He was born David Cunningham Garroway on July 13, 1913, in Schenectady, New York. He earned a degree in Abnormal Psychology from Washington University in St.Louis. He worked at Harvard as a lab assistant, he was a book seller and piston-ring salesman, spectacularly unsuccessful selling either. In 1938, he moved to New York and took a job as a Page at NBC; in 1939 he worked at KDKA in Pittsburgh as a Roving Reporter, covering such varied assignments as train derailments, hot air balloon festivals, and purse snatchings.
In 1941 he enlisted in the Navy and got his first radio job as a dj on a radio station in Honolulu. He played jazz records. After the war, he was in Chicago, working on air at WMAQ-AM, continuing his fascination with and devotion to the music, and organizing jazz concerts.
From 1949 to 1951, "Garroway At Large", produced in Chicago and broadcast nationwide by NBC television featured his favorite music, also introducing America to pop/jazz singers he believed particularly outstanding exemplars of the art form. I watched the program faithfully because his musical focus was always on jazz, and he introduced singers who were exceptional. A beautiful woman named Connie Russell made frequent appearances. Dave clearly was a big fan. Hers was a clear, straight-forward style with superb intonation very much the fashion of pop singers of the day. And she was gorgeous ...
And here she is singing "You've Changed" written in 1942 by Bill Carey and Carl Fischer from an appearance on Dave's Chicago-based program "Garroway At Large".
Among the more memorable of Dave's accomplishments was his job as host of an extravagant, innovative television program called "Today" which debuted on the frigid morning of January 14, 1952, and which many network competitors described as "a brash experiment".
A somewhat breathless Dave Garroway takes us on a guided tour of the studio and the latest apparatuses on a set which suggests Rube Goldberg might have received a Consultant's fee. Dave is determined to convey his own enthusiasm for the notion that we should all be fully informed of the world's complexities before we step out the door to face another day. The technical marvels of 1952 include tele-type and telex machines and international telephone connections but little else. One can't help thinking of the age of the computer looming on the horizon when gazing at the clunky equipment which was state-of-the-art at the time.
The video runs 9 minutes 35 seconds, and keep an eye out at 2:43 for the startling report of "the inflammable exploding sweaters made of synthetic rayon" (!). I can't help wondering if this item wasn't a deliberate attempt by some wags hoping to puncture Dave's famous unflappability, but the joke, if there was one, failed. Dave kept his cool. Here is the video.
I remember that morning very clearly. I was fifteen years old at home in Rhode Island, transfixed by the notion that such miraculous things could happen, even then sensing with delicious anticipation that television promised greater wonders to come, even better than Broadway Open House. (To digress for a moment, I had already been dazzled and astonished as I watched a fuzzy picture on a Motorola 7" screen my Uncle George proudly owned in 1949. "That picture is coming all the way from Boston!").
Dave was a perfect host for Today with his understated enthusiasm for the breakthrough concept he'd been instrumental in developing. The New York Times wrote: "He does not crash into the home with false jollity and thunderous witticisms of a backslapper. He is pleasant, serious, scholarly and not obtrusively convivial."
Ten Years Later, New York
On the first day of the show, Dave asked me if I had any idea why I got the call. Of course I didn't, so he said: "Well you see, a few weeks ago I got into a cab and found the previous occupant had left a magazine behind. Your picture was on the cover, so I read the article about your new album for Columbia ("Out Of The Blue"). I listened to it and decided I wanted to hear you sing every day."
For two weeks I observed, listened, learned and grew to admire this gentle soul much as I once adored my high-school English teacher. I sat in the corner with the band, Dave sat at a desk upon which were arranged numerous essentials: a goose-neck lamp, a microphone, lp recordings, a telephone, his note books, every copy of the New York newspapers (at least five to seven published each day in 1961) and reference books within easy reach. In addition, the harsh, fluorescent ceiling lights had been reduced to confessional dimnesss, creating an intimate atmosphere he obviously preferred. The band and I (an octet) were tucked safely in a corner. The show ran live for one hour from Monday to Friday nationwide on CBS radio. Dave commented on current events, critiqued and recommended books, plays, films and jazz albums and artists he liked in his gentle, mellifluous voice, and then he would ask me to sing as a change of pace. He was an attentive audience, smiling, never taking his eyes off me and the band. I was smitten.
A few days after the very pleasurable two weeks I spent in his company, Dave called to ask if I would please take a cab uptown to his East Side townhouse to discuss a project for which he needed help. I couldn't wait to find out what he had in mind. When I walked into the living room, he first thing to catch my eye was this strange, rather cumbersome object sitting atop a table-model television set.
When I asked what it was, he said: "It's one of hundreds commissioned by the US Army and Navy Air Forces. It's a Norden bombsight". I thought it an oddity, but perhaps its function was a conversation piece as well as a fascinating, tangible piece of history. I did my own research, and discovered that the Norden had been an efficient tool in air combat during WWII because it provided the bombardier pin-point accuracy in all kinds of weather and even night-time raids, missions sent up to seek and destroy strategic locations of air fields and storage facilities used by the Germans. Initially developed by Carl Norden, he demonstrated its capabilities to representatives of the US Navy and Army who were justifiably impressed and placed orders immediately. The Norden proved invaluable.
Dave had invited me to his home to ask if I might help him with a project dear to his heart but for which he hadn't time to explore. He showed me a slender book titled "Cosmic View, The Universe In 40 Jumps" (Please note: this is a pdf file), by Kees Boeke, a text book for everyone but more especially a refreshingly simple explanation targeting grade-school students. It depicts the earth's relationship to the planets in drawings and photographs. Dave wanted a dozen copies, the research assistant in me responded, and I accepted the assignment.
Dave then asked if I'd like to inspect his bedroom's security system. Uh-oh. Was this a variation on an old familiar theme? To be honest, my heart skipped a beat. Was this scholarly, bespectacled idol of mine making a pass? I forced myself to think otherwise, and trailed him down the hall to a room without a door. Dave said we could go no further than the threshold (huge sigh of relief), and I peered into a dimly-lit space to see a mattress on the floor, papers and books surrounding it on all sides. He said: "The security system is live and fully functional. If you or any person with malice aforethought attempted to enter my bedroom, this whole place would light up like an attempted prison break at Sing Sing, with sirens wailing and strobe lights blazing. It's also directly linked to my area police precinct so they'd be here in minutes". Wow! Everything but the Dobermans and snapping alligators in the moat. I was suitably impressed for a couple of reasons.
I left his house shortly thereafter, promising to begin my detective work for the book.
I did locate the volume and as directed, I placed his order for a dozen copies to be sent to my address. When they arrived and I telephoned him, I was invited to deliver them. Mission accomplished, I accepted his profuse thanks, had a cup of tea with him, and with a firm handshake and huge smile, he saw me to the door. End of story, sort of.
He was nowhere to be seen when I came off the stage, and I was disappointed and a bit broken-hearted. I had hoped that maybe he'd turn at the door and wave me his signature Peace Sign before he made his exit, but it didn't happen.