Godfrey, Arthur, 1903-1983

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Arthur Morton Godfrey was born in New York City on August 31, 1903. He was educated at Naval Radio School, 1921; Naval Radio Materiel School, 1929; and took various correspondence courses. Married: 1) name unknown, children: Richard; 2) Mary Bourke, 1938, children: Arthur Michael, Jr. and Patricia Ann. Godfrey 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. His broadcasting positions included: 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 and 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. Godfrey was a member of ASCAP, National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere, and Citizen's Advisory Committee on Environmental Quality. Arthur Godfrey died in New York City on March 16, 1983.

RADIO

1945-1972 Arthur Godfrey Time

1946-1956 Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts

TELEVISION SERIES

1948-58 Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts

1949-59 Arthur Godfrey and His Friends

Godfrey also appeared well into the 1960s in a number of television specials for CBS, bearing titles like Arthur Godfrey Loves Animals and Arthur Godfrey in Hollywood . Additionally, from televisions earliest days into the late 1970s, Godfrey made numerous guest appearances on programs as varied as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, The Bob Hope Chrysler Theatre, Password, The Love Boat and The Dick Cavett Show .

FILMS

Fifty Years Before Your Eyes, 1950; Four For Texas, 1963; The Glass Bottom Boat, 1966; Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows, 1968 ; The Great Bank Hoax, 1978

U.S. Variety Show Host

Arthur Godfrey 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, ukulele 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.

To industry 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 the fabled "audience applause meter," often joined Godfrey on his radio show and on Arthur Godfrey and His Friends for some period thereafter.

Through the 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 Chordettes. 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, fill the pot with plain hot water for a few minutes, then put fresh hot water on the tea and let it just sit there."

Godfrey perfected 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 unneeded 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.

CBS 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 totaled 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. In 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 Naval 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 Lindbergh.

As much as the termination of 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.

-Douglas Gomery

From the guide to the Thirteen/WNET Arthur Godfrey Collection, 1923-1983 and undated, 1950-1978, (Mass Media and Culture)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Jankowski, Gene F. [Interview with Gene Jankowski] [sound recording] / Gene Jankowski ; [interviewed by] David Marc, New York, May 18, 1998. Syracuse University
creatorOf Flavin, Madge. [Culinary ephemera : fish and seafood]. Box 271. William L. Clements Library
creatorOf Duddy, Lyn. [Lyn Duddy collection]. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn The Radio Entertainers and Announcers Collection, 1937-1945 (Bulk 1942-1943) © 2011 New-York Historical Society
referencedIn Thomas S. Power Papers, 1928-1970 Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
referencedIn Train, Russell E., 1920-. Russell E. Train papers, 1898-2005 (bulk 1957-2005). Library of Congress
referencedIn Goldman, Eric Frederick, 1915-1989. Papers, 1886-1988 (bulk 1940-1970). Library of Congress
creatorOf Cushing, George William, b. 1888. George William Cushing papers, 1904-1959. Detroit Public Library, Detroit Main Library
creatorOf Gorman, Michael A. (Michael Arthur), 1892-1958. Michael Arthur Gorman papers, 1920-1958. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Catoctin Mountain Alliance. Catoctin Mountain Alliance records, 1985-1995. Thomas Balch Library
referencedIn Lyn Duddy scores, 195-? The New York Public Library. Music Division.
referencedIn Powell, Roger, 1906-2001. Roger F. Powell letter, 1952 Nov. 22. Thomas Balch Library
creatorOf Lyndon Baines Johnson Archives Collection. 1931 - 1968. Famous Names Correspondence Files Lyndon Baines Johnson Library
referencedIn Stanton, Frank, 1908-2006. Frank Stanton papers, 1908-2006 (bulk 1926-1979). Library of Congress
referencedIn American Medical Association. Dept. of Investigation. Records. Niagara Massage Units, 1929-1974. American Medical Association,James S. Todd Memorial Library
referencedIn Goldman, Eric Frederick, 1915-1989. Eric Frederick Goldman papers, 1886-1988 (bulk 1940-1970). Library of Congress
referencedIn American Vaudeville Museum collection, 1845-2007, (bulk 1910-1940) University of Arizona Libraries, Library Special Collections
referencedIn The Railroad hour, radio program [sound recording], 1948-1954 The New York Public Library. Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound.
referencedIn Anderson, Richard N. Richard N. Anderson photographs [manuscript], 1937-1972. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Russell E. Train Papers, 1898-2005, (bulk 1957-2005) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Ellis, Michael, 1917-. Michael Ellis papers, 1937-1985. University of Pittsburgh
referencedIn Irving Berlin collection of non-commercial sound recordings [sound recording] The New York Public Library. Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound.
referencedIn Frank Stanton Papers, 1908-2006, (bulk 1926-1979) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Michel, Don, 1931-. Don Michel "Insight" Radio Program collection, 1960-1978. Southern Illinois University, Morris Library
creatorOf Russell, Frank M., 1895- . Recording [sound recording], 1958. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Smith, H. Allen (Harry Allen), 1907-1976. Harry Allen Smith photograph collection, 1925-1976. Southern Illinois University, Morris Library
creatorOf Thirteen/WNET Arthur Godfrey Collection, 1923-1983 and undated, 1950-1978 University of Maryland (College Park, Md.). Libraries
creatorOf Minnie Pearl. Celebrity pesticide spots phonograph records : manuscript collections, 1970. National Agricultural Library, NAL
referencedIn Billings, Lucille. Papers of Lucille (Loukratia Gerasimos) Billings, 1915-1976. Detroit Public Library, Detroit Main Library
referencedIn Michael A. Gorman papers, 1920-1958 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
referencedIn Eric Frederick Goldman Papers, 1886-1988, (bulk 1940-1970) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Clark, Dick, 1929-. [Interview with Dick Clark] [sound recording] / Dick Clark ; [interviewed by] David Marc, New York City, 10-27-98. Syracuse University
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Medical Association. Dept. of Investigation. corporateBody
associatedWith American Museum of Vaudeville corporateBody
associatedWith Anderson, Richard N. person
associatedWith Berlin, Irving, 1888-1989 person
associatedWith Billings, Lucille. person
associatedWith Catoctin Mountain Alliance. corporateBody
associatedWith Clark, Dick, 1929- person
associatedWith Columbia Broadcasting System, inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Cullen, Frank, 1936- person
associatedWith Cushing, George William, b. 1888. person
associatedWith Duddy, Lyn person
correspondedWith Ellis, Michael, 1917- person
correspondedWith Goldman, Eric Frederick, 1915-1989. person
associatedWith Gorman, Michael A. (Michael Arthur), 1892-1958. person
associatedWith Jankowski, Gene F. person
associatedWith McNeilly, Donald, 1945- person
associatedWith Michel, Don, 1931- person
associatedWith Powell, Roger, 1906-2001. person
associatedWith Power, Thomas S. (Thomas Sarsfield), 1905- person
associatedWith Railroad Hour Radio Program corporateBody
associatedWith Russell, Frank M., 1895- . person
associatedWith Smith, H. Allen (Harry Allen), 1907-1976. person
correspondedWith Stanton, Frank, 1908-2006. person
correspondedWith Train, Russell E., 1920- person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
Business records--United States
Tax returns
Sheet music
Radio scripts
Radio broadcasting--United States--Archival resources
Contracts for work and labor--United States
Television broadcasting--United States--Archival resources
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1903-08-31

Death 1983-03-17

English

Information

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