Arthur Morton Godfrey Always Made Me Just a Little Bit Nervous……
Godfrey was born on August 31st, 1903 in Manhattan – He came from an interesting family – his father was progressive by nature and opened up his children’s thinking in their formative years. Arthur’s mother Kathryn was musically inclined and fell back on her talents when her husband passed away – playing piano background for silent films and composing classical music among other endeavors to keep the family afloat.
Arthur emerged from a stint in the U.S. Navy and aimed for a career in radio, where he brought with him a disdain for the broadcasting style-of-the-day practiced by announcers – which he found to be sterile and devoid of personality. His first gig was in radio on station WRC in Washington D.C. in 1931.
Talk Show Host Trailblazer
Next in 1934, it was on to WJSV – also in D.C., where he became an AM DJ – and it would be at that station the Arthur would develop his relaxed and informal on-air style which would pave the way for his future in broadcasting. He would add a new element as well which initially would give his station sponsors reason to pause: When doing commercials he would abandoned prepared scripts and often inject sarcastic and humorous comments about the sponsors – but never their products.
The sponsors were taken aback – but then something unexpected would take place – The listening audience liked what they were hearing and sales increased. Arthur worked his way through a series of broadcasting opportunities including hosting the “Professor Quiz” program – the first such quiz show to succeed on radio.
It was then onto CBS affiliate stations WABC and WJSV and serving as the announcer for the “Texaco Star Theater” hosted by Fred Allen. His big break came soon after when he landed his own show “Arthur Godfrey Time” on CBS radio. Arthur brought is casual and witty style onto the show, mixing in occasional musical numbers on his ukulele, breaking into a song suddenly, teasing his sponsors, and instilling a group of largely unknown artists who would become known as the “Little Godfreys”.
I remember watching him on TV on his other show which debuted in 1948. “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” (show broadcasts were split between the two formats). With the “Little Godfreys” the format was to bring out a performer, who would have one of Godfrey’s sponsors accompany them (sort of like they “discovered” the talent).
Two of the the earliest “Little Godfreys” to appear/perform were the Chordettes and singer/comedian Wally Cox, who both – as a result, would land recording contracts. The Chordettes were practitioners of the the “barbershop quartet” style initially. Godfrey would supplement their performances with spontaneous spots of his own with his studio band expected to immediately fall in behind him – songs being unrehearsed.
Godfrey started recording for Columbia Records in 1950 sometimes going solo and often working with his favored Chordettes. Other “Little Godreys” included The Mariners, Lenny Bruce, Carmel Quinn, Marilyn Marlowe and for a short time Pat Boone and Patsy Cline (who rather quickly decided this wasn’t the role she was seeking).
Godfrey came under some scrutiny with his support of the mixed race group “The Mariners”, but ignored the pressure and it soon subsided.
Many young aspiring artists would appear on his show including Tony Bennett and Roy Clark. Elvis Presley auditioned for the show but was rejected by talent coordinator Janette Davis – who would also turn down The Orioles (just prior to their big hit “Crying in the Chapel”). The Four Freshmen also missed the cut.
The LaRosa Incident
Julius LaRosa, like Godfrey, was a Navy veteran. He came to the attention of Arthur in late 1951 and was quickly installed as a primary “Little Godfrey”. Things went smoothly until the Fall of 1953. LaRosa was coasting along with newfound success, enjoying recording success with Archie Bleyer’s Cadence Record label and scoring hits. Bleyer had been Godfrey’s band leader before breaking away to establish is record business.
As a result of LaRosa’s Godfrey appearances, coupled with his hit recordings, his popularity soared, sometimes nearly eclipsing his boss – Godfrey. Much is written on the conflict which arose between Arthur and Julius but bottom line, LaRosa was publicly “fired” live on the Godfrey show. Julius initially landed on his feet securing appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, but the incident would mark the beginning of his decline.
For Godfrey though, the poorly thought out decision to publicly humiliate LaRosa would draw the ire of his audience – and before long – he would fall from favor – Godfrey would lash out at other artists as well including Marion Marlowe, The Mariners and others. Later Eddie Fisher would accuse Godrey of being an anti-Semite claiming discrimination at a Godfrey owned hotel in Florida. The allegations followed Godfrey although later discounted by others such as Dick Cavett.
Many awards have been bestowed on Godfrey including induction into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame and the Radio Hall of Fame where he certainly belongs for promoting the birth of the talk oriented entertainment format – and inspiring a new breed of show hosts (Steve Allen started off substituting for Godfrey during a prolonged illness and went on to a great career on The Tonight Show as it’s first legendary host.
As a young boy watching the abrasive unpredictable Godfrey, I was always just a little bit nervous about what he might say or do next…. I couldn’t imagine becoming a “Little Godfrey”. I would have preferred much more to become a “Little Gobel” or a “Little Buffalo Bob” or even a “Little Andy Devine”.
Archie Bleyer – Cadence – and Little Godfreys
Archie Bleyer would move on from Arthur Godfrey. He married Chordette Janet Ertel in 1954. He would record several of the “Little Godfrey’s on his Cadence record label which he established in 1953. Godfrey and Bleyer’s relationship soured after his departure especially when Julius LaRosa gained notoriety via his recording contract with Bleyer.
Arthur Godfrey died on March 16th, 1983 in Manhattan at the age of 79. Archie Bleyer passed away on March 20th, 1989 and Julius LaRosa died on May 12th, 2016 at the age of 86.
Godfrey’s Greatest Hits
Godfrey – Columbia 38761 – “Too Fat Polka” – #2 Billboard Charts – 1947
Godfrey – Columbia 38066 – “Slap ‘Er Down, Agin, Paw – #7 Billboard Charts – 1947
Godfrey – Columbia 38081 – “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover” (with the Mariners) – #14 Billboard Charts – 1948
Godfrey – Columbia 38744 – “Go To Sleep, Go To Sleep, Go To Sleep (with Mary Martin) – #8 Billboard Charts – 1950
Godfrey – Columbia 38721 – “Candy and Cake” (with The Chordettes) – #16 Billboard Charts – 1950
Godfrey – Columbia 6-919 – “The Thing” – #24 Billboard Charts – 1950
Godfrey – Columbia 4-39632 – “Dance Me Loose” – #6 Billboard Charts – 1951
Godfrey – Columbia 4-39404 – “I Like the Wide Open Spaces” (with Laurie Anders) – #13 Billboard Charts – 1951
Godfrey – Columbia 4-39487 – “What Is A Boy” – #27 Billboard Charts – 1951
Godfrey – Columbia 4-39632 – “Slow Poke” – #12 Billboard Charts – 1952
Godfrey – Columbia 39792 – “I Love Girls” – #17 Billboard Charts – 1952