Arthur Godfrey's shows helped define the first decade and half of TV history in the United States. While there were a number of television shows on which Godfrey appeared, his fame, fortune, and pioneering activities centered on two variety shows presented on the CBS-TV network: Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts and Arthur Godfrey and His Friends. These two proved so popular that during the 1950s that they served as a cornerstone of the CBS-TV network's programming strategies.
In December 1948, after more than a decade on radio, principally for CBS, Arthur Godfrey ventured onto primetime TV by simply permitting the televising of his radio hit Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. On TV Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts ran until July 1958 on Monday nights at 8:30 P.M. for a half hour and proved Godfrey's best venue on television. Fans embraced this amateur showcase, and during the 1951-52 TV season it reached number one in the ratings. Next season I Love Lucy vaulted into first place, but thereafter through most of the 1950s Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts regularly finished in TV's primetime top ten.
The formula for Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts was simple enough. "Scouts" brought on their discoveries to a converted New York theater to perform before a live studio audience. Most of these "discoveries" were in fact struggling professionals looking for a break, and so the quality of the talent was quite high. At the program's conclusion, the studio audience selected the winner by way of an applause meter.
In his day Godfrey significantly assisted the careers of Pat Boone, Tony Bennett, Eddie Fisher, Connie Francis, Leslie Uggams, Lenny Bruce, Steve Lawrence, Connie Francis, Roy Clark, and Patsy Cline. His "discovery" of Patsy Cline on 21 January 1957 was typical. Her scout, actually her mother Hilda Hensley, presented Patsy who sang her recent recording Walkin' After Midnight. Though this was heralded as a country song, and recorded in Nashville, Godfrey's staff insisted Cline not wear one of her mother's hand crafted cowgirl outfits but appear in a cocktail dress. The audience's ovations stopped the meter at its apex, and for a couple of months thereafter Cline appeared regularly on Godfrey's radio program. In short although Cline had been performing for nearly a decade, and had been recording and appearing on local Washington, D.C. TV for more than two years, it is Godfrey, because of the great ratings and fame Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, who is heralded as making Patsy Cline a star. Yet Godfrey proved fallible. He turned down both Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly!
His other top ten TV hit was Arthur Godfrey and His Friends, which premiered in January 1949. On Wednesday nights Godfrey hosted this traditional variety show, employing a resident cast of singers which over the years included Julius La Rosa, Frank Parker, Lu Ann Simms, Pat Boone, and the Cordettes. Tony Marvin, as he was on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, served as both announcer and Godfrey's "second banana." The appeal of the hour long Arthur Godfrey and His Friends rested on the popularity of the assembled company of singers, all clean cut young people, and guest stars. Godfrey played host and pitchman.
Indeed to industry insiders, Godfrey ranked as television's first great salesman. He blended a Southern folksiness with enough sophistication to sell almost anything. As he had long 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. Godfrey made it sound like he was confiding to you and to you alone, and early television viewers listened to Godfrey's rich, warm, resonant descriptions and went out and purchased what he endorsed.
During the early 1950s Godfrey seemed unable to do anything wrong, despite a press that could find little reason for his vast popularity. He began a fall from grace began in October 1953 when he fired the then popular La Rosa--on the air. Because of the negative fallout, Godfrey thereafter regularly feuded with a host of powerful newspaper columnists including Dorothy Kilgallen and John Crosby.
By the end of the 1950s Godfrey's ratings were falling and his brand of variety show was giving way to action and comedy series made in Hollywood. Still, through the 1960s CBS unsuccessfully sought new ways to showcase Godfrey. He flopped on Candid Camera, but out came regular specials: Arthur Godfrey in Hollywood which aired on 11 October 1963, Arthur Godfrey Loves Animals on 18 March 1963, and so on once or twice a season. His final television special came on 28 March 1973.
Television in the United States is most dependent on the star system, and Arthur Godfrey, despite common sense declarations that he had "no talent," must be counted as one of television's greatest stars. Prior to 1959 there was no bigger TV draw than this freckled face, ukulele playing, host. There was something about Godfrey's wide grin, his infectious chuckle, his unruly shock of red hair that made millions tune in not just once, but again and again.
ARTHUR GODFREY AND HIS FRIENDS
The Chordettes, (1949-1953) (Virginia Osborn, Dorothy Schwartz, Carol Hagedorn, Janet Ertel)
Janette Davis (1949-1957)
Bill Lawrence (1949-1950)
The Mariners (1949-1955) (Jim Lewis, Tom Lockard, Nat Dickerson, Martin Karl)
Frank Parker (1950-195B)
Marion Marlowe (1950-1955)
Julius LaRosa (1952-1953)
Lu Ann Simms (1952-1955)
The McGuire Sisters (1952-1957) (Christine, Dorothy, Phyl-lis)
Carmel Quinn (1954-1957)
Pat Boone (1955-1957)
The Toppers (1955-1957)
Miyoshi Umeki (1955)
Frank Westbrook Dancers (1959-1959)
Archie Bleyer (1949-54)
Jerry Blesler (1954-55)
Will Roland and Bert Farber (1955-57)
Bernie Green (1958-59)
January 1949-June 1957 Wednesday 8:00-9:00 September 1958-April 1959 Tuesday 9:00-9:30
ARTHUR GODFREY'S TALENT SCOUTS
Archie Bleyer (1948-1954)
Jerry Bresler (1954-1955)
Will Roland and Bert Farber (1955-1958)
December 1948-July 1958 Monday 8:30-9:00
Castleman, Harry and Walter Podrazik. Watching TV: Four Decades of American Television. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982.