalled Charlie. "I had experience with live stage shows, TV and appearing in front of an audience, but I wasn't ready for this. Bob Eubanks told me to go out first since I was physically the biggest in case they threw anything. We had no idea what we were going to do."
Charlie went out on stage first, encouraging the kids to have a lot of fun, instructing them not to rush the stage and to be considerate to those who were upfront in wheelchairs. He then introduced the rest of the KRLA personalities who came out on stage where they collectively introduced the Fab Four. "It was absolutely hysterical at the time," Charlie smiled, "I don't think anyone heard the Beatles singing. It reminded me of being on a runway with five jet engines starting at the same time. It was so loud I couldn't hear a thing. It was so loud, but what a night!"
As for providing a safe post-show exit for John, Paul George and Ringo, Charlie said, "We had an armored truck as a decoy and when it was over, some of our guys ran for the truck and went down the hill. Kids and the press were convinced that the Beatles were inside. Meanwhile Jim Steck, one of our newsmen, removed the backseat of his Volkswagen. The Beatles climbed in and we covered them with a tarp and we had them safely to their hotel within ten minutes."
Three months after Charlie introduced the Beatles to Los Angeles, he was credited for securing an advance copy of the group's 45rpm disc "I Feel Fine" b/w "She's A Woman" from a neighbor in the record business. It was a full 18 days before Capitol Records' scheduled release date of November 23rd, and Billboard magazine reported that the preview on KRLA resulted in calls from the Capitol tower, as well as offers from radio stations across the country offering thousands of dollars for taped dubs of the record.
Now well associated with the rock music scene, Charlie also introduced The Rolling Stones when they appeared at the Long Beach Auditorium in 1965, and he was back on-stage to again present The Beatles at their Los Angeles appearances in 1966 and 1967. By virtue of his connection with the newly emerging youth culture of that decade, Charlie joined other personalities who appeared in bit parts on ABC-TV's ultra-hip series "Batman," playing himself in the 1966 episode "Deep Freeze."
In 1967 Charlie weathered what was likely his biggest career disappointment. In an attempt to unseat Johnny Carson as the king of late-night, ABC-TV hired rat-packer Joey Bishop for a talk show. Ironically, it was Johnny's sidekick, Ed McMahon, who advocated for his fellow Philadelphian. Charlie reported, "Ed set up a meeting at Joey's house on a Friday. When we left he told me that I was going to be his Ed McMahon. Apparently there were two others being considered. One was a professor at UCLA and the other was a little guy from San Diego named Regis Philbin. We pooh-poohed Regis because nobody knew who he was. He was doing a talk show."
"All weekend my agent at William Morris was calling putting the deal together. I already spent the money." With the inability to get their calls returned on Monday, it became apparent to Ed McMahon and Charlie that the deal had fallen through. Indeed, later that day, ABC announced that Regis had been given the plum assignment. Three years after the incident Joey Bishop finally explained, "You were the guy, Charlie, but as you and Ed left my house I thought I was looking at twins. I didn't want to have Ed McMahon sitting across from me."
Regis remembers Joey Bishop requested a meeting shortly after Regis interviewed the bombastic and iconoclastic broadcaster Joe Pyne on his Channel 11 show: "Every dj and comedian in town was interviewing for the job… I went in and met Joey and he said he liked the Pyne interview. He told me I had talent. I had always wondered what my talent was. I was intrigued. He stood up and said, 'You, are a great listener.'"
After close to four years at KRLA, Charlie returned East briefly in the summer of 1968. His connections with the RKO radio chain and his early black-formatted radio experience in Philadelphia intersected as he became the morning personality for the new WOR-FM, New York. Although a mass appeal station, Charlie was uncharacteristically soulful in his hip style of delivery, generously incorporating phrases including "sock it to ya," "gettin' down to the real nitty gritty in New York City," and "outta sight" into his rap.
Charlie reflected on that chapter of his career in an e-mail almost a decade ago: "I was there a short time but long enough to see OR-FM do some big damage to the ratings. In six months we went from nobodies to #3 in the market, or so (Program Director) Sebastian told me… It was a very exciting time to be in New York. I came after Scott Muni and Roscoe moved over to WNEW-FM. Scott and I were buddies years before when he was at WABC. I gave Roscoe his first job in radio when I was programming WHAT in Philly."
Millions of Americans unknowingly have had a piece of Charlie O'Donnell's New York work in their homes over the decades. It is a relic of the culturally tumultuous late 1960s, during which Charlie's voice was immortalized on a Simon and Garfunkel album. The duo's "7 O'Clock News/Silent Night" is the final cut on their 1968 "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" LP, and it is a classic, moving two-minute remnant of the protest music of the era.
Simon and Garfunkel sing "Silent Night" while Charlie simultaneously reads a serious, authentic-sounding newscast of a half-dozen troubling true stories of the time, including reports of anti-war and civil rights demonstrations, Lenny Bruce's drug overdose and a multiple murder. As the song progresses, Charlie's newscast gets louder, distracting from the hymn. The recording ends with Charlie's final news story, in which he quotes Richard Nixon saying that anti-war protests are the greatest single threat to America, and that the Vietnam War is likely to last another five years.
Billboard magazine reports that Charlie returned to L.A. radio in time to serve as on-air personality and Music Director for the debut of KGBS' format switch from country to adult contemporary on November 7, 1968. The versatile broadcaster continued his radio career for another decade with stops at KLAC and KBBQ. Simultaneously, Charlie expanded his television game show announcing which began with 1967's "Everybody's Talking," and continued with "The Parent Game" in 1972 and "The Wizard of Odds" in 1973.
In late 1974, accepting what seemed like just another TV voice and audience warm-up job, Charlie began his reign on what became the biggest success in game show history. Singer and television personality Merv Griffin had been pitching a variation of the word game that he had played decades earlier with his sister in the back seat of his family's car on long road trips. The concept Merv originally titled "Shoppers Bazaar" was dismissed by one NBC programming executive as being merely "Hangman with a Roulette wheel."
The cancellation of Merv's "Jeopardy!" from the daytime line-up left the network committed to carry another show from Merv's production company. The word game that had failed to impress in an earlier pilot was quickly developed into the splashy, prize-laden "Wheel of Fortune" in time for its January 6, 1975 debut with host Chuck Woolery and letter-turner Susan Stafford.
Wheel continued on NBC's morning line-up until 1991, despite the fact that its future wasn't always assured. Legendary programmer Fred Silverman, who had axed "Hollywood Squares" from its daytime berth, also went so far as to mistakenly declare that the wheel had run out of steam. Indeed, "Wheel of Fortune" was canceled midway through 1980, and a final farewell episode was taped to air on August 1st. Charlie O'Donnell, always in demand, pledged himself to his former KRLA mic-mate Bob Eubanks to work on Eubanks-Hill's syndicated “The Toni Tennille Show” which began taping at KTLA's studios that summer for a September debut in syndication.
In an unusual turn of events, NBC then reversed itself. Reportedly in reviewing David Letterman's new 90-minute morning show Silverman felt that the final half-hour was weak. The programmer speculated that cutting the program to one hour would strengthen its overall performance, and just days after the staff, cast and crew were notified that NBC had canceled "Wheel of Fortune" the network rescinded the cancellation. Mindful of his KHJ experience and his credo that "a handshake is my word," Charlie honored his commitment to "The Toni Tennille Show." Jack Clark was then hired to lend his smooth, conversational style to Wheel.
Ultimately it was the syndicated version starring Pat Sajak and Vanna White debuting in 1983 that set records for ratings, revenues and popularity. Shortly after Jack's death in 1988 Charlie returned, and had been back behind the microphone for two decades when "Wheel of Fortune" celebrated its 25th anniversary and, in 2009, recorded its historic 5,000th episode in syndication. The program had long since become a cultural institution, and Charlie continued as its signature voice and on-air partner to Pat and Vanna until his passing. Through the good-natured, ad-lib interplay that viewers enjoyed over the course of his amazing 28-years with the show, Charlie will forever be remembered as a vital ingredient in the mix that made "Wheel of Fortune" the most successful game show in American television history.
Concurrent with the debut of "Wheel of Fortune" in 1975, Charlie built upon his early on-camera TV experience accepting an assignment as staff announcer at KCOP, L.A.'s Channel 13. "I would do three newscasts a day, host ‘Dialing for Dollars,' and then the afternoon newscast." Charlie continued fronting the station's newscasts for a decade, remembering, "We had decent ratings for that time period and management wanted me to become the nighttime anchor. I didn't want to do it because I taped ‘Wheel of Fortune' every other week. I eventually did the evening cast for three years." Ultimately Charlie left the gig with a piece of advice to the budget-challenged station manager. "I told them to hire a solid anchor guy who is known here and pay them some money, for God's sake. If an airplane went down, the Channel 13 stage manager threw a paper plane into the set. That's the extent of their graphics."
Only months before the end of his ten year tenure at KCOP, Charlie suffered his greatest loss. His wife and the mother of his children, Mary Jane O'Donnell died in 1984 at the age of 52. Charlie remembered, "She was my high school sweetheart. We had been married 32 years. It was textbook ovarian cancer and she died 18 months after being diagnosed."
Following her death, Charlie returned to the company and companionship of his East-coast friends for a vacation. Within days, his agent called with the news of a return of "The Newlywed Game" and "The Dating Game." Charlie immediately started announcing chores for both shows in addition to his Channel 13 duties. "It got me right into a busy schedule, which is what I needed."
Those two Chuck Barris productions were among over two dozen game shows that were energized by Charlie O'Donnell's voice. In chronological order of their debuts, they included "Everybody's Talking," "Wedding Party," "The Parent Game," "Wizard of Odds," "Stumpers," "Jokers Wild," "Tic Tac Dough," "The Cheap Show," "Card Sharks," "All Star Secrets," "The Guinness Game," "Bullseye," "Pyramid," "Press Your Luck," "Hot Potato," "Trivia Trap," "The Newlywed Game," "Wordplay," "The Dating Game," "The Gong Show," "Monopoly," "To Tell The Truth" and "Let's Go Back."
Charlie's extensive credits in variety shows included "The Richard Pryor Show," "Dance Fever," "Solid Gold" and "The Toni Tennille Show." His now ubiquitous presence made him the perfect choice to be cast as an announcer or newscaster on numerous TV episodes and movies, including "L.A. Law" and "The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom."
Charlie was also the voice of virtually every program produced by his long-time friend and partner, Dick Clark, including countless "American Bandstand" retrospectives, the long-running "Bloopers and Practical Jokes" specials, and over 20 years of Dick's annual "American Music Awards." Charlie's awards show credits are unique as he is the only broadcaster having also announced the Emmys, the Oscars, the Golden Globes, and the Academy of Country Music Awards. Charlie's versatility made him equally well suited to introduce Pope John Paul II on his visit to Los Angeles, as well as the 1987 Papal nationwide teleconference transmitted from the Universal Amphitheater.
A few years after the death of his wife Mary Jane, Charlie was well immersed in his work. He remembered, "Well-meaning friends tried to set me up, but I just didn't have time with all the game shows I was doing." That was the case as Charlie's dear friend, director Jeff Margolis and his wife, thought they knew the perfect partner for Charlie. However, there never seemed to be an opportunity for the two to meet. Margolis arranged for an impromptu introduction on the set of "The Gong Show." Charlie recalled, "When Jeff's wife arrived, there was this gorgeous redhead with her... they were playing cupid."
The magic between Charlie and that redhead, Ellen Lerner, began with a lunch. Ellen is a Los Angeles native and was working as an administrator for a plastic surgeon, but the couple soon found common ground discussing their associations in the music industry. Ellen had previously worked for record executives and music industry entrepreneurs Danny Davis and Lester Sill. Ellen and Charlie were engaged on New Year's Eve 1988 while vacationing in London; they married the following May. The couple's love continued to blossom, and it was apparent to even the most casual observer that they shared a deep, joyous, passionate and fulfilling partnership.
In 2004 Charlie remarked, "Fourteen years later I'm with the same lady and she is as gorgeous looking today as she was then, in fact, better looking. She had no kids and my four love her and we all get along famously. She is an extremely talented artist." Indeed, Ellen is a passionate and accomplished artist, specializing in oils and photography. The influence of the French impressionist school is evident in much of her work, and her inspiring paintings hang in private homes throughout the United States. Her work can be viewed at www.ellenodonnell.com
The love affair was cut short in the early morning hours of Monday, November 1, 2010. Charlie died of natural causes at age 78 at his home in Sherman Oaks. He reportedly had been experiencing medical problems and feeling poorly since the preceding summer. Most acquaintances were spared details of any decline in health, and still envisioned him spending free time on the golf course. Charlie O'Donnell's voice may have been permanently silenced on that date, but he lives on in the hearts of the many he befriended, inspired and encouraged.
Unlike sad stories of friendships taken for granted until a loved one dies, Charlie spread good cheer so freely and engendered caring relationships so effortlessly that there is little doubt he felt that love returned to him every day of his life. One random weekday in 2001, Charlie returned to NBC studios in Burbank where, 26 years previously, he had taped the first episodes of "Wheel of Fortune." I was in the middle of an audience warm-up for "Weakest Link" in Studio 1 when Charlie walked into view of the crew; he was instantly welcomed like the visiting dignitary that he was. Staff members and technicians immediately gathered around Charlie with such enthusiasm that there seemed to be some unseen magnetic force of nature at play.
Charlie's arrival drew such attention that the audience began to question the identity of the mysterious visitor. I joined his throng of well-wishers to ask if I could briefly introduce him to the audience. Charlie graciously complied. Once I informed the in-studio guests that this was Charlie O'Donnell of "Wheel of Fortune," and once they heard his instantly recognizable voice, the audience's reaction was one of having met an old friend. Such was the power of the medium, and Charlie's ability to transcend the wires, lights and electronics in forging a personal connection with viewers.
That experience, along with countless other similar moments, bear out the O'Donnell family's retrospective comments shared at Charlie's memorial service: "He was a handsome, tall, silver-haired Irish presence. When he walked into a room, you couldn't help but fall in love with this genuine and generous kind man who would captivate you for hours with his knowledge of pretty much everything… a wonderful, larger-than-life man."
AFTRA acknowledged Charlie's attaining iconic status during his 52-year union membership in referring to his "welcoming… trademark voice." Charlie is quoted in his Sony biography saying, "I am very lucky that I have had such a wonderful home base at ‘Wheel of Fortune.'" It was obvious that the staff and crew, from Executive Producer Harry Friedman down, all felt equally lucky to have Charlie as a member of their professional family. Pat Sajak, the host who steers the Wheel, reflected about Charlie's contribution to the show, "He loved performing in front of crowds. He took that role very seriously… He loved meeting people, and when we went out on the road, Charlie was the first contact that thousands of people had with 'Wheel of Fortune.'
"From an aural point of view, Charlie was the most recognizable part of this show. He really was the most professional guy I ever knew. That's what he took pride in… he took great pride in what he did. He was a great inspiration to all of us." Sajak continued with a metaphor that could only come from the mind of a fellow broadcaster, "Charlie's great skill was timing. If something was 13 seconds long, next time it would be 11. I figure it applied to his life. If Charlie left, it meant it was time. He got a cue. I guess it was time for him to leave."
Charlie and Dick Clark remained friends and colleagues, working and socializing together regularly since their days together in Philadelphia. A photograph of the pair taken in recent months was displayed at the prayer service in Charlie's memory that was held at Forest Lawn Memorial Park on November 9th. Dick released a statement about his partner; "We were friends for over 50 years. I always knew him as one of the most kind and generous human beings I've ever met. In terms of business, he was the ultimate professional…I'll miss him."
On a personal note, I too was crushed by the news of Charlie's passing. During our 26-year friendship he had always been so kind and encouraging to me. His amazing career, his style, and his approach to his work had set a shining example of professionalism. Charlie introduced me in a ballroom at the Continental Hyatt House on Sunset Boulevard at a 1984 run-through of a game in development for CBS that I hosted, "Chain Game," and we instantly became friends. In 1999 and 2000, when GSN/PAX-TV taped "Hollywood Showdown" on the "Wheel of Fortune" stage on their dark days, Charlie would leave notes for me at the announcer's desk. Most were just silly, such as "Mind your dipthongs and have a great day," yet the smile he engendered with those notes lasted through the day.
Charlie and I were exchanging e-mails regularly. We forwarded the funny jokes that everybody shares, and he sent me a collection of amazing photos of everything from stunning aerial shots of modern-day China, to amazing pictures of Pearl Harbor taken during the 1941 attack. I treasure most the contacts we had about more personal matters. He kept me updated about Ellen's career successes as an artist, he shared news about his kids, and he recounted stories about our mutual friends. As my father was a golf pro, I enjoyed hearing about Charlie's passion for the game. He boasted that Ellen had become a "respectable player" in only a few years after taking up the game, and that they were enjoying playing on "some of the world's most beautiful and expensive real estate."
Charlie's insights about the business often included valuable advice and encouragement, and they were always fun to read. When he shared his memories of our mutual acquaintances, Charlie's stories gave me great fodder for future discussions with those friends. The recounting of Charlie's memories and the mention of his name always evoked smiles. It seemed Charlie knew everybody in show business. When I wrote about having shared the stage in Las Vegas with George Hamilton, Charlie responded, "I remember doing a pilot with him many years ago and it was one of the best times I ever had. During breaks we'd go sit at a Baccarat table… he was like a chick magnet."
Looking back on Charlie's recent e-mails, they included his tale of being on location for "Wheel of Fortune" when caught in the evacuation of New Orleans hours before Hurricane Katrina hit. With the storm approaching, a decision was made on Saturday morning to cancel Sunday's tapings. By 8 o'clock Saturday night all flights had been canceled, and attempts to leave town by rental car, train and even Greyhound bus were all proving fruitless. Charlie wrote that the ordeal included "a seventeen-and-a-half-hour drive to Houston to find safe passage home."
Charlie shared good news while joking about the success of "Wheel" back in 2005, "The show continues its stranglehold on Number 1, now in its 24th season of syndication. Rumor has it that they are going to try to sell it through 2012 at this year's NATPE. Pat's son will probably replace him by 2020."
In 2007 Charlie commiserated, "So many of the pilots for NATPE were without announcers. What a business." He added, "'Wheel' was kind enough to pick me up for another three years. They told me at the beginning of the season, three months before they knew the show was going to be extended till 2012. As a friend of mine so succinctly put it, ‘You'll be coming out on a walker to do the warm-up.'"
When I returned home from working on "The Price is Right – Live" near Charlie's hometown he teased, "You were in Atlantic City so long I thought maybe they brought back the Miss America pageant and either you were announcing it or you were a contestant!" A last e-mail a few weeks before his passing went unanswered. We had been planning a lunch together.
Charlie was a fun guy - a class act - who left a trail of goodwill in his path. Greater than his magnificent voice and his enduring career of broadcasting excellence was his endearing character. Charlie was a man of seemingly endless caring, humor and compassion, always ready with a joke and a word of support for everyone with whom he came in contact. He was a gentle man, loved at studios all over town. Charlie will be missed by the many who were honored to call him friend, and who were richer for knowing him.
Charlie O'Donnell was laid to rest on November 10, 2010 following a memorial service at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church. It is an immense and beautiful house of worship where Charlie had been an active congregant for years. It was filled that Wednesday morning with loved ones from all walks of his life. Dick Clark, Pat Sajak, Vanna White, Wink Martindale, Bob Eubanks, and so many other familiar faces usually seen displaying effusive smiles were strangely solemn. Later that day, asked to comment on the service, I wrote the following:
I can see why Charlie loved that church, he always loved playing to a big house!
In addition to the sadness we all experienced in reflecting on this great loss, there was also a palpable feeling of warmth, love and fellowship in the air. All in attendance seemed to reflect those very qualities that were so much a part of Charlie's personality and approach to people.
Moreso than at other such occasions, I felt there was also a relevance to this service as a direct result of Monsignor Gallagher's personal relationship with Charlie. He was on-target in his discussion of Charlie's family life and his contributions to the industry, taking the opportunity to point out how the television programs on which he worked have a joyous impact on the viewers' lives and on society in general.
While formal in the rituals that were appropriate to the occasion, there was also a great deal of humanity, especially when his friend and colleague Jeff Goldstein started his eulogy with Charlie's warm-up opening line ("Is this a great looking group, or what?") It was met with an enthusiastic round of applause - Charlie's last audience ovation.
And Charlie would have been happy to know that there was such a great spirit of camaraderie among the many old friends who took the opportunity to reunite, as evidenced by the many handshakes, hugs and the exchanging of memories following the service. It was a wonderful send off for one of our industry's unforgettable giants, Charles John O'Donnell.
Great appreciation is expressed to Don Barrett, webmaster of LARadio.com and author of "Los Angeles Radio People" for his generous and gracious permission to use materials from his 2004 interview with Charlie O.
Story ©2010 Randy West.
Photographs are the property of the rights holders. No copyright infringement is intended
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