Friday, February 3, 2012


If you think of major television stars in 2012, I guess names that would come to mind would be Simon Cowell, Jerry Seinfeld, or Ryan Seachrest. They have made their mark on what is considered television in 2012. However, in the 1950s there was one man who not only dominated television but he owned it - Arthur Godfrey. Godfrey, born in 1903, appeared to television audiences as a likeable folksy host, but behind the scenes he was a strict task master, and that dark side lead to his demise.

Behind Godfrey's on-air warmth was a volatile and controlling personality. He insisted his "Little Godfreys" attend dance and singing classes, believing all should be versatile performers regardless of whether they possessed the aptitude for those disciplines. In meetings with the cast and his staff, he could be abusive and intimidating. In spite of his ability to bring in profits, CBS executives who respected Godfrey professionally were not fond of him personally, since he often baited them on and off the air.

Godfrey's attitude was controlling prior to having hip surgery, but upon his return, he added more air time to his morning shows and became critical of a number of aspects of the broadcasts. One night, he substituted a shortened, hastily-arranged version of his Wednesday night variety show in place of the scheduled "Talent Scouts" presentation, feeling that none of the talent was up to standards. He also began casting a critical eye on others in the cast, particularly LaRosa, whose popularity continued to grow.

Like many men of his generation, Julius LaRosa thought dance lessons to be somewhat effeminate—and chafed when Godfrey ordered them for his entire performing crew. CBS historian Robert Metz, in CBS: Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye, suggested that Godfrey instituted the practice because his own physical limitations made him sensitive to the need for coordination on camera. "Godfrey," Metz wrote, "was concerned about his cast in his paternalistic way."

Godfrey and LaRosa had a dispute when LaRosa missed a dance lesson due to a family emergency. He claimed he'd advised Godfrey, but was nonetheless barred from the show for a day in retaliation, via a notice placed on a cast bulletin board. At that point, LaRosa retained topnotch manager Tommy Rockwell to renegotiate his contract with Godfrey or, failing that, to receive an outright release. However, such talks had yet to occur.

LaRosa was also signed to Cadence Records, owned by Godfrey's musical director Archie Bleyer, who produced Eh, Cumpari, the best-selling hit of LaRosa's musical career. LaRosa admitted the record's success had made him a little cocky. But after Godfrey discovered that LaRosa hired a manager in the wake of the dance lesson reprimand, Godfrey immediately consulted with CBS President Dr. Frank Stanton, who noted that Godfrey had hired LaRosa on-air (after his initial appearance on Talent Scouts) and suggested firing him the same way. Whether Stanton intended this to occur after Godfrey spoke with LaRosa and his managers about the singer's future on the show, or whether Stanton suggested Godfrey actually fire LaRosa on air with no warning, remains lost to history.

On October 19, 1953, near the end of his morning radio show (deliberately waiting until after the TV portion had ended), after lavishing praise on LaRosa in introducing the singer's performance of "Manhattan," Godfrey thanked him and then announced that this was LaRosa's "swan song" with the show, adding, "He goes now, out on his own — as his own star — soon to be seen on his own programs, and I know you'll wish him godspeed as much as I do". Godfrey then signed off for the day saying, "This is the CBS Radio Network".

LaRosa, who had to be told what the phrase "swan song" meant, was dumbfounded, since he had not been informed beforehand of his departure and contract renegotiations had yet to happen. Stanton later admitted the idea may have been "a mistake." In perhaps a further illumination of the ego that Godfrey had formerly kept hidden, radio historian Gerald Nachman, in Raised on Radio, claims that what really miffed Godfrey about his now-former protege was that LaRosa's fan mail had come to outnumber Godfrey's. It is likely that a combination of these factors led to Godfrey's decision to discharge LaRosa. It is not likely Godfrey expected the public outcry that ensued.

In any event, the LaRosa incident opened an era of controversy that swirled around Godfrey and, little by little, dismantled his just-folks image. LaRosa was beloved enough by Godfrey's fans that they saved their harshest criticism for Godfrey himself. After a press conference was held by LaRosa and his agent, Godfrey further complicated the matter by hosting a press conference of his own where he responded that LaRosa had lost his "humility." The charge, given Godfrey's sudden baring of his own ego beneath the facade of warmth, brought more mockery from the public and press. Almost instantly, Godfrey and the phrase "no humility" became the butt of many comedians' jokes. Later, he claimed he had, with the firing, essentially given LaRosa a release from his contract that the singer requested. Godfrey, however, provided no evidence to support that contention.

Godfrey would fire others among his regulars, including bandleader Archie Bleyer, within days of LaRosa's public "execution." Bleyer had formed his own label, Cadence Records, which recorded LaRosa. Bleyer married one of The Chordettes, and that group also broke away from Godfrey; Godfrey replaced them with The McGuire Sisters. Godfrey was also angered that Bleyer had produced a spoken-word record by Godfrey's Chicago counterpart Don McNeill. McNeill hosted The Breakfast Club, which had been Godfrey's direct competition on the NBC Blue Network (later ABC) since Godfrey's days at WJSV. Despite the McNeill show's far more modest following, Godfrey was unduly offended, even paranoid, at what he felt was disloyalty on Bleyer's part. Bleyer simply shrugged off the dismissal and focused on developing Cadence, which went on to even greater fame in later years with classic hit records by the Everly Brothers and Andy Williams.

Apparently, Godfrey intended to teach his regulars a lesson by dismissing them from his show and curtailing their network-television exposure. The plan backfired somewhat when they continued to perform for his substitute host, Robert Q. Lewis, who by now had his own midday show on CBS.

Occasionally, a crotchety Godfrey snapped at cast members on the air. A significant number of other "Little Godfreys," including the Mariners and Haleloke, were dismissed from 1953 to 1959 without explanation. Other performers, most notably Pat Boone and Patsy Cline (briefly), stepped in as "Little Godfreys."

Godfrey's problems with the media and public feuds with newspaper columnists such as Jack O'Brian and newspaperman turned CBS variety show host Ed Sullivan were duly documented by the media, which began running critical exposé articles linking him to several female "Little Godfreys." Godfrey's anger at Sullivan stemmed from the variety show impresario's featuring of fired "Little Godfreys" on his Sunday night show, including LaRosa.

Despite an intense desire to remain in the public eye, Godfrey's presence ebbed considerably over the next ten years, notwithstanding an HBO special and an appearance on a PBS salute to the 1950s. A 1981 attempt to reconcile him with LaRosa for a Godfrey show reunion record album, bringing together Godfrey and a number of the "Little Godfreys," collapsed. At an initially amicable meeting, Godfrey reasserted that LaRosa wanted out of his contract and asked why he hadn't explained that instead of insisting he was fired without warning. When LaRosa began reminding him of the dance lesson controversy, Godfrey, then in his late seventies, exploded and the meeting ended in shambles. Godfrey died forgotten and seemingly alone in 1983...


  1. Hearing the actual LaRosa firing on Godfrey's A&E Biography segment was a stunning thing to behold, more chilling than Donald Trump's "You're fired!"

    What a jerk Godfrey became. Would things have been different had he not needed hip surgery? I wonder....

    The stories for the movies The Great Man (1956, directed by Jose Ferrer) and A Face in the Crowd (1957, directed by Elia Kazan) have their lead characters (though no one ever actually sees "the Great Man") based on aspects of Godfrey and his ego, and they're quite stinging.

    Too bad LaRosa couldn't become a big star and really stick it to Godfrey, despite help from the likes of Robert Q. Lewis and Ed Sullivan (both of whom were also hated as much as loved, according to some sources).

    Godfrey even got slammed on Mystery Science Theater 3000 by appearing in the late '70s exploitation flick Angels' Revenge (as Himself). When one of the ladies does a nightclub act, she spots him in the audience and announces his presence. He stands up in a spotlight and waves, upon which Mike Nelson riffs, "Thank you, thank you. You're all ungrateful!"

    If MST3K becomes his lasting legacy over his records or radio and TV shows, it'll be very odd, to say the least.

    Great post!

  2. I was President of the Julius LaRosa Worcester, MA fan club back then. My best friend, who was the club's secretary and I watched that firing in shock. We were visibly upset and still recall the moment.

  3. A sad demise, for someone who's career was dependent on the talent of others. Yet, many a great talented performers, launched there own careers and where successful because they where cast out by Mr Godfrey how ironic.

  4. He was not a good or kind person Not ever. He was openly antisemitic. There were no Jews among the "Little Godfrey's." As a young child, I listened to his radio show every day. It was a shock to discover, as an adult, that he was actually a nasty piece of work.

  5. It was unfortunate that someone with so much to be thankful for destroyed himself in making so many people unhappy.

  6. My first awareness of Arthur Godfrey was his reversing his endorsement of a laundry product that used enzymes. Godfrey, circa 1970, pressed the manufacturer to let him do a follow up ad telling the nation enzymes cause water pollution. That seemed extraordinarily noble then, but the private Arthur Godfrey was ]pompous and self absorbed and that may also explain his delve into passionate environmentalism.

  7. Today opioid addiction would be the first thing to come to mind.

  8. Worthless piece of dog shit(Godfrey).

  9. I was ten when LaRosa was fired. Wasn't aware of what was going on then. I was just now thinking he reminds me of Glenn Beck. Also Johnny Carson and his feud with Wayne Newton. Of which Newton went to his dressing room and face to face told Johnny the cruel jokes about him being feminine would stop. And they did.

  10. The only certifiable Jewish thing about AG I know of is he bought a hotel that didn't allow Jews then allowed them there. Later, Dick Cavett called the anti-
    Semetism charge crap.
    Ease up. Seriously, the worst thing he did was fire Julius LaRosa then a few co-workers of LaRosa? JL may have been a nice guy but he made mid-50's MOR
    schmatz, no hot solo, the kind of music they put in the middle of comedies that made you wonder "Who thought this was a good idea?" Good. So what?

    1. He was a piece of crap anti-Semite with nastiness at his core!

    2. My mother shared a ride to work with him in the 40s and she was engaged to be married.
      She said he spoke to her in a very inappropriate way and she never forgot it. She was very pretty and the thought of him speaking to my 19 year old mother that way makes me want to punch him in the face.
      He was a"Dirty Old Man".

  11. Obviously Godfrey was a total analhole.

  12. If Arthur Godfrey endorsed a product, all the women would buy it.
    Today, if Oprah endorses a product, all the women will buy it.
    Oprah is the black Arthur.

  13. this article has too many errors -- to even begin pointing them out. I worked for Arthur Godfrey from 1960 to 1971/ I married his band leader Johnny Parker in 1968. Arthur was a complicated man and wanted loyalty. He was a womanizer as was common in the 50's 60's and has only lessened in the past decade. He was not antisemitic. He owned a hotel in Florida which had the reputation of being restricted. His good points - he had a FEMALE PRODUCER -- in the 1950's. Unheard of. He hired me as a writer (female) in the early 60's -- practically unheard of. The Mariners were two black singers and two white singers - we would get enormous amounts of mail blasting him for such hiring. He shrugged it off. The movie - A FACE IN THE CROWD explains him as well as any biography. He was more popular than the president of the United States. He was generous with his office staff and flew us in his private plane from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. Enough comments by people who did not know him - or were only upset because they did not win on Talent Scouts. I know a woman today -- still in the business - who insists she didn't win because she was Jewish. This is how such rumors begin. Linda Parker (then known as Linda Marlowe)

    1. Thanks so much for this insight into Mr Godfrey. Nice to hear from someone who actually knew the man. 😊

  14. I sometimes wonder if Donn Pearce named the infamous "Walking Boss" in Cool Hand Luke (Boss Godfrey) after Arthur Godfrey. Interesting thought but probably unlikely. Pearce was probably too busy doing time and writing to know about AG's reputation as an S.O.B.

  15. The Year Santa Came Early

    We lived on a two-lane road off Highway 19 leading to the old airport. An unfamiliar plane circling always triggered me and my buddy Billy to stop what we were doing and hop on our bikes to be front and center for the landing. The indescribable excitement of strangers coming out of the sky and finding their way safely down to this little strip of land next door is deeply seated in my childhood memory. Fortuitous could be my chosen word today to describe the many experiences of conducting ‘meet and greets’ of strangers to our town. Back then, the chosen word would likely have been “heck, Billy, do you believe that!” We hadn’t yet grown into “damn, son!”

    We sensed that this one occasion was gonna be unique, bigger, and more important than tossing the football in the backyard; even the hole we were digging to China across the road was instantly put on hold. On that December day, the approaching plane was large and noisy; it had two engines - something big was circling!

    What landed was Arthur Godfrey’s infamous DC3, which I learned from my daddy was gifted to him by WW1 flying ace and Eastern Airlines President, Eddie Rickenbacker.

    We’re up close to the runway leaning on our bikes and hanging on to our ball caps as the plane taxes toward us, swirls around, and comes to a quick stop - the door opens in an instant and the steps unfold - there he stood, slap a beard on him and he’s Santa Claus...a big man in a big plane who was jolly, kind and we’d soon learn, very generous.

    Billy sheepishly repositiones behind me; I’m a year his senior and his shield from the unexpected.

    The man steps off the plane, stops and stares me down, sizes me up, and says, “Son, my name is Arthur Godfrey.” I said, “Yessir, my name is Gary, this here is Billy behind me.”

    He got straight to the point. He said he was on his way to Florida for Christmas and running late due to bad weather and faulty instruments and knew that his family was probably worried that he hadn’t arrived.

    He asked us to do him a favor - he wrote a name and phone number on a piece of paper and handed it to me, pulled a five-dollar bill out of his shirt pocket and put it in mine. “Red” was scribbled at the bottom of the note.

    He asked that I call the local police and explain that Mr. Arthur Godfrey wanted them to call this number in Florida and explain that “Red” was delayed but that all was well, and he would be home directly. He asked that we relay his urgent message, and we did. We didn’t see him take off, but we did see his now airborne plane turning in a southerly direction towards Florida.

    The police fired a barrage of questions at us and found the story believable. I’m thinking that they made the call and “Red” made it to Florida for Christmas. I often wondered if he mentioned the incident on his TV show.

    “Big Red” arrived early that year bringing $2.50 for me and $2.50 for Billy, a ton of good cheer and a great enduring story of good will to recall this time of the year: he provided us two kids on bikes on the outskirts of Thomaston, Georgia a precious memory for a good deed.

    Only later did I learn that Arthur Godfrey’s nickname was “The Old Redhead,” thus “Red” on the note, probably an abbreviation used for good friends like me and Billy!

    And then there’s this appropriate quote from ‘Red: “I know how I like to be treated, so I always start with others by saying, “Could you give me a minute of your time, I know you’re very busy,” and they usually will.

    You’re wondering, “Who’s this person?” Google Arthur Godfrey these 67 Christmases later and enjoy…some fine ukulele! If he suddenly reappeared out of the sky today, he would likely ask, “Google? Do you mean ‘Giggle’, lad?”

    Merry Christmas, friends.

    Excelsior, Doc Granger

  16. My late father, Frank Simms, was Arthur Godfrey's announcer on Candid Camera, in the days before Durward Kirby took over as host. My dad was too polite to have ever said anything negative about Godfrey, at least in my presence.
    One day Dad took me into NYC to attend a taping of the show, and I was backstage standing next to Godfrey before he was introduced and emerged to face the audience. I was shocked at how hobbled and feeble he seemed, but when he took the stage he seemed as spry as a teenager. It must have been quite an effort to fake being so fit and energetic.
    Dad kept his announcing job throughout Godfrey's tenure, and continued when Kirby took over. Dad had also been the announcer on The Garry Moore Show, so he and Durward were already friends and remained so, often fishing together on Lake Mauweehoo in Sherman, CT, where they had adjoining properties.

    1. That is so interesting! You must have a ton of great stories.

    2. Yes, David, lots of great stories!
      Growing up in Stamford, CT, my dad held a catered party every year in our back yard with steaks, clams, lobsters, and a generous open bar (of course).
      Among the guests at these and other parties throughout the year, I grew accustomed to seeing all of Dad's showbiz friends at our house: Gary Moore, Durward Kirby, Carol Burnett, Johnny Carson, Ed McMahon, Dick Van Dyke, Gene Rayburn, Jonathan Winters, and probably a few others I'm missing.
      Although I didn't notice it at the time, Mom tells me that Carson, who always showed up with a different date, would "hit on" all the good-looking blondes — married or not.
      One night, Dad set up a few rows of folding chairs on the patio because Jonathan Winters was going to do an impromptu act. As soon as they were set up, I promptly sat down in the front row, anticipating his routine. Dad approached me and suggested that I (about 10 years old) ought to go inside because it was going to be an adult-oriented performance. Nevertheless, I peeked through the living room window, but couldn't hear anything. It must have been raunchy. Too bad it wasn't recorded!
      Dad's brother, Hank Simms, supplied the voice on the opening credits on Mission: Impossible, The FBI, Barnaby Jones, Barretta, and all the other Quinn Martin Productions, as well as announcing the Academy Awards for about 28 years in a row. He was based in Los Angeles, and had been Johnny Carson's announcer on the very early Johnny Carson Show.
      Uncle Hank told me a story about a golf match he played at Wilshire Country Club back in the 1960s. His partner, with whom he shared a golf cart for all 18 holes, was Andy Williams. For the entire four hours they were together, Andy Williams did not speak a single word to Uncle Hank, who said he was about as warm as an igloo. So much for his "Mr. Nice Guy in a Cardigan Sweater" image.
      One night, Garry Moore went upstairs to lie down for a short nap in my younger brother's room. When he came back downstairs, he was wearing a pair of my brother's shoes. Dad adored Garry — said he was a genuinely nice man.

    3. Great stories, George. I enjoyed reading that. Not to get too off topic, but I worked at Manero's restaurant in Greenwich in the 80s and 90s and a co-worker of mine who worked there back when Johnny Carson was still doing The Tonight Show in New York told me that when Johnny would come to Manero's with his family, one of his son's would tell the waiter things like, "I don't think Hitler's ready to order yet," referring to Johnny. "He wasn't a very nice man," she told me. Well, at least he hid that from the rest of the public pretty well.

    4. Hello Grant,
      I remember Manero's quite well, but it was mostly in the 1960s, in Dad's company. But even more than Manero's, I remember dining frequently at Joe's C'est Bon in Greenwich, owned by Joe Lovetri, who enjoyed Dad's celebrity on TV, and was always gracious and friendly to all of us.
      On the matter of Carson, when he was offered the hosting job on The Tonight Show, he knew he wanted Uncle Hank as his sidekick, begging him several times to accept — even flying out to California and knocking on Hank's front door to implore him to reconsider and be his announcer. For one thing, Hank did not want to leave LA for New York, since he hated cold weather and didn't want to catch a cold that would compromise his speaking voice. As it turned out, the show did soon move to LA. Wouldn't you know!
      A few years ago when I was visiting Hank at his retirement home on a golf course in Hot Springs, Arkansas, I asked him if he regretted his decision not to be Johnny's announcer and earn the millions that Ed McMahon certainly did.
      His answer intrigued me — he said that he and Johnny were such dear friends and had always gotten along like gangbusters. However, he mentioned that Johnny could have his moods and could be difficult at time to work alongside. He traded the fame and fortune to be able to maintain that close friendship that meant so much to both of them.
      Shortly before Johnny died (when nobody knew he was ill), he sent a handwritten letter to Hank which included a generous check (he never told us the amount). Johnny said, "I know you're going to ask me to take back this check, but I have more money than I'll ever be able to spend, and I want you to have it as a memento of all the years of friendship we've enjoyed."
      I sincerely doubt that Ed McMahon got a check — it's said that the two of them did not have the closest relationship.
      Hank passed away in 2013 at the age of 90.

    5. Godfrey was a complicated. man.
      He hired my dad in his first radio job, so I've always had a soft spot for him.
      Ironically, I later met and became friends with his daughter and her beautiful family. They actually opened doors for me that led to incredible professional development.
      In their home on their Maryland farm, a portrait of Godfrey hung, a cigarette hanging from one hand. Patty told me that he'd wished that it could be painted over, that smoking had cost him so much.