In its 29 years, “The Simpsons” worked countless celebrities into its scripts, including a few with Youngstown connections.
Actor Ed O’Neill (“Married With Children,” “Modern Family”), who grew up on Youngstown’s North Side, was drawn into a handful of episodes.
Warren-born rock star Dave Grohl was mentioned by Moe the bartender in season 26.
And Bill Saluga – the Youngstown native and comedian best known for his Raymond J. Johnson Jr. shtick – actually played himself on one episode in 2002.
His character would launch into a long “now you can call me Ray. Or you can call me Jay ... but ya doesn’t has to call me Johnson” spiel every time someone addressed him as “Johnson.”
Raymond J. Johnson Jr.
For a while, Raymond J. Johnson Jr. was a favorite of Homer Simpson, who mentioned him in episodes in 1993 and 1999.
Reached at his Burbank, Calif., home by phone, Saluga, 80, recalled his appearance on the show, in which his character sang a humorous song as part of a stage show at a Branson, Mo., resort.
“They were doing a show where Homer’s father and his girlfriend were going to Branson, and there was a show with all these old-timers there, like Charo, and Mr. T, and a couple of others, and me,” said Saluga. “I sang ‘You can call me this, and you can call me that” – I can’t remember all the lyrics – ‘but you can’t call me out of work because I do three shows a day.’ They drew the character to look like (Ray J. Johnson Jr.), and I went in and recorded it. He did a song and dance.”
Al Jean, executive producer of “The Simpsons,” also recalled the episode. “He was part of the ‘Ode to Branson’ song,” said Jean. “I didn’t meet him [when he came to the studio to voice the piece] but he was really funny. He was so enormous in the ’70s.”
Saluga was all over television and theaters in that decade. A founding member of the Ace Trucking Company comedy troupe, he made many appearances on sitcoms, commercials and late-night talk shows, and worked with many stars and celebrities.
Many people still recall the character Saluga created, though few know him by his real name.
Saluga’s earliest foray into show business came at the Youngstown Playhouse.
“I had got out of the Navy and was sitting in a bar one night, and [some friends] said ‘we are going to go over to the Playhouse and try out for a play.’ When we got there the doors were locked so we broke the door down and wound up right on the stage. I literally broke in to show business. Some guys asked ‘how did you get in here?’ But we giggled through [the audition] and I got a part in ‘Inherit the Wind.’ I also did ‘Oklahoma,’ ‘Finian’s Rainbow,’ ‘Guys and Dolls’ and ‘Bells Are Ringing’ at the Playhouse.”
After seven years with the Playhouse and the Kenley Players summer stock, Saluga moved to New York to pursue his career.
The list of Youngstown natives who were part of “The Simpsons” phenomenon also includes Jim Cummings and Chris Yambar.
Cummings, a film voice actor (“Winnie the Pooh”), voiced a character in an episode in season 11.
Yambar, a pop artist and comic-book creator who still lives in Youngstown, made his connection as a writer for the comic book division of “The Simpsons.”
He wrote for several titles published by Bongo Comics, including “The Simpsons,” “Bart Simpson,” “Radioactive Man” and “Treehouse of Horror.”
Yambar also worked on Simpsons trading cards and gave talks on “The Simpsons” at fan conventions.
“I was with ‘The Simpsons’ comics for 16 years, starting with ‘Bart Simpson’ No. 1, which was published in 2000,” said Yambar. “It’s a smart show, and I feel excited that I was a part of it.”
Before his stint with “The Simpsons,” Yambar published his own comic books, including “Mr. Beat.”