George Watt Fenneman was born November 10, 1919, in Beijing, China. (It was known as Peking in those days.) His father was an international banker. Before he could start school, his family moved to San Francisco, California, where he grew up. He graduated from San Francisco State College (now University) and went to work for the Blue Network as a war correspondent during World War II.
He married British character actress Peggy Ann Clifford on May 29, 1943. They would have three children. She died in 1984.
Returning to California and moving to Hollywood, George's first radio show was a comedy show starring Bob Sweeney and Hal March. The Sweeney and March Show would only be heard for one season.
Next, they said it was an experiment, but it ended up being the program which most people think of when they think of George Fenneman, You Bet Your Life, "the comedy quiz show from Hollywood." Groucho Marx was the moderator who basically just talked to guests as if they were visiting him at his house. George would have announced a "secret word" and if anyone said that word, they won a heap of money. Although the show was scripted, Groucho never let that bother him. A thirty minute show could take two hours to record. The tough part was getting the best thirty minutes to go on the air. George was the perfect straight man. You Bet Your Life aired on ABC first, then moved to CBS, for a couple of years, then to NBC, where it was also seen on television. The show lasted on radio until 1954. Many of the TV episodes would be broadcast on radio. The last TV episode aired in 1961.
Other shows George announced were Abbott and Costello, Pat Novak for Hire, I Fly Anything, and Gunsmoke.
Two more big jobs he had were Dragnet and the Martin and Lewis Show, both for Chesterfield cigarettes.
On Dragnet, he was first heard in the beginning of 1951. Two announcers were used: George was one and the other was Hal Gibney. George would do the same on television... in the 1950s with Hal and in the 1960s with John Stephenson (1923- ), best known as the voice of Mr. Slate on the Flintstones cartoon series.
On Martin and Lewis, he introduced Dean Martin and read lots of commercials. Occasionally, he did introduce Jerry Lewis.
George appeared in one movie in 1951, The Thing from Another World, in which he played the part of Dr. Redding, a scientist. The part was offered to him as its director, Christopher Nyby, was his next door neighbor. He also appeared in a serial on the Mickey Mouse Club, but aside from that he was only seen as himself, the genial announcer.
He hosted two game shows, Anybody Can Play (1958, CBS) and Your Surprise Package (1961, syndicated). Incidentally, the latter featured Carol Merrill, the lovely model who would later gain notoriety on Let's Make a Deal, hosted by Monty Hall.
After the death of veteran radio announcer, Harry Von Zell (1906-81), George took his place as the commercial spokesman for Home Savings and Loan. (The picture at the left is the old Sunset and Vine branch of that bank in Hollywood. It was the former site of NBC's Hollywood studio which was razed in the mid 1960s.)
George Fenneman died on May 29, 1997, after a long bout with emphysema at his home in Los Angeles. He was 77 years old.