Arthur Godfrey : biography
He appeared in the movies 4 for Texas (1963), The Glass Bottom Boat (1966), and Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows (1968). He briefly co-hosted Candid Camera with creator Allen Funt, but that relationship, like so many others, ended acrimoniously; Godfrey hosted at least one broadcast without Funt. Godfrey also made various guest appearances, and he and Lucille Ball co-hosted the CBS special 50 Years of Television (1978). He also made a cameo appearance in the 1979 B-movie Angel’s Revenge.
In retirement, Godfrey wanted to find ways back onto a regular TV schedule. He appeared in a 1920s-pop-style performance on the rock band Moby Grape’s second album. Godfrey’s political outlook was complex, and to some, contradictory—his lifelong admiration for Franklin Roosevelt combined with a powerful libertarian streak in his views. But during his later years he became a powerful voice for the environmentalist movement who identified with the youth culture that irreverently opposed the "establishment," as he felt he had done during his peak years. He renounced a lucrative endorsement deal with Colgate-Palmolive when it became clear to him that it clashed with his environmental principles. He had made commercials for Colgate toothpaste and the detergent Axion, only to repudiate the latter product when he found out that Axion contained phosphates, implicated in water pollution.
While Godfrey was a great fan of technology, including aviation and aerospace developments, he also found time for pursuits of an earlier era. He was a dedicated horseman and master at dressage and made charity appearances at horse shows.
He also found in later years that his enthusiasm for high tech had its limits, when he concluded that some technological developments posed the potential to threaten the environment. During one appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, Godfrey commented that the United States needed the supersonic transport "about as much as we need another bag of those clunkers from the moon." The concern that the SST contributed to noise pollution, an issue Godfrey was instrumental in raising in the United States, is considered to have effectively ended SST interest in the U.S., leaving it to Britain and France. (Cavett claims that Godfrey’s statement also earned tax audits from the Richard Nixon-era Internal Revenue Service for the show’s entire production staff.)
Despite an intense desire to remain in the public eye, Godfrey’s presence ebbed considerably over the next ten years, notwithstanding an HBO special and an appearance on a PBS salute to the 1950s. A 1981 attempt to reconcile him with LaRosa for a Godfrey show reunion record album, bringing together Godfrey and a number of the "Little Godfreys," collapsed. At an initially amicable meeting, Godfrey reasserted that LaRosa wanted out of his contract and asked why he had not explained that instead of insisting he was fired without warning. When LaRosa began reminding him of the dance lesson controversy, Godfrey, then in his late seventies, exploded and the meeting ended in shambles.
The Arthur Godfrey Collection
Toward the end of his life, Godfrey became a major supporter of public broadcasting, and left his large personal archive of papers and programs to public station WNET/Thirteen in New York. Godfrey biographer Art Singer helped to arrange a permanent home for the Godfrey material at the Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland in early 1998. The collection contains hundreds of kinescopes of Godfrey television programs, more than 4,000 audiotapes and wire recordings of his various radio shows, videotapes, and transcription discs. The collection also contains Godfrey’s voluminous personal papers and business records, which cover his spectacular rise and precipitous fall in the industry over a period of more than 50 years.
Emphysema, thought to have been caused by decades of smoking and the radiation treatments for Godfrey’s lung cancer, became a problem in the early 1980s. He died of the condition in New York City on March 16, 1983. Godfrey was buried at Union Cemetery in Leesburg, Virginia, not far from his farm in Waterford, Virginia.
Godfrey was married twice. He and his first wife, Catherine, had one child. He was then married to the former Mary Bourke from 1938 until their divorce in 1982, a year before his death. They had three children. His granddaughter is Mary Schmidt Amons, a cast member on The Real Housewives of Washington, D.C..
Godfrey was an avid equestrian; he was considered a master at dressage and showed his horses on the American horse show circuit. He was also an aviator.