Monday, July 13, 2015

Dave Garroway, 7.13.1913 - 7.21.1982


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".

New York 1952

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

The caller identified himself as a staff member with the CBS Arthur Godfrey Radio Program. "The Old Redhead"  was going to take a two-week vacation, and venerable broadcast legend Dave Garroway would be his substitute host.  Mr. Garroway had requested that I appear with him each day, to sing a song or two. With record-setting speed, I agreed to the deal.  I was thrilled.  I was going to meet a living legend and a major hero of mine.

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.

P.S. The last time I saw him, possibly 1963, he arrived alone and unannounced at a modest little club date I had one weekend at a country club on Long Island.  He seemed preoccupied, remote and somewhat desolate of spirit. (This would have been not long after his second wife, a ballet dancer named Pamela Wilde, committed suicide).  I thanked him for coming --  "Oh, I just wanted to hear you sing again -- but I may not be here for the second set".  He actually kissed my hand as I left to start my second show.

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.


On July 22, 1982, The New York Times reported: "Dave Garroway was found dead of a gunshot wound yesterday at his home in the Philadelphia suburb of  Swarthmore. He was 69 years old.  Mr. Garroway's third wife was the last to see him."  Incredibly, Google reports that the lady is living in Swarthmore today at age 95.


Mollie Moses said...

What a lovely recollection. It's a huge shame that people such as he feel the need to eliminate themselves, for whatever reasons.

You had a good friend there, and definitely a faithful admirer.

Treasure the memories.

Paul Mikos said...

Wonderful reminisces, Carol. Thank you for posting this. I have just yesterday finished reading "The Third Coast, When Chicago Built the American Dream" by Thomas Dyja. A considerable amount of the book is focused on the very early days of television. Studs Terkel, Burr Tillstrom with his "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" as well as Mr. Dave Garroway in particular, and his evolution as a personality within the "Chicago School" of early television, are recounted in detail. A fascinating read and highly recommended by yours truly.
Nice to be hearing from you more frequently here!
Paul (Mad4McRae) Mikos

Sloane said...

Thanks for writing ... I thought he was the most fascinating man I'd ever met.

Bill Peters said...

Carol, that was an interesting post. I'm sorry to say that I don't remember you but I certainly remember Dave Garroway and Arthur Godfrey. In the very early 1950's we listened to Arthur every afternoon during the summer time and even recorded the show on acetate discs just because we could, having built most of our own equipment in those days. One of the summer alternates was Alex pickupacoupleofbucks Cooper. I graduated from college in 1958 and started working full time. That was the end of afternoon radio for me.

I look forward to reading more of your posts.

Bill Peters
Chief Engineer,KOCT-TV
Oceanside, CA

Sloane said...

Dear Bill: Yours is an extremely interesting mail because after that 2-week fling with Dave, he left my album in Arthur's office. When he (Arthur) returned from vacation, he played the lp out of curiosity and hired me as a permanent member of the cast. I had that job for at least two years. If it's not too much trouble, could you check the dates for the broadcasts you recorded? You may have some shows I was on. My dates would have been anywhere between 1962 and 1964.

Thank you for taking the time to write. Look forward to hearing from you.

With kindest regards,
-Carol Sloane