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Dave Garroway: First Host of Today Show, Broadcasting Pioneer

26 Mar

Dave Garroway 1913-1982

David Cunningham Garroway was born on July 13, 1913 in Schenectady, New York. Garroway had lived in 13 places by the age of 14, but did settle in St. Louis, Missouri, where he attended University City High School and Washington University.  He earned a degree in abnormal psychology.

A broadcasting career didn’t seem to be on the horizon for Garroway, after he finished 23rd in a class of 24 for NBC announcers. He was still able to find work with KDKA in Pittsburgh, which reportedly was the first commercial radio station.

After having moved to Chicago after his stint with KDKA, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was a disc jockey for a Honolulu radio station on the side. Then after the war he returned to Chicago as a disc jockey on WMAQ radio.

Dave Garroway is shown promoting his new show Today with Fred Allen injecting humor during Garroway’s promotional pitch.

Garroway appeared in several radio and television shows before receiving his big break, when he became the original host of the Today show in 1952, including Garroway At Large which was broadcast by NBC from June 1949 to June 1951.

Dave Garroway and his co-host J. Fred Muggs shown celebrating the 5th anniversary of the Today show in 1957.

NBC began telecasting Wide Wide World from 1955-1958. I can recall watching this show often, since there was not much on television on Sunday afternoons.

Dave Garroway introducing the television program Wide Wide World. The video shows scenes from across America, while Garroway comments on what is happening. It is a great way to relive what it was like, on a Sunday afternoon in America 57 years ago.

The key to the success of Garroway was his easygoing style, which made him almost seem to be a family friend, when he was appearing on a television program. I will never forget him holding his hand up and saying “Peace” at the end of some of his programs.

It would have been nice to say that Garroway’s time on Today ended on the best of terms. He reportedly began to be more difficult to work with and even would disappear in the middle of the show. Then his world changed forever on April 28, 1961 when his second wife Pamela Wilde died from drug-related causes. It upset Garroway so much that he announced he was leaving Today and made his last appearance on Today on June 16, 1961.

Garroway didn’t disappear from the television screen, but never came close to being the force on television, that he was when he was the host of Today.

He appeared on the 30th anniversary show ofTodayon January 14, 1982 with his co-host Jack Lescoulie, and the news editor Frank Blair. In addition the anniversary show featured Pat Weaver who created Today.

It is sad to know that Garroway who appeared to be enjoying celebrating the 30th anniversary show, would be dead six months later.

Garroway had open heart surgery prior to taking his own life. He was found dead on July 21, 1982 in his Swarthmore, Pennsylvania home. He was 69 at the time of his death.

The following video of the 30th anniversary of Today was apparently videotaped on a VCR. The video is shaky at first but is better a few seconds later and very watchable.

The video shows the very first Today show from 1952 and will bring back memories to those who watched the show in the early days of the show.

It is ironic to hear that critic John Crosby thought Today would last no longer than 15 weeks. It turned out he was a little off, as the show celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

While doing research on Dave Garroway, it reminded me once again of how little we really know, about celebrities like Dave Garroway. The late Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes did know Garroway better than most of us and knew that he did have a dark side as is revealed in this article written shortly after Garroway’s death:

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=lNs0AAAAIBAJ&sjid=TfsDAAAAIBAJ&pg=2343,847687&dq=dave+garroway+obituary&hl=en

This obituary tells more of the details of how his body was found 45 minutes after his wife left the house, on the morning of July 21, 1982:

http://www.richsamuels.com/nbcmm/davegarrowayobit.html

This article doesn’t come close to telling the life story of Dave Garroway. He was a complex man, with a wide variety of interests including jazz music, automobiles and astronomy.

Sadly, Garroway never wrote his planned autobiography, so we will never know his complete thoughts on the events in his life.

However, he does leave a legacy in the memories of each of  us who watched him five mornings a week for nine years on the Today show, watching him on Sunday afternoons for three years on Wide Wide World and countless other appearances after leaving both of those programs, in lesser known, but not any less important programs before his death.

The most lasting impression from Garroway was him holding his hand up and saying “Peace”. Thank you Mr. Garroway for doing your part in sharing the world with us.

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