Today is the birthday of Arthur Godfrey (1903-1983). Godfrey began as an announcer in radio around 1930 first in Baltimore, then in Washington, anchoring local shows, playing records, occasionally singing and playing the ukulele, even reading sentimental poems. He came to national attention in 1945 when his live coverage of President Roosevelt’s funeral was Broadcast coat to coast.
His first national radio show was Arthur Godfrey Time in 1945. The following year he launched the show he remains best known for Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, the CBS answer to Major Bowes’ Amateur Hour. The radio version of Talent Scouts ran from 1946 through 1956; the television ran from 1948 through 1958. After a brief interlude in which he battled lung cancer (one of his lung was removed), he fought his way back, returning to the radio version of his show, which stayed on the air until 1972.
Returning to television was not so easy however. Beloved for his warm, down-home, folksy personality, it gradually came out that he was a backstage tyrant who had fired large numbers of his staff over the years. (Most famously he fired singer Julius La Rose ON THE AIR). This eventually damaged his once universal popularity. In his final decades he did the occasional movie role and tv special, but was never able to make a hoped-for come-back. He died in 1983.
Here he is hawking Lipton’s soup!
To learn more about the history of the variety arts, including radio and tv variety, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc