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Arthur Godfrey was born in New York City on August 31st, 1903 to parents who went from affluence to poverty. His mother was an unsuccessful singer, his father a failed sportswriter who left the family. With the family in sudden poverty, Godfrey tried to help them keep going, then went on the road doing odd jobs and hoboing. He served in the United States Navy from 1920 to 1924, assigned to radio training and learned to become a radio operator, serving in that capacity on naval destroyers. Additional training in radio came in his service in the Coast Guard from 1927 to 1930. It was during his Coast Guard stint in Baltimore that he appeared on a local talent show and became popular enough to land his own brief weekly program.

On leaving the Coast Guard, he became a radio announcer for Baltimore station WFBR and moved the short distance to Washington, D.C. to become a staff announcer for NBC that same year and remained there until 1934. He was already an avid flyer and in 1933, nearly died following a violent car crash outside Washington that left him hospitalized for months. During that time, he decided to listen closely to the radio and realized the stiff, formal announcers could not connect with the average radio listener, as the announcers spoke as if to a crowd, and not one person. Godfrey vowed that when he returned to the airwaves he would affect a relaxed, informal style as if he were talking to just one person. He also used that style to do his own commercials and became a regional star.

While being a broadcasting personality, Godfrey also sang and played the ukulele. It succeeded.In 1934 he became a freelance enterainer, but eventually based himself on a daily show in Washington, titled Arthur Godfrey's Sun Dial. Godfrey knew President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who listened to his Washington program, and through Roosevelt's intercession, he received a commission in the U.S. Navy Reserves during World War II. He continued broadcasting in Washington, hoping to move from local to network affiliation.

As he provided a first-hand account of Roosevelt's funeral, broadcast live over CBS in April, 1945, Godfrey broke down in tears. The entire nation was moved by his emotional outburst. It actually led to his joining the CBS Radio network where he was given his own daily program, Arthur Godfrey Time, a Monday-Friday morning radio show that featured his monologues, interviews with various stars and music from his own in-house combo and regular vocalists on the show. Godfrey's monologues and discussions were all but totally unscripted, and went whatever direction he chose. That program was supplemented by Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, a program featuring rising young performers. In 1948 "Arthur Godfrey Time" began to be simultaneously broadcast on radio and television. The radio version ran three hours; the TV version an hour, expanded to an hour and a half. Godfrey's skills as a commercial pitchman brought him a number of loyal sponsors including Lipton Tea, Frigidaire, Pillsbury cake mixes, Chesterfield cigarettes and many more.

He found one way to enhance his pitches was to extemporize his commercials, poking fun at the products, at the company executives and at the advertising agency types who wrote the scripted commercials that he regularly ignored and, if he read them at all, ridiculed them. His popularity and ability to sell brought a windfall to CBS, accounting for a significant percentage of their corporate profits. Godfrey would fire shows regulars at whim. On a day singer Julius La Rosa ("Eh, Cunpari") rubbed him the wrong way, he fired him on the stop for "not having enough humility." He fired his announcer, Tony Marvin, because he engaged the services of a talent manager.

Offers dwindling to naught, Godfrey wanted to find ways back onto a regular TV schedule. He appeared on the rock band Moby Grape's second album and despite his political conservatism became a powerful environmentalist who identified with the youth culture as opposing the "establishment," as he felt he once did. He was a master at dressage, made charity appearances at horse show and did commercials for Axion, a detergent, only to clash with the manufacturers when he found the product contained phosphates, implicated in water pollution. Godfrey's presence ebbed considerably, despite an HBO special and an appearance on a Public TV salute to the 1950s. Emphysema became a problem in the 1980s and he died of the disease in New York City. He is buried in Leesburg, Virginia, not far from his farm.


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