Colleagues remember Gil Stratton
Sportscaster helped form radio archives
By From Staff And Wire Reports
Gil Stratton, whose Broadway to broadcasting career affected Ventura County, is being remembered by local community activists. Stratton died Oct. 11 of congestive heart failure at his home in Toluca Lake, said his daughter, Laurie O’Brien. He was 86.
Most people knew the cheerful Stratton as a veteran Southern California sportscaster famous for the signature line, “I call ’em as I see ’em,’ but very few realize the other sides,” said Roy Thorsen of Westlake Village. One was the “significant impact he made locally” arranging for the commitment of $1 million from the Bergen Foundation. Think famed ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and partner Charlie McCarthy.
That Bergen donation was used last October to launch the proposed $30 million expansion of radio archives in a new building at the Thousand Oaks Library.
Stratton was a founder of the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters, dedicated to saving materials documenting radio’s golden era. He was that organization’s representative to the Thousand Oaks Library Foundation whose special collections include radio history.
“Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters and the foundation formed an alliance to support and increase content of materials to preserve American radio materials,” said Thorsen, who is a charter Thousand Oaks Library Foundation trustee. “Gil was a gentleman in every sense of the word. I will miss him,” Thorsen said Thursday.
Library Foundation President Frances Prince of Thousand Oaks said, “Gil was a wonderful person to work with. He had such a wealth of information and a deep interest in the Thousand Oaks Library Foundation and radio archives, which was a love of his.”
It was Stratton who arranged a meeting between Bergen Foundation and library officials and “without him lobbying for us the donation might never have happened,” Prince said.
Pioneer Broadcasters held several nostalgia night events at the Thousand Oaks Library, and foundation board member Marty Halperin of Woodland Hills remembered Stratton. “I talked to Gil three days before he died. He was looking forward to our next (pioneers) meeting,” Halperin said.
Thousand Oaks resident Gerry Fry knew Stratton as a former Pioneer Broadcasters president and called him “a terrific guy. I grew up listening to him on the radio, saw him in the movies, watched him on TV then got to know him. He was such a well-rounded man and was lecturing in later years on cruise ships” about Hollywood.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Stratton was an announcer for the Los Angeles Rams National Football League team and hosted horse racing from Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar.
Stratton started as an actor, appearing on Broadway stages and in the film “Girl Crazy,” recalled the Conejo Valley’s Thorsen, who married actress Margaret O’Brien.
Thorsen said Stratton had a duet with Judy Garland in “Girl Crazy” and was in line to play the boy next door in another Garland film, “Meet Me in St. Louis.” However, he was called to another role, the Army Air Forces, during World War II. O’Brien was in “Meet Me in St. Louis” and earned a special Academy Award as outstanding juvenile performer.
Post military, Stratton moved to the Los Angeles area and appeared in “Stalag 17” with William Holden, “The Wild One” with Marlon Brando and “Monkey Business” with Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers.
Also, Stratton worked as a radio actor and as an umpire for the Pacific Coast League and Brooklyn Dodgers.
Stratton is survived by his wife, Dee, and children, Gilda Stratton, Billy Norvas, Gibby Stratton, Laurie O’Brien, and Cary Stratton as well as eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.