Monday, June 30, 2014

Seems Like Old Times

Arthur Godfrey
Fred Allen called him the Huck Finn of radio.

Millions of other Americans thought of him and his
"smooth, soothing, voice" as the nations grandfather.

That's  why the Eisenhower administration chose him to record the "Ultimate PSA"  (PSA=Public Service Announcement)

That PSA is still classified as TOP SECRET, so no one has ever heard it, but it exists and it's a recording by Arthur Godfrey and Edward R. Murrow announcing that America has come under an Atomic Attack....

Those two broadcast icons were chosen for their unique and very recognizable voices and calm demeanor.
Someday perhaps those tapes will be unclassified and  Americans will be able to listen to them and thank the Lord that they were never aired.

However, by that time, no one will know who the Hell either man was, much less recognize their voices.

In fact our little group of CHS 54 graduates are probably the last generation to ever have actually heard both of those men on radio.

But I'd be surprised if anyone logging on to this website didn't listen to Arthur Godfrey during his heyday. I can still hear his theme song in my head, that rich, smooth trombone with the opening of "Seems like Old Times"......and Godfrey tossing out the commercial script with the words, "Ah, who wrote this stuff....everybody knows that Lipton Tea is the finest you can buy...just heat some water and plop a Lipton tea bag in........."

CBS Chairman William S. Paley hated him. But the CBS Bean Counter Frank Stanton loved him. By 1950 Godfrey was making over a million dollars a year, more than almost anyone in America.
Radio never had a greater storyteller!

Nor a greater salesman!

But the people who worked closely with Godfrey had an entirely different opinion of the great man than those of us who just listened to him on the radio. By the early 50's he had begun treating his radio cast like children, not allowing them to be interviewed without his permission and expecting them to be interested in what evcr he was interested in and generally acting like a little Hitler.

Reporters at the time recall how tense the air in the studio had become.
Julius LaRosa

I believe the beginning of the end came on October 19, 1953 when he fired Julius LaRosa on the air.

According to John Dunning in his book The Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio, LaRosa had been ordered by Godfrey to take, of all things, balet lessons.

But refused.

On the air that day in 1953, he introduced LaRosa by saying that "in the two years on the show, he has gotten to be a great big namehe said very deliberately...and then asked him to sing "I'll Take Manhattan"

At the end, Godfrey said, "That was Julius LaRosa's swan song. He now goes out on his own, as his own star, soon to be seen in his own programs and I know you wish him godspeed...the same as I do."

Then, he closed his own show with the theme song and network ID.

The studio audience was stunned.

Godfrey claimed he fired LaRosa because he was guilty of a "lack of humility."

Archie Bleyer
LaRosa refused to counter attack, saying only that he would always be grateful to Godfrey for the opportunities he had given him.

Mamie Eisenhower was a fan of LaRosa and came to his defense.  Ed Sullivan also did, inviting him on his Sunday night show.

Godfrey responded by calling Sullivan "a dope," and all the reporters a "bunch of jerks."

The Chordettes
Immediately after the show he fired Archie Bleyer.

Then he began dismantling everything:

He fired the Mariners, the Chordettes, Hawaiian singer Haleloke and three long time writers.


He refused to rehire Bill Lawrence, who had returned from military service, because according to Lawrence he had begun dating Janette Davis (another singer on the show). Archie Bleyer said he was fired because he was dating one of the Chordettes. Producer Larry Puck said he was fired because he was dating Marion Marlowe...who was also fired.

The downhill slide had begun and never recovered after that. The money making institution that Godfrey once was started to dry up and never returned.

But what a story the history of this nation's greatest story teller was! I don't believe there will ever be anything quite like it.

Mug Richardson and Godfrey

Finally there's a North Carolina connection that I wasn't aware of until my old friend Bill Diehl of ABC news discovered a very old press release and passed it on to me.
Godfrey's first secretary and "right hand man" was Mug Richardson, Miss North Carolina of 1934. She had just won the title and stopped over in Washington, DC on her way to compete for Miss America in Atlantic City. Godfrey interviewed her on his local radio program on WTOP and immediately offered her a job. (This was just before he became nationally famous.)

She worked closely with him for the next 16 years.

Godfrey retired in 1972 and died in 1983.

Even after all these years, if those of us who actually ever heard him were to hear his voice again we would recognize it immediately.

However, if you ever do...DUCK, he ain't going to be talking about Lipton Tea.


Many thanks to John Dunning and his great book "The Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio" for providing me with so much information regarding this story. Anyone interested in old time radio should have his book in your library!
Front Cover

On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio

 By John Dunning