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One of the most popular stars on US radio throughout the 1940s, Arthur Godfrey’s arrival on television in 1949 became one of the most talked about events in the United States, even though very few Americans had television receivers in their homes at the time.
Most people were convinced Godfrey’s down to earth, chatty delivery was a natural for the new medium, and they were right.
He enjoyed many years of television success, both with Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts and with Arthur Godfrey & His Friends.
An hour-long weekly variety show, Arthur Godfrey & His Friends featured several members of his radio show cast (the radio show continued to run each weekday in the morning) such as the singing group The Chordettes, announcer Tony Marvin, pop singers Janette Davis and Bill Lawrence, The Mariners quartet, Archie Bleyer and His Orchestra, tenor Frank Parker and soprano Marion Marlowe.
He was also joined by many new “friends” including Hawaiian singer Haleloke, singer/heartthrob Julius La Rosa, Lu Ann Simms, the McGuire Sisters, Irish singer Carmel Quinn, and singer Pat Boone, who went on to become a film star after two successful years on the show between 1955 and 1957.
Godfrey – who was the undisputed star of the show – chatted with his “friends” before he introduced the musical selection they were going to perform, talked about things that disturbed or pleased him – His love of piloting his own aircraft, playing his ukulele, Hawaii, his farm in Virginia etc were often mentioned.
Musical numbers on the evening variety show became increasingly more elaborate and cast members dressed in various costumes and performed in front of beautiful sets.
Although most of the shows were broadcast from New York City, as time went on and the show continued to remain popular, weekly themes such as The Christmas Show, Spring Is Here, The Visit to Hawaii etc were presented, and the entire cast often travelled to various exotic locations. On one occasion, the cast did an entire show from a battleship.
Sadly, Godfrey’s kindly nature and friendliness were tarnished when his obviously inflated ego and nastiness became increasingly apparent to viewers.
On 19 October 1953, Godfrey introduced his popular vocalist Julius La Rosa and said: “You’re doing pretty good, aren’t you? Getting big money in nightclubs and so forth. This show must be a pain in the neck to you”.
La Rosa protested and then sang the obligatory end song. When the applause died down, Godfrey smiled at his studio audience. “Thank you, Julie,” he told the Italian crooner. “And that, folks, was Julie’s swan song”.
Godfrey famously said that La Rosa had “lost his humility”. But why did Godfrey choose this rather unconventional, rather cruel method? “I had the right to fire him on the air because I hired him on the air,” Godfrey reasoned.
The comment became the basis for Dear Mr Godfrey, a single written and released by popular cabaret singer Ruth Wallis which skewered the pompous television host.
Others who got the shove included orchestra leader Archie Bleyer, producer Larry Puck and The Chordettes.
Then, in April 1955, in one fell swoop, he fired Marion Marlowe, Haleloke, The Mariners, plus three writers.
Godfrey had apparently begun to feel that he was invincible since the CBS network had given him total autonomy regarding his show and cast and usually gave in to his every whim, because of his enormous popularity.
Increasingly, his on-air feuds with such people as columnist/TV panellist Dorothy Kilgallen, whom he called “a liar”, Ed Sullivan, whom he labelled “a dope” and newspaperman John Crosby – whom Godfrey called “a fatuous ass” – did nothing to endear him to the press, other celebrities or the public, and his popularity began to fade.
Eventually, by the late 1950s, Godfrey (who had wielded so much power and was so loved by the public during television’s first major decade) saw his popularity diminish to the point where, by the time he died in 1983, he had been all but forgotten by the television industry and many of his former fans.
Archie Bleyer and His Orchestra
Julius La Rosa
Lu Ann Simms