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Boreson, Stan (b. 1925), Comedian and Musician

HistoryLink.org Essay 8553 : Printer-Friendly Format

Musician, recording artist, humorist, and pioneering '50s kiddie-TV show star -- Stan Boreson was Everett's king of Scandinavian humor. He has brought joy to generations in his native Northwest, across America, and around the globe. In his six decades of recording and performing, Boreson became a regional icon, an American treasure via sales of his 15 albums and a half-dozen appearances on Garrison Keillor's radio show A Prairie Home Companion, and an in-demand act who once accepted a direct concert request by King Olav of Norway, and later in 2005, was further honored by Norway's King Harald V with the St. Olav Medal of Honor -- one step shy of full knighthood.

Everett Roots

Stanley Edward Boreson was born (on May 5, 1925) and raised in Everett, Washington. His family traces their Northwest history back to that fateful day around the year 1890 when his grandfather, Hans -- who’d arrived as a carpenter aboard a Norwegian lumber hauler -- jumped ship at the tiny sawmill village of Utsalady on north Camano Island. After hiding in the woods, living on berries for a few days, and escaping the detection of an angry captain who rowed around the bay hollering and waving his shotgun towards the shore, Hans finally emerged, filed a homestead land claim, and sent word back home for his wife to join him here and they set out to make a family and start a new life on Camano. 

Years passed by and when Hans’s grandson, Stan, was attending the sixth grade at Everett’s Longfellow Grade School he began to show an interest in music. “Well, my mother played the guitar, she had an old guitar up in the attic where we lived in Everett (3318 Rockefeller Avenue), and one Saturday when I was twelve years old we headed down to Buell’s Music right there on Hewitt Avenue. And the teacher, Mel Odegard, said ‘Stan, I’ll teach you some chords on the guitar and then you can sing the melody.’ And I was very bashful, so I sez ‘No way am I going to sing.’ So he said: ‘Well, then why don’t you trade-in the guitar on an accordion -- you play the melody on one side and chord on the other. Then you don’t have to sing!’ I said ‘That’s for me.’ And that’s how I became an accordion player” (author interview, March 5, 2008).

Campus Capers

The following year Boreson moved over to Everett’s South Junior High -- and, in time, on to Everett High School (2416 Colby Avenue). It was while attending that school that his cousin, Myrtle Lee, dared him to perform a musical bit at a pep talent show. The idea was that Boreson would sing an outdated 1939 hit -- “Oh, Johnny, Oh, Johnny, Oh!” by Wee Bonnie Baker -- while his cousin simultaneously translated the melodramatic lyrics into Norwegian (“Oh, Johan, Oh, Johan, Oh!”). The resulting mash-up was hilarious -- and the crowd’s approval forever dispelled any sense of stage-fright for the young musician.

Then, after two years attending Everett Junior College, Boreson moved on to accounting and personnel management studies at the University of Washington. It was while attending UW that one of Seattle’s first television stations was founded and KING-TV began experimenting with Campus Capers, a show that relied on the talents of various UW students. Boreson was developing a shtick -- the liberal use of a ridiculous “Scandihoovian” accent that came to him with ease: “Since my whole family talked that way” (Paynter) -- and which was also being mined by another Northwest entertainer named Harry Stewart who had already achieved national fame under the stage name of Yogi Yorgesson.

 The Yogi Yorgesson Connection  

Born in Tacoma in 1908, Harry Edward Skarbo was hired in 1927 at Seattle’s KVI radio -- first as an announcer (“Harry Stewart”), and then weatherman, news reporter, and finally as a banjo player. Around 1931 Stewart headed off to California where he created a comedic routine based on speaking a funny sort of American-English smothered in a Scandinavian dialect. That skill evolved into an improbably incongruous stage character -- Yogi Yorgesson: “The Hindu Mystic” -- a “Scandihoovian” rube who also had a spiritual and omniscient East Indian guru-like vibe. Thus, Yorgesson -- replete with a costume consisting of logger boots, an exotic loincloth, a plaid lumberjack shirt, and a Hindu turban -- became a radio and recording star -- his novelty 78 on S&G Records (“My Clam Digger’s Sweetheart”) became a sizeable enough hit in 1948 to prompt the new (and soon-to-be big-time label) Capitol Records to buy out his contract and release many subsequent discs by him. 

Over the next years Stewart recorded many additional comedic songs including one with a local reference to Tacoma’s Titlow Park: “Tillie From Titlow.” In fact, Tacoma remained an important part of Stewart’s life and every time he returned to visit friends and family the Tacoma News Tribune covered it all like he was returning royalty. While in the area he always gave back to the community by performing at each September’s Puyallup Fair and also took on a few nightclub engagements. It was at one such evening performance at Seattle’s old Palomar Theater where the acclaimed “America’s King of Scandinavian Humor” first crossed paths with a kindred spirit, Stan Boreson.

Yust Tinking of Yogi

Boreson -- like his stylistic soul-mate, Yorgesson -- soon became quite adept at poking fun at his fellow Scandinavian Americans in a charmingly lighthearted, and musical way. Indeed, many years later Boreson would even record an LP titled, Yust Tinking of Yogi, in tribute to his forebear.

But Boreson himself was no slouch, and time would show that he had a gift for penning musical parodies that usually grafted hilarious new lyrics to well-know pop tunes. With his accordion -- or “stomach Steinway” as he likes to call the instrument -- Boreson’s act initially catered to the Pacific Northwest’s predominant ethnic demographic: people of Scandinavians descent. And the fact that the descendents of the many, many immigrants of Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and Finnish extraction had managed to hang on to many of their traditional Nordic cultural practices by forming social clubs and maintaining their particular heritage of cuisine, music, dance, and humor gave him a ready fan-base to nurture.

Back during the war years, young Boreson had volunteered to entertain the troops by performing with the U.S.O., and while visiting 25 countries around the globe in 1945 he shared the stage with stars like the Andrews Sisters and the Hoosier Hot-Shots. Then at the war’s end and back in town, he enrolled at the University of Washington  as a G.I. Bill student -- attending classes by day and performing anywhere he could by night. He also padded his income a bit by booking talent -- including the pre-TV-fame Lawrence Welk Orchestra -- at Mount Vernon’s popular Seven Cedars dance hall.

As Corny As They Come 

But with big changes coming down in the local media marketplace, Boreson’s days of scraping by were about to end. Seattle’s new KING-TV started off prudently by offering a limited array of shows that were broadcast only five hours of each day. And at first even that window of air-time was tough to organize. But in the fall of 1949, their new program director, Lee Schulman, started scouting around for worthy local talents and discovered Boreson’s musical skills and goofy cornball antics.  

Duly impressed, Schulman's Campus Capers production quickly led to a weekly 15-minute slot (featuring Boreson paired with a pianist, Art Barduhn) called Two B’s at the Keys which attracted a quick following -- and a dedicated sponsor: the Clipper Gas Co. Revamped once again as KING-TV’s Clipper Capers, the show’s success snowballed and in 1949, Seattle’s Linden Record company created a special Clipper Capers sub-series of Linden 78s that featured recordings by Boreson (with Barduhn’s trio) including such “Scandihoovian” delights as the “Lutefisk Song,” “Red Headed Swede,” “Yon Yonson’s Wedding,” and “I Get A Kick Out Of Corn.”

KING’s Klubhouse  

Linden Records reportedly sold many thousands of discs -- some that Boreson cut with a new group billed as the Scandinavian Hotshots -- and he steadily solidified his reputation as the “next Yogi Yorgesson.” In 1950 Boreson was invited to appear on the popular Kate Smith Show broadcast out of New York City, and in 1955 the Clipper Capers show finally came to an end when the Art Barduhn Trio accepted offers to tour.

The solution for KING-TV was to give Boreson his own daily kiddie-oriented show, KING’s Klubhouse. An instant success in a day and age when TV programming was extremely limited, the ears of every kid in the Northwest perked up and all voices joined in to sing-along with the zany lyrics (known by heart)  to the show’s theme song (as written by Seattle’s Elliott Brown):

“Zero dacus, mucho cracus / hallaballu-za bub

That’s the secret password that we use down at the club 

Zero-dacus, mucho-cracus / hallaballu-za fan 

Means now you are a member of:

KING’s TV club with Stan.”

The Stan Boreson Show

Members of the club -- which later became The Stan Boreson Show -- who tuned in each week were exposed to an endless number of other tunes that Boreson always introduced as “songs my Uncle Torvald taught me.”

Torvald (not to mention other characters like the Swedish Answerman, Phineas the Frog, and Foghorn Peterson), was played by his TV sidekick, comedic impressionist Doug Setterberg.  As a veteran radio cast-member on the KOL Carnival Hour show and KOMO’s Scandia Barn Dance show, Setterberg was but one of the silly on-air crew of “nincompoops” that the show foisted upon the kiddies.

Among the more memorable were: Grandma Torvald (Boreson’s drag character), Pepita the Flea, Bozo the Clown, Victor Rolla (the singing phonograph), the Old Timer and his horse Nel, Myrtle Mopup, Chief Wetblanket, and (the 1962 Seattle’s World Fair Era creature) Space-Nik. Extra special mention must, of course, be made of the show’s ever-present mascot, the perfectly immobile bassett hound, No-Mo-Shun (aka “No-Mo,” named after the famous Slo-Mo-Shun IV hydroplane via a write-in contest that drew 10,000 entry letters) who loyally sat around the KING stage-set (often with his equally sad-eyed girlfriend, Tallulah Blankhead), winning fans for years on end by doing absolutely nothing.  

Meanwhile in February 1957, Boreson was invited to make an appearance on the nationally broadcast Lawrence Welk Show -- and two years later, the Dell Publishing Company gave his show their annual Children’s Entertainer Award “For Outstanding Devotion to Wholesome Entertainment for All Children Everywhere.”  At some point New York’s Shelley Records issued the now-rare KING KLUBHOUSE with Stan Boreson LP.

“I Love Seattle”

As the years went by, Boreson kept up his recording career, and after Linden Records faded he recorded with Seattle’s Gene Boscacci Trio, and even one disc with some knuckleheads who billed themselves as The Squareheads. Along the way he cut tracks for labels including KAPP Records (a parody of “Catch a Falling Star” called “Catch a Pickled Herring” [sample lyric: “...put it in your pocket, save it for a rainy day...”] and “The Telephone” [a parody of fellow-Washingtonian Jimmie Rodgers’s 1957 (No. 1) hit, “Honeycomb”]), Westernaire Records (I’m Lookin’ Fer A Wife”), Golden Crest Records (“The Waitress At Norway Hall” and “Christmas In Seattle”) -- and Seattle’s Morrison Records (“I Love Seattle”) and Topaz Records (“Baby Me”).

It was in 1959 that Boreson and Setterberg (with Boreson’s combo: guitarist, Chuck Bennett, bassist, Hal Champ, and pianist, Peter Lederer) recorded the classic send-up, “Swedish Rock ‘n’ Roll,” for Golden Crest -- a label that brought him the most success nationally over the next decade and a half via at least eight LPs and a half-dozen 45s (including James Stevens’ mirthful classic, “Frozen Logger,” and the tune that is probably his biggest hit: “I Just Go Nuts at Christmas”).

In 1967 changing times brought about the end of Boreson’s TV show, but he never missed a beat, singing, playing, and cracking corny jokes wherever his fans wanted a good time. By the early 1990s Boreson’s legacy was still so strong -- especially in Seattle’s historically Scandinavian Ballard neighborhood -- that the Ballard Chamber of Commerce began giving out annual Stan Boreson Awards to various esteemed members of the community. Then in 2007, Boreson was honored with two of the first Distinguished Alumni awards ever offered by Everett Community College.

Meanwhile, to stay busy, Boreson and his wife founded a new business, Boreson Tours, that has for numerous years provided the public guided trips to many domestic and foreign destinations -- vacation adventures always made jollier by the accompaniment of Boreson’s rollicking accordion and endless pool of silly songs.

Although Boreson’s body of recorded work might be considered the embodiment of the sublimely ridiculous, it has managed to retain its attraction for many people over the decades. His half-dozen appearances on the high-profile national radio show, A Prairie Home Companion (along with performances everywhere from the Norsk Hostfest in North Dakota, to Scandinavian/American Night in New York, to the Little Norway Festival in Alaska, to Canada and beyond) brought him countless new fans and demand for his out-of-print albums helped cause them to be reissued in cassette format around 1988, and then finally on compact discs that remain available to this day.

Sources:
“Boreson: TV Minstrel,” University of Washington Columns magazine, April 1950, p. 20; LP liner notes, KING KLUBHOUSE with Stan Boreson, Shelley Records (SH-1000), ca. 1960; LP liner notes, Just Try To Sing-A-Long In Swedish, Golden Crest Records (CR 3079), ca. 1961; Don Duncan, “Hey you, Uncle Torvald, No-Mo leave TV laughing,” The Seattle Times, December 20, 1967, p. 19; Betty Rettenmier, “‘Zero Dacus’ Man Is Happy, Nice-guy Norwegian,” Everett Herald, March 17, 1973, Mag. Sec. pp. 6-7; Melinda Bargreen, “Stan Boreson Tapes Are Reaching a New Generation of Fans,” The Seattle Times, May 29, 1988, p. K-4; Susan Paynter, “Norway Honors a Seattle Icon, You Betcha,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 30, 2005 (http://www.Seattlepi.nwsource.com); “The History of Stan Boreson” Stan Boreson website accessed March 10, 2008 (http://www.stanboreson.com); Kaitlin Manry, “Stan Boreson Can’t Stop Singing,” Daily Herald, December 23, 2007, website accessed March 23, 2008 (http://www.heraldnet.com); Author conversations and interviews with Stan Boreson (1985, March 3, 2006, March 25, 2008).


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KING KLUBHOUSE with Stan Boreson LP, ca. 1960
Courtesy Peter Blecha


Stan Boreson as a UW student / entertainer, 1950
Columns magazine, Courtesy Peter Blecha


Linden Records, Clipper Capers series (No. 1) “The Lutefisk Song,” Stan Boreson & Art Barduhn Trio, 1950
Courtesy Peter Blecha


Stan Boreson on the KING-TV Klubhouse set with No-Mo and Tallulah, n.d.
Courtesy Peter Blecha


Golden Crest Records, "Swedish Rock And Roll," Stan Boreson and Doug Setterberg, 1959
Courtesy Peter Blecha


Stan Boreson with his "Stomach Steinway," n.d.
Courtesy Peter Blecha


Stan Boreson with No-Mo and Space-Nik (World's Fair souvenir), 1962
Courtesy Peter Blecha


Stan Boreson with Doug "Hey You" Setterberg and No-Mo, 1960s
Courtesy Peter Blecha


 
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