Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


Arthur Godfrey's public avuncular and folksy persona was at odds with his controlling and egoistic personality.  Tired of the stiff and formal delivery given by radio announcers at the time, Godfrey adopted a looser style, person talking directly to the audience as if he were having a conversion with each person in the comfort of his or her living room.  He encouraged new talent, often taking contestants from his talent show program and showcasing them on his other programs; among those getting this treatment were Julius LaRosa, the Chordettes, Carmel Quinn, Frank Parker, and the Hawaiian singer Haleloke.  (Godfrey himself got his start on a local talent show.)  Others who appeared on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts were Lenny Bruce, Patsy Kline, Pat Boone, Marilyn Horne, Tony Bennett, Roy Clark, and Don Adams; among those rejected were Elvis Presly and The Four Freshmen.

Behind the camera, though, he would fly into rages with his staff, intimidating them.  He insisted that all his television "family" -- who were known as "Little Godfreys" -- take both vocal and dancing lessons, whether their talents lay in that direction or not.  Also, the Little Godfreys were not allowed to have their own managers; Godfrey's staff could handle that for them.  He was quick to take affront and merciless in his response.  Godfrey is perhaps now most famous for firing popular singer Julius LaRosa on air.

Arthur Godfrey was strongly anti-communist, libertarian in principle, an environmental warrior, and a believer in technology (except when it conflicted with his environmental concerns; his opposition to SST aircraft was a major the United States lost interest in producing the planes -- and, reportedly, launched a string of Nixon-era IRS investigations in response).  An advocate of civil rights, Godfrey fought back criticism from some Southern CBS affiliates (as well as from Georgia's governor, among others) when he featured The Mariners, a vocal group of Coast Guard veterans -- two white and two black.

Once one of the most popular and powerful radio and television personalities in America, Godfrey's star began to fade after the LaRosa firing.  (And numerous firings shortly after.)  Following one of the earliest successful  hip replacement surgeries in 1953 (he had been badly injured in auto accident in 1931), Godfrey became crankier more persnickety.  In 1959, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and ended his television programs, although he would continue his radio show until 1972.  The lung cancer was successfully treated.  He died in 1983 of emphysema at age 79.

Godfrey was a man of great talent and one who instinctively knew how to play to the American audience.  A major American influence, warts and all.

From 1959, here's an episode of The Arthur Godfrey Show, with guests Johnny Nash and Elaine Malbin.


  1. As a child I remember my mother listening to the radio, The Arthur Godfrey Show. Seems to me it was on morning or mid day on the west coast. Every weekday, with others like John Q. Lewis, George Gobel, many others. I don't think I ever saw the television iteration.

  2. I had a friend who was crazy about him. I am betting she didn't know all of this. She learned the ukelele for him.

  3. There is full-day recording of the DC CBS Radio station WJSV from 1939, when Godfrey was the local morning host (WJSV would become WTOP eventually).