ranks as one of the important on-air stars of the first decade of
American television. Indeed prior to 1959 there was no bigger TV
luminary than this freckled faced, ukelele playing, host/pitchman.
Through most of the decade of the 1950s Godfrey hosted a daily radio
program and appeared in two top-ten prime time television shows,
all for CBS. As the new medium was invading American households,
there was something about Godfrey's wide grin, his infectious chuckle,
his unruly shock of red hair that made millions tune in not once,
but twice a week.
insiders, Godfrey was television's first great master of advertising.
His deep, microphone-loving voice delivery earned Arthur Godfrey
a million dollars a year, making him one of the highest paid persons
in the United States at the time. He blended a Southern folksiness
with enough sophistication to charm a national audience measured
in the millions through the 1950s. For CBS-TV in particular, Godfrey
was one of network television's most valuable stars, generating
millions of dollars in advertising billings each year, with no ostensible
talent save being the most congenial of hosts.
After more than
a decade on radio, Godfrey ventured onto primetime TV in December
1948 by simply permitting the televising of his radio hit Arthur
Godfrey's Talent Scouts. The formula for Talent Scouts
was simple enough. "Scouts" presented their "discoveries" to perform
live before a national radio and television audience. Most of these
discoveries were in fact struggling professionals looking for a
break, and the quality of the talent was quite high. The winner,
chosen by a fabled audience applause meter, often joined Godfrey
on his radio show and on Arthur Godfrey and His Friends for
some period thereafter.
late 1940s and 1950s Godfrey significantly assisted the careers
of Pat Boone, Tony Bennett, Eddie Fisher, Connie Francis, and Patsy
Cline. An institution on Monday nights at 8:30 P.M., Arthur Godfrey's
Talent Scouts always functioned as Godfrey's best showcase and
through the early 1950s was a consistent top-ten hit.
A month after
the December 1948 television debut of Arthur Godfrey's Talent
Scouts came the premiere of Arthur Godfrey and His Friends.
Here Godfrey employed a resident cast which at times included Julius
La Rosa, Frank Parker, Lu Ann Simms, and the Cordettes. Tony Marvin
was both the announcer and Godfrey's "second banana," as he was
on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. The appeal of Arthur
Godfrey and His Friends varied depending on the popularity of
the assembled company of singers, all clean cut young people lifted
by Godfrey from obscurity. Godfrey played host and impresario, sometimes
singing off key and strumming his ukulele, but most often leaving
the vocals to others.
As he had done
on radio, Godfrey frequently kidded his sponsors, but always "sold
from the heart," only hawking products he had actually tried and/or
regularly used. No television viewer during the 1950s doubted that
Godfrey really did love Lipton Tea and drank it every day. He delighted
in tossing aside prepared scripts and telling his audience: "Aw,
who wrote this stuff? Everybody knows Lipton's is the best tea you
can buy. So why get fancy about it? Getcha some Lipton's, hot the
pot with plain hot water for a few minutes, then put fresh hot water
on the tea and let it just sit there."
the art of seeming to speak intimately to each and every one of
his viewers, to sound as if he was confiding in "you and you alone."
Despite all his irreverent kidding, then, advertisers loved him.
Here was no snake oil salesman hawking an uneeded item, merchandise
not worth its price. Here was a friend recommending the product.
This personal style drove CBS efficiency experts crazy. Godfrey
refused to simply read his advertising copy in the allocated 60
seconds. Instead he talked--for as long as he felt it necessary
to convince his viewers of his message, frequently running over
his allotted commercial time.
owner William S. Paley detested Godfrey but bowed to his incredible
popularity. CBS president Frank Stanton loved Godfrey because his
shows were so cheap to produce but drew consistently high ratings.
In 1955 when Disneyland cost $90,000 per hour, and costs
for a half hour of The Jack Benny Show totalled more than
$40,000, Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts cost but $30,000.
This figure was more in line with the production of a cheap quiz
program than fashioning a pricey Hollywood-based show on film. n
his day Godfrey accumulated a personal fortune that made it possible
for him to own a vast estate in the Virginia horse country, maintain
a huge duplex apartment in Manhattan, and fly back and forth in
his own airplanes. In 1950 he qualified for a pilot's license; the
following year he trained to fly jets. Constantly plugging the glories
of air travel, Arthur Godfrey, according to Eddie Rickenbacker,
did more to boost aviation than any single person since Charles
much as the termination of any live anthology drama from New York,
Godfrey's end symbolized the close of the era of experimental, live
television. But Arthur Godfrey should be remembered for more than
his skill in performing for live television. Perhaps even more significant
is that he taught the medium how to sell. In terms of the forces
of that have shaped and continue to shape the medium of television,
Arthur Godfrey's career perfectly illustrates the workings of the
star system. Here was a person who seemed to have had "no talent,"
but was so effective that through most of the 1950s he was "everywhere"
in the mass media. In the end times and tastes changed. In 1951
that Arthur Godfrey stood as the very center of American television.
Eight years later he was back on radio, a forgotten man to all but
the few who listened to the "old" medium.
GODFREY. Born in New York City, U.S., 31 August 1903. Educated
at Naval Radio School, 1921; Naval Radio Materiel School, 1929;
various correspondence courses. Married: 1) name unknown, children:
Richard; 2) Mary Bourke, 1938, children: Arthur Michael, Jr. and
Patricia Ann. Served in the U.S. Navy, receiving radio training
and becoming a radio operator on destroyer duty, 1920-24; served
in the U.S. Coast Guard acquiring additional radio training, 1927-30.
Radio announcer and entertainer for WFBR in Baltimore, Maryland,
1930; staff announcer for NBC in Washington, D.C., 1930-34; freelance
radio entertainer from 1934; joined CBS Radio, 1945; CBS television
host of Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, 1948-58; television
host of Arthur Godfrey & His Friends, 1949-59; national radio
host of Arthur Godfrey Time, 1960-72; starred in films Four For
Texas, 1963, The Glass Bottom Boat, 1966, Where Angels Go...Trouble
Follows, 1968. Member of ASCAP, National Advisory Committee on Oceans
and Atmosphere, and Citizen's Advisory Committee on Environmental
Quality. Died in New York City, 16 March 1983.
1948-58 Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts
1949-59 Arthur Godfrey and His Friends
Four For Texas, 1963; The Glass Bottom Boat, 1966;
Where Angels Go...Trouble Follows, 1968
Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, 1945-48; Arthur Godfrey
Godfrey Shows; Columbia
Broadcasting System; Dann,