Arthur Godfrey : biography
The firings continue
Godfrey fired others among his regulars, including bandleader Archie Bleyer, within days of LaRosa’s public "execution." Bleyer had formed his own label, Cadence Records, which recorded LaRosa. Bleyer married one of The Chordettes, and that group also broke away from Godfrey, who replaced them with The McGuire Sisters. Godfrey was also angered that Bleyer had produced a spoken-word record by Godfrey’s Chicago counterpart Don McNeill. McNeill hosted The Breakfast Club, which had been Godfrey’s direct competition on the NBC Blue Network (later ABC) since Godfrey’s days at WJSV. Despite the McNeill show’s far more modest following, Godfrey was unduly offended, even paranoid, at what he felt was disloyalty on Bleyer’s part. Bleyer simply shrugged off the dismissal and focused on developing Cadence, which went on to even greater fame in later years with classic hit records by the Everly Brothers and Andy Williams.
Apparently, Godfrey intended to teach his regulars a lesson by dismissing them from his show and curtailing their network-television exposure. The plan backfired somewhat when they continued to perform for his substitute host, Robert Q. Lewis, who by now had his own midday show on CBS.
Occasionally, Godfrey snapped at cast members on the air. A significant number of other "Little Godfreys," including the Mariners and Haleloke, were dismissed from 1953 to 1959 without explanation. Other performers, most notably Pat Boone and Patsy Cline (briefly), stepped in as "Little Godfreys."
Godfrey’s problems with the media and public feuds with newspaper columnists such as Jack O’Brian and newspaperman turned CBS variety show host Ed Sullivan were duly documented by the media, which began running critical exposé articles linking him to several female "Little Godfreys." Godfrey’s anger at Sullivan stemmed from the variety show impresario’s featuring of fired "Little Godfreys" on his Sunday night show, including LaRosa.
Exploitation in popular culture
As the media turned on Godfrey, two films, The Great Man (1956) starring José Ferrer, who also directed and produced, and Elia Kazan’s classic A Face in the Crowd (1957) starring Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal, were inspired in part by Godfrey’s increasingly controversial career:
- The Great Man, adapted from a novel by TV writer Al Morgan, centered on a tribute broadcast for Herb Fuller, a Godfrey-like figure killed in a car crash whose genial public demeanor concealed a dissolute phony.
- A Face in the Crowd creator Budd Schulberg maintained his story was actually inspired by contrasts between the public image and private personality of Will Rogers, Sr. Also, the film’s protagonist, Lonesome Rhodes, with his combination of country singing and country storytelling, superficially resembled popular TV host Tennessee Ernie Ford. Nonetheless, prominent elements of the film, including the scenes when Rhodes (played by Andy Griffith) spoofed a mattress commercial on a TV show he was hosting in Memphis, were clearly Godfrey-inspired. The research by Kazan and Schulberg included attending an advertising agency meeting about Lipton Tea.
Godfrey was a frequent target for parody:
- As early as 1949, comedians Bob and Ray presented an obvious parody with the character of Arthur Sturdley (voiced by Bob Elliott) who, in plummy, folksy tones, constantly ragged his announcer Tony (Ray Goulding, imitating Godfrey’s announcer Tony Marvin). Tony, meanwhile, would incessantly answer every question with "That’s right, Arthur!". In the 1969 film Cold Turkey, Ray (not Bob) played another parody of Godfrey, this time as folksy radio announcer "Arthur Lordly". The Joy Boys performed a similar satire of Godfrey on their radio show, calling their fellow Washingtonian "Arthur Codfish".
- Satirist Stan Freberg picked up on Bob and Ray’s use of the catchphrase "That’s right, Arthur", and recorded a barbed spoof of Godfrey’s show. "That’s Right, Arthur" depicted the star as a rambling, self-absorbed motormouth and his longtime announcer (Tony Marvin, portrayed by voice actor Daws Butler) as a yes-man, responding "That’s right, Arthur" to every vapid Godfrey pronouncement. Fearing legal problems (perhaps as much from Bob and Ray as from Godfrey), Freberg’s label, Capitol Records, would not release it, to Freberg’s frustration. The recording finally appeared on a 1990s Freberg career retrospective CD box set.
- Following the Julius LaRosa episode, singer-songwriter Ruth Wallis, renowned for her double-entendre songs, recorded "Dear Mr. Godfrey," a country tune that implored him to "hire me and fire me and make a star of me."