I love learning about interesting people. They don’t have to be nice, just interesting. My parents were hooked on a show that was very much like the American Idol that some of you are hooked on. (or were hooked on….it’s now fading away…like all shows do)
This is about the guy who hosted the show that carried his name.
Back in the mid-‘30s, a Baltimore DJ started interviewing guests, playing a ukulele, singing ornery songs and doing commercials by making fun of the companies. He would crack jokes with his guests, and use double-entendre to crack-up his audience. He moved his show to Washington D.C. and became number one. People would be late for work waiting on him to advertise Bayer Aspirin, which he called bare-ass Prin. He was probably the Howard Stern of early radio.
In the late ‘40s he recorded zany original songs that became huge hits. His first hit was called “The Too Fat Polka.” (Oh, I don’t want her, you can have her, she’s too fat for me). His other hit tunes, playing the uke, were Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch, What is a Girl, Candy and Cake and The Thing. He was probably and early Weird-Al Yankovic.
Here he is singing “Little Grass Shack”
In the first years of television CBS gave him his own show, Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. The show was once a week for 90 minutes. Some of the talent that appeared on Talent Scouts was a who’s who of future stars: Lenny Bruce, Don Adams, Tony Bennett, Patsy Cline, Pat Boone, Marilyn Horn and Roy Clark. Some of the rejects that didn’t make the talent-cut were The Four Freshmen and Elvis Presley. This show was probably the first “American Idol.”
In 1949, CBS gave him another show in prime-time called “Arthur Godfrey and Friends.”
He had a band, musical regulars and guests. Godfrey would hire the talent winners from the Talent Scout show for his “friends” show and call them “Little Godfreys.” He would not allow them to have agents or any representation…he handled their talent and bookings…for a price. His first regulars were Julius LaRosa, Marion Marlowe and Irish tenor, Frank Murphy. This show was the start of the format for the Tonight Show and every other live-band and guest-interview show.
In 1952 his “Arthur Godfrey Time” was a daily 90 minute mid-morning show and he owned the viewing public. He made millions for Lipton Tea and Chesterfield cigarettes (until he got lung cancer five years later).
His guest hosts (remember the guest hosts on Johnny Carson) would come on the show and be discovered and go on to their own fame. Steve Allen was a guest host and then was rewarded with the first Tonight Show job. Robert Q Lewis was a guest host and had his own daily TV show.
Arthur Godfrey had one of the first-ever hip replacements out of plastic parts in 1953. It was successful.
He became an avid anti-smoking activist after contracting lung cancer. Of course Chesterfield cigarettes (Liggett & Meyers) became unhappy and left his show as a sponsor…duh.
As the fired unhappy “little Godfreys” started talking about what a mean controlling person Arthur Godfrey was, his audience dwindled and he faded away. He died in 1983 at the age of 79.