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For Gary Owens and His Five Rubber-faced Friends, Girning Is No Laughing Matter

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Girners of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chins. Noses, too, maybe.

So went the call, more or less, five years ago from Gary Owens (straight-faced, above) to all Silly Putty pusses. It was Owens’ belief that nose-scrinching, eye-crossing and higher forms of self-defiling muggery offered a lively respite from a deadpan world. He invited listeners to his deejay show on L.A.’s radio station KMPC to send in their favorite snapshot, and Frances Sayers, 73 (on Owens’ left), of Santa Ana, Calif., won the face-off by swallowing her schnozz.

She is still the queen of girndom, followed closely by the original runners-up, above: from left to right, Bell Telephone exec Lorna de Long, businessman John Branscombe, housewife Nancy Means and student Gary Friedman. For them, girning (an archaic Scottish word for snarling) is a serious enterprise, Owens, who leaped to something short of fame as the announcer on Laugh-In, is now head of some 500 girners in L.A. alone, To keep a stiff Upper lip, the six founding Girners try to meet once a year. This portrait is from a new book of photographs of interesting, off-beat organizations, When Two or More Are Gathered Together, by Neal Slavin (Farrar, Straus, Giroux).

Organized girning is not for everyone. Among the stars who favor private practice are Bob Hope, Glen Campbell and Olivia Newton-John, who is. noted for her inability to look bad. Of his own seeming reticence in the group shot, Owens protests: “Of course I’m girning. If I weren’t, my face would be too horrible to look at.”