There are moments in Dave Garroway’s career that are well known. But for every one of those, there must be at least ten that have vanished into the ether and are likely gone forever. One of those is a curious entry from 1960, when Dave Garroway tried one more time to bring the Chicago magic to prime time. Very little material exists on it, and so far as we can tell there’s no known recording – not even the Paley Center seems to have a copy. Which is a shame, because on Friday, November 18, 1960, NBC invited viewers to spend an hour at Dave’s Place.
According to Robert Metz in his book The Today Show, the idea for Dave’s Place began sometime in 1960. Garroway had sensed his days at Today might be numbered, and that a good showing on a prime-time special could lead to a series. Garroway asked his producer, Robert “Shad” Northshield, to head the project.
Northshield hired Andy Rooney, who had written for Arthur Godfrey, to write the program. At least once, Rooney visited Garroway’s town house to discuss the project. But Garroway was unhappy with Rooney’s script, and turned to Today writer I.A. “Bud” Lewis, on whom he had come to depend in recent years – so much that Garroway informed other Today writers that he refused to speak any lines unless Lewis had approved them. Lewis and Lester Colodny completed the script; more than a decade later Lewis himself later referred to the script as “slap-dash” and “not a particularly good show.”
As if that wasn’t enough, during the special’s gestation, Northshield fell out of favor with Garroway and was soon gone from both Today and Dave’s Place. Norman Kahn was brought in to shepherd the prime-time special to its air date. The program went over budget, and Garroway himself funded part of the production. Lynwood King was tapped to direct.
The thought of Garroway in prime time tantalized columnists. Larry Wolters of the Chicago Tribune noted that the title reminded him of Studs Terkel’s old program Studs’ Place, and that like Garroway’s Chicago program, “the atmosphere will be relaxed, and the format free wheeling.”
As it happened, the completed script wasn’t so much about Garroway himself. Instead, the script connected everything through the RCA Building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, a place Garroway had called his professional home for decades. “The theme, the mood and even the format of the program are an expression of how Dave Garroway feels about the building and the NBC studios it houses, where he has spent such a large part of his life,” read NBC’s press release. “As Dave puts it, ‘Twenty-three years is a long time to be in love with an idea…but I have…and it’s all been connected with this building.'”
The day before the program aired, newspaper columns previewed the program. Most had high hopes. The Nashville Tennesseean looked forward to “an amiable amble” through the RCA Building as Garroway told stories and met people, while the Salt Lake City Tribune noted “it seems that Mr. Garroway has decided that ordinary stage settings are inadequate for his Friday night show…thinking big, he has decided to use the 70-story RCA Building.” Another columnist suggested, “If you’re one of his early morning addicts or want to know if you could be one, here’s an hour-long amble, visit, sentimental journey or what-have-you, with NBC’s goggle-eyed philosopher-astronomer-huckster at his “home” in New York City…mostly this is Garroway, wandering about from lobby to studios to roof, the happy historian of 23 years at Dave’s Place.” Several listings had it as a viewing “best bet.”
According to surviving accounts, the program began with a view of the outdoor skating rink at 30 Rock. Garroway arrived in his beloved Jaguar, walked to the rink, and began telling the audience about “Dave’s Place” and what it meant.
Inside 30 Rock, Garroway took viewers to several points of interest, including the central videotape facility; Studio 3B, where The Dave Garroway Today Show originated; and the eighth floor, which Garroway noted was the home of all the big shows back in the day. Garroway reminisced about his first job at NBC, as a page on the eighth floor, and about being present on Christmas Night, 1937, as Arturo Toscanini debuted the NBC Symphony Orchestra in Studio 8H.
Along the way, Garroway met up with his old Chicago friend, comedian Cliff Norton; comedians Sid Gould, Bernie West, Helen Halpin, and Al Kelly, known for his double-talk routine. Singer Julie London performed three songs: “Making Whoopee,” “Well, Sir” and “All of You.” The Joe Wilder Sextet performed “Heat Wave,” and the New York Woodwind Quartet presented “St. Anthony’s Chorale” by Haydn. In a joint performance, the two groups presented an original song, “It’ll Never Sell,” by Alec Wilder. As the program went on, Garroway segued into several commercials – for American Tourister luggage and Elgin watches, among other sponsors.
Near the end of the program, Garroway stood on the RCA Building’s observation deck, looked down on the lights of Times Square, and then cast his gaze on the stars above. This led into a sequence (likely based on one of Garroway’s favorite works, The Cosmic View by Kees Boeke) that showed how, in the grand scheme of things, humans and the world itself were both insignificant and unique against the scale of the universe.
Along the way were some innovations. A “motion sculpture” sequence, using stainless steel rods that were vibrated with electricity, provided what one reviewer called “fascinating images” on the screen. And at 45 minutes into the program, Garroway remarked that closing credits usually go unread. As Julie London sang a song, the closing credits were seen in the dark background behind her.
Other little whimsical moments took place during the hour. At one point, Chet Huntley passed by Garroway in one of 30 Rock’s corridors. “Good night, David,” he said, reprising his famous Huntley-Brinkley signoff. As Huntley walked on, Garroway said, “He says that to everybody.” And at the end, in a sequence a reviewer called “eerie,” a photo of Garroway morphed into a photo of RCA chief Gen. David Sarnoff. “We’ve called this Dave’s Place, and it surely is,” Garroway said. “Good night, and thank you, David.”
Reviews were lukewarm; the consensus was that while the Garroway charm was there, the execution was off. “N.B.C. made a stab at re-creating the atmosphere of the old Garroway at Large program last night,” read a review in the Louisville Courier-Journal. “A closing sequence rather oversimplified the theory that man is pretty small potatoes compared to all creation. The show, though pleasant in spots, bore out this viewpoint.”
Harry Harris of the Philadelphia Inquirer generally liked the program but was distracted by the constant commercials. “We kept wondering if it wouldn’t have been more appropriately tagged ‘Dave’s Store.’ Almost every moment, he seemed to be peddling something – luggage, watches, spark plugs, NBC and, not least of all, Dave Garroway. Maybe it just SEEMED like a commercial-studded commercial because, except for a song interlude by Julie London, Dave was endlessly present, making with the soft-voiced hard sell.” Harris also noted that by confining the proceedings to within 30 Rock, the former Wide Wide World host “seemed reduced to serving as guide to an extremely narrow world.” However, Harris was entertained enough by the musical and comedy segments to call Dave’s Place “a winner of a ‘Place’ show.”
While Dave’s Place was a pleasant Friday night diversion, it never led to anything beyond that single program, and records about it remain scant; even finding this much about it has been a challenge. I’d like to hope a kinescope or videotape exists – not only because of the obvious Garroway connection, but having roamed the halls of Dave’s Place myself, I would love to see how some familiar places looked in 1960, made even better with Garroway as my tour guide. It may have been an odd little program, but if a copy exists, it would sure be a treat to see.
- “Dave’s Place.” Fort Lauderdale News, Nov. 18, 1960.
- Harris, Harry. “Screening TV: Hallmark’s “Macbeth” Is Excellently Filmed But Not Top Video.” Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 21, 1960.
- Londino, Cathleen. The Today Show: Transforming Morning Television. Rowman & Littlefield, 2016. p. 52.
- Martin, Richard O. “Checking the Channels: TV Goes Bizarre Today.” Salt Lake City Tribune, Nov. 18, 1960.
- Metz, Robert. The Today Show. Playboy Press, 1978. p. 130-133.
- “Radio, TV Highlights: Visit to ‘Dave’s Place’ Is All Dave Garroway.”
Eugene (OR) Guard, Nov. 18, 1960.
- Rooney, Andy. “The Death of Dave Garroway.” Lakeland Ledger August 3, 1982.
- Terrace, Vincent. Television Specials: 5,336 Entertainment Programs, 1936-2012. 2d ed. McFarland, 2013. p. 119
- “TV Review: N.B.C. Tries To Re-create Old Garroway Program.”
Louisville Courier-Journal, Nov. 19, 1960.
- “TV Scout: Garroway Ambles Through RCA.” Nashville Tennesseean, Nov. 18, 1960.
- Wolters, Larry. “Dave Garroway to Do 1-Night Variety Show.” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 13, 1960.