Arthur Godfrey : biography
Godfrey and the Leesburg airport
The original Leesburg airport, which Godfrey owned and referred to affectionately on his show as "The Old Cow Pasture," was less than a mile from the center of town, and local residents had come to expect rattling windows and crashing dishes every Sunday evening and Friday afternoon.
In 1960, Godfrey proposed building a new airport by selling the old field and donating a portion of the sale to a local group. Since Godfrey funded the majority of the airport, it is now known as Leesburg Executive Airport at Godfrey Field. He was also known for flying a North American/Ryan Navion, a smaller single-engined airplane, a Lockheed Jetstar, and in later years a Beech Baron and a Beech Duke, registration number N1M. In 1964, he became one of the founding members of the board of directors of Executive Jet Aviation Corporation.
In 1948 Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts began to be simultaneously broadcast on radio and television, and by 1952, Arthur Godfrey Time also appeared on both media. The radio version ran an hour and a half; the TV version an hour, later expanded to an hour and a half. The Friday shows, however, were heard on radio only, because at the end of the week, Godfrey traditionally broadcast his portion from a studio at his Virginia farm outside of Washington, D.C., and TV cameras were unable to transmit live pictures of him and his New York cast at the same time. Godfrey’s skills as a commercial pitchman brought him a large number of loyal sponsors, including Lipton Tea, Frigidaire, Pillsbury cake mixes and Liggett & Myers’s Chesterfield cigarettes.
He found that one way to enhance his pitches was to extemporize his commercials, poking fun at the sponsors (while never showing disrespect for the products themselves), the sponsors’ company executives, and advertising agency types who wrote the scripted commercials that he regularly ignored. (If he read them at all, he ridiculed them.) To the surprise of the advertising agencies and sponsors, Godfrey’s kidding of the commercials and products frequently enhanced the sales of those products. His popularity and ability to sell brought a windfall to CBS, accounting for a significant percentage of their corporate profits.
In 1949 Arthur Godfrey and His Friends, a weekly informal variety show, began on CBS-TV in prime time. His affable personality combined warmth, heart, and occasional bits of double entendre repartee, such as his remark when the show went on location: "Well, here we are in Miami Bitch. Hehheh." Godfrey received adulation from fans who felt that despite his considerable wealth, he was really "one of them," his personality that of a friendly next-door-neighbor. His ability to sell products, insisting he would not promote any in which he did not personally believe, gave him a level of trust from his audience, a belief that "if Godfrey said it, it must be so." When he quit smoking after his 1953 hip surgery, he began speaking out against smoking on the air, to the displeasure of longtime sponsor Chesterfield. When he stood his ground, the company withdrew as a sponsor. Godfrey shrugged off their departure since he knew other sponsors would easily fill the vacancy.
Eventually Godfrey added a weekend "best of" program culled from the week’s Arthur Godfrey Time, known as Arthur Godfrey Digest. He began to veer away from interviewing stars in favor of a small group of regular performers that became known as the "Little Godfreys." Many of these artists were relatively obscure, but were given colossal national exposure, some of them former Talent Scouts winners including Hawaiian vocalist Haleloke, veteran Irish tenor Frank Parker, Marian Marlowe and Julius LaRosa, who was in the Navy when Godfrey, doing his annual Naval reserve duty, discovered the young singer and offered him a job upon his discharge.
LaRosa joined the cast in 1951 and became a favorite with Godfrey’s immense audience, who also saw him on the prime-time weekly show Arthur Godfrey and his Friends. Godfrey also had a regular announcer-foil on the show: Tony Marvin. Godfrey preferred his performers not to use personal managers or agents, but often had his staff represent the artists if they were doing personal appearances.