Dave Garroway

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Dave Garroway (b. July 13, 1913, Schenectady, New York; d. July 21, 1982, Philadelphia) was the founding host of NBC's Today Show from 1952 to 1961, whose easygoing, relaxed and relaxing style belied a battle with depression that may have contributed to the end of his days as a television bigtimer and, in due course, his life.

Garroway began his broadcasting career modestly, graduating NBC's school for announcers twenty-third in a class of twenty-four. Even so, he landed a job at influential Pittsburgh radio station KDKA. He roamed the region, filing a number of memorable reports from a hot-air balloon, from a U.S. Navy submarine in the Ohio River, and from deep inside a coal mine. Those early reports earned Garroway a reputation for finding a good story, even if it took him to unusual places.

When the United States entered World War II in 1941, Garroway enlisted in the Navy, but one trip out to Honolulu convinced the young man that perhaps he was a little better suited for radio instead. The Navy agreed to let him run a yeoman's school instead, and off-hours he hosted a radio show where he played jazz records and reminisced aloud about the old days back in Chicago. After the war, he returned to the Windy City as a disk jockey at WMAQ. On the air, he retained the persona he crafted in Honolulu, to great success. His programs were called The ll:60 Club, The Dave Garroway Show, and Reserved for Garroway. Later he helped develop a television program, Garroway at Large, that ran from 1948 to 1951.

His shows reflected his relaxed, informal style. In 1960 New York Times reviewer Richard F. Shepard wrote: "He does not crash into the home with the false jollity and thunderous witticisms of a backslapper. He is pleasant, serious, scholarly looking and not obtrusively convivial." He was known for his signoff: saying "Peace" with an upraised palm.

Along with Arthur Godfrey, Arlene Francis, and Jack Paar, Garroway was one of the pioneers of television talk. Television commentator Steven D. Stark traces the origins of the style to Chicago; Garroway, Studs Terkel, and Hugh Downs, all hosted relaxed, garrulous, extemporaneous shows in that city in the early fifties. Earlier radio and television voices spoke with an authoritative "announcer's" intonation, resembling public oration, often dropping about a musical fifth on the last word of a sentence. Garroway was one of the broadcasters who introduced conversational style and tone to the airwaves, beginning some broadcasts as though the viewer were sitting in the studio with him, as in this 20 November 1957 introduction for The Today Show: "And how are you about the world today? Let's see what kind of shape it's in; there is a glimmer of hope."

Legendary, pioneering NBC President Sylvester "Pat" Weaver picked Garroway to host his new morning news-and-entertainment experiment, The Today Show, in 1951. Garroway soon was joined by news editor Jim Fleming and announcer Jack Lescoulie as television's first loose "family" of the airwaves when the show debuted on Monday, January 14, 1952. Though initially panned by critics, Garroway's style attracted a large audience that enjoyed his easygoing presence early in the morning. His seriousness in dealing with news stories and ability to clearly explain abstract concepts earned him the nickname "The Communicator," and eventually won praise from critics and viewers alike.

Garroway had a vast curiosity that led The Today Show wherever his ideas took it. To Paris in 1959 and Rome in 1960; to car shows and technology expos; to plays and movies; and even on board an Air Force B-52 for a practice bombing run--in short, everywhere in the world then accessible to television. When the show couldn't go outside to the world, the world was brought into the studio, evidenced by the parade of politicians, writers, artists, scientists, economists, musicians and many more who visited Garroway and company in the RCA Exhibition Hall, The Today Show's then-home on 49th Street in Manhattan.

But Garroway's easygoing camera presence masked a man fighting inner demons from several angles. He reportedly developed an addiction to a concoction from his Chicago days, called "The Doctor," composed of vitamin B-12 and codeine; it was said to have begun affecting his mental acuity and his temper. Disagreements with staff members became more frequent, and some days Garroway would disappear in the middle of the show, leaving Lescoulie to finish the live program.

Far worse, however, was the April 1961 suicide of his wife, Pamela, plunging Garroway further into depression and mental instability. Soon enough, these troubles affected his on-camera performance. Then, one morning in 1961, Garroway (who eventually re-married, in 1980) lay down in the Today Show studio, refusing to rise until NBC gave in to his contract demands. The network called his bluff and, on June 16, 1961, fired television's "Communicator" from the morning genre he helped pioneer.

From there, Garroway appeared sporadically on other television programs without achieving anywhere near the success and recognition levels he enjoyed on The Today Show. The most viewers saw of him the rest of the 1960s and 1970s was whenever he re-emerged for Today Show anniversaries. His final such appearance proved to be the 30th anniversary show, January 14, 1982; though he made clear he expected to be there for the 35th anniversary, he didn't make it. He was found dead of a gunshot wound at his Philadelphia-area home July 21, 1982.

Garroway had two children, son David, Jr. and daughter Paris. His devotion to the cause of mental health inspired his widow, Sarah, to help establish the Dave Garroway Laboratory for the Study of Depression at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dave Garroway was found dead of a gunshot wound at his Philadelphia area home on July 21, 1982. Medical examiners say the fatal shot appeared to have been self-inflicted.

Dave Garroway had one son, David Jr. and a daughter, Paris. Because of Garroway's dedication to the cause of mental health, his second wife Sarah helped establish the Dave Garroway Laboratory for the Study of Depression at the University of Pennsylvania. He was also honoured for his contribution to television with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as well as the St. Louis Walk of Fame.


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