Arthur Godfrey ranks as one of the important on-air stars of the first decade of American television. Indeed prior to 1959 there was no bigger TV luminary than this freckled faced, ukelele playing, host/pitchman. Through most of the decade of the 1950s Godfrey hosted a daily radio program and appeared in two top-ten prime time television shows, all for CBS. As the new medium was invading American households, there was something about Godfrey's wide grin, his infectious chuckle, his unruly shock of red hair that made millions tune in not once, but twice a week.
To industry insiders, Godfrey was television's first great master of advertising. His deep, microphone-loving voice delivery earned Arthur Godfrey a million dollars a year, making him one of the highest paid persons in the United States at the time. He blended a Southern folksiness with enough sophistication to charm a national audience measured in the millions through the 1950s. For CBS-TV in particular, Godfrey was one of network television's most valuable stars, generating millions of dollars in advertising billings each year, with no ostensible talent save being the most congenial of hosts.
After more than a decade on radio, Godfrey ventured onto primetime TV in December 1948 by simply permitting the televising of his radio hit Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. The formula for Talent Scouts was simple enough. "Scouts" presented their "discoveries" to perform live before a national radio and television audience. Most of these discoveries were in fact struggling professionals looking for a break, and the quality of the talent was quite high. The winner, chosen by a fabled audience applause meter, often joined Godfrey on his radio show and on Arthur Godfrey and His Friends for some period thereafter.
Through the late 1940s and 1950s Godfrey significantly assisted the careers of Pat Boone, Tony Bennett, Eddie Fisher, Connie Francis, and Patsy Cline. An institution on Monday nights at 8:30 P.M., Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts always functioned as Godfrey's best showcase and through the early 1950s was a consistent top-ten hit.
A month after the December 1948 television debut of Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts came the premiere of Arthur Godfrey and His Friends. Here Godfrey employed a resident cast which at times included Julius La Rosa, Frank Parker, Lu Ann Simms, and the Cordettes. Tony Marvin was both the announcer and Godfrey's "second banana," as he was on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. The appeal of Arthur Godfrey and His Friends varied depending on the popularity of the assembled company of singers, all clean cut young people lifted by Godfrey from obscurity. Godfrey played host and impresario, sometimes singing off key and strumming his ukulele, but most often leaving the vocals to others.
As he had done on radio, Godfrey frequently kidded his sponsors, but always "sold from the heart," only hawking products he had actually tried and/or regularly used. No television viewer during the 1950s doubted that Godfrey really did love Lipton Tea and drank it every day. He delighted in tossing aside prepared scripts and telling his audience: "Aw, who wrote this stuff? Everybody knows Lipton's is the best tea you can buy. So why get fancy about it? Getcha some Lipton's, hot the pot with plain hot water for a few minutes, then put fresh hot water on the tea and let it just sit there."
Godfrey perfected the art of seeming to speak intimately to each and every one of his viewers, to sound as if he was confiding in "you and you alone." Despite all his irreverent kidding, then, advertisers loved him. Here was no snake oil salesman hawking an uneeded item, merchandise not worth its price. Here was a friend recommending the product. This personal style drove CBS efficiency experts crazy. Godfrey refused to simply read his advertising copy in the allocated 60 seconds. Instead he talked--for as long as he felt it necessary to convince his viewers of his message, frequently running over his allotted commercial time.