To Tell the Truth About Garry Moore

The very title of this post betrays my age and my perspective in considering the career of broadcast personality Garry Moore (Thomas Garrison Morfit, 1915-1993). As a kid I knew him exclusively as the host of the revived, syndicated To Tell the Truth (1969-1976), the game show with panelists Kitty Carlisle (who at the time had dropped the “Hart”), singer Peggy Cass, former game show host Bill Cullen, former baseball player Joe Garagiola and occasionally Orson Bean. It was light-hearted fun with uncomplicated rules (contestants had to stump these gently humorous panelists) but I couldn’t have been more confused when my father told me that in his youth Garry Moore had been one of his favorite comedians. “Comedian?” Sure, the guy was likable and said witty things from time to time, but in the context of the thing, Moore seemed more in that “announcer” tradition, not too different from other game shows hosts, whose job tends to be to make the PANELISTS and CONTESTANTS look good.

What I didn’t know at the time was that this was a second act for both Moore, and the show itself. The original To Tell the Truth had run on CBS from 1956 through 1968 with host Bud Collyer. And Moore, who’d been in the business since the 1930s, had ostensibly retired in 1964. So what me and people my age were getting, though there was no way for us to know it, was a sort of relaxed afterthought, a kind of phoned-in version of a guy who’d been a dynamo years earlier. This is the version I knew:

But this is what older people knew:

Older photos almost always show Moore with a bow-tie, and the right kind of bow-tie on the right kind of guy spells “comedian”. Today we think of it as the Pee-Wee Herman look; obviously Paul Reubens borrowed the image from comedians he’d known as a kid.

Originally from Baltimore, Moore was a high school drop-out who started out in local radio in 1937. Two years later he became the announcer on the national variety show Club Matinee, where he eventually become co-host. It was on this show that he adopted his new show biz name — a national contest was held, and “Garry Moore” won first prize. In 1941 he hosted his own variety program, Talent, Ltd. From 1943 through 1947 Moore was announcer and straight man to Jimmy Durante on the latter’s radio show. Several of Moore’s popular comedy bits from the radio were released as record albums in the early to mid 40s, including a super-fast version of “Little Red Riding Hood”, and a story full of “oo” sounds, called “Hugh, the Blue Gnu”.

Moore’s main claim to fame in the variety field became The Gary Moore Show, which ran in various versions (radio, television, prime time, daytime) between 1949 and 1964. Entertainers like Carol Burnett, Jonathan Winters, and Alan King got their start on the show. At the same time, the hard-working Moore broke into the game show field, first as a panelist, then as the host of I’ve Got A Secret from 1952 through 1964, which is where he established the reputation that got him hired for the To Tell the Truth revival we started with.

In 1976, Moore was operated on for throat cancer, prompting his second and permanent retirement. A lover of water sports, he spent his remaining years shuttling between the beaches of Hilton Head and Maine, and writing a humor column for newspapers.

To learn more about the history of show business including variety television, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,