Beginnings, part 1

Before we get too far along, it may serve some purpose to give some background on how we got here. I can only speak for myself; my collaborator on this project will soon be posting thoughts about what drew him toward researching Dave Garroway, and no doubt we’ll share the story of how our paths crossed. All that in due course, mind you.

How did it begin for me? I’m not exactly sure how I grew up fascinated by early broadcasting, but it happened. I was born in the early 1970s, and my childhood was well into the full-color era. Yet when I’d see some historical footage, or hear some clip from an old radio program, it fascinated me. Maybe it’s that time-machine feeling you can get listening to something from the archives, like it’s a half-hour of another time that’s been preserved in real time, and you can relive that moment as it happened. There’s something tantalizing about it.

I must have been five or six when it really first manifested itself, and TV Guide had published a book commemorating its first quarter-century. Its jacket displayed several TV Guide covers from yesteryear, and inside was a color section with dozens upon dozens more covers showcasing the stars of earlier days. I begged my parents to buy me that book – odd for someone my age, perhaps, but mom and dad came through. How I loved that book, too, and how I loved reading through the articles showcased therein and looking at year after year of covers. There were earlier versions of people I already knew of: Walter Cronkite, Sally Field, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, David Brinkley. But there were also mysteries. Who was this Bishop Sheen with those intense eyes? Why does Sid Caesar have that look on his face? Who are those people stacked atop each other, especially the guy with the glasses and the funny smile? And who was that Van Doren guy in the headphones? (Was he supposed to be a pilot?)

That TV Guide anniversary book wasn’t where it all began for me, but it was probably my touchstone through my youth. Other things came in, too; for instance, perhaps our local paper would carry a wire service obit for a broadcaster of yesteryear, and sometimes those would have photos, and I’d clip those. Or I’d see a picture in a book of an old radio microphone with the network flags on it, and I’d be endlessly fascinated. (I may well be the youngest reader ever of Prime Time, Alexander Kendrick’s biography of Ed Murrow, which I kept checked out from the local library when I was nine or ten.) It was also around that age I discovered old-time radio tapes at a record store, and that opened a whole world to me. Clip shows and documentaries that showed how television was back in its early days also fascinated me – the heightened shadows and contrast, the extreme close-ups through fixed-length lenses, network logos long since retired, all fascinated me and scared me just a little for some reason, and left me wanting to know more about this weird new world of old.

But why Dave Garroway? Perhaps it was seeing one of the retrospective shows, or maybe it was in a piece on some news or documentary program. I’m fairly certain, though, it comes to having seen the clip we’ve all seen a dozen times or more from that very first morning, ghostly pictures with rainy audio, Dave with that goofy microphone at his waist (and we’ll talk more about that goofy microphone in an upcoming post), welcoming all and sundry to this new program. For me, growing up in the Tom Brokaw-Jane Pauley era of Today when the most unpolished thing about the program was Gene Shalit’s hairdo, getting a glimpse of how it once was…that was fascinating. The guy with the bowtie and glasses who spoke in that low, purring voice? That weird studio crammed with stuff? This was the same program? And I had to know more.

That, sadly, was about the time Dave ended his own life. The obituary articles, and the retrospectives published in weeks and months to come, featured pictures from Dave’s time on Today. I saved all of them I could. Eventually retrospective books about the program came along, some of them very nicely illustrated, and many of them with interesting anecdotes about Dave. He seemed like an interesting guy with a wide range of interests, but also a guy who…well, had some interesting things going on in his mind. (Beryl Pfizer’s 1984 remembrance of Garroway in TV Guide, in which she catalogued many alleged Garroway eccentricities she saw during her time on Today, really left an impression.) And when we got a VCR, I taped the Today retrospectives. This, oddly enough, in a household where we really didn’t watch Today – most of my memories are of Good Morning America or whatever morning program CBS was trying at any given moment.

All of this was in the back of my mind, one of those subjects I had some interest in but no real urge to do anything further with. Other fields had my attention, as did other pursuits – school, college, graduate school, and three or four other causes I worked on during my 20s and 30s. In grad school I really didn’t do that much on broadcast history, despite my deep love for it.

As a full-time academic, though, I found myself with opportunities to put decades of trivia to some sort of use – and I also faced the academician’s challenge to produce papers for presentation and possible publication. (Could I possibly have used more words beginning with “p” just then?) Early on at my present job, I turned some of that fascination with broadcasting into a paper about Garroway’s contemporary Arthur Godfrey, and presented it at a conference. I’d hoped to do more, but the daily demands of the job got in the way, and I found myself devoid of time and motivation to conduct more research.

Garroway remained at a low simmer in my mind, and eventually I came to learn of his abandoned attempt at a memoir. And, tantalizingly, how so many biographical materials were preserved in archives. Over the years I toyed with the idea. “Should I?” I’d published things before and knew it was a big job. You have to love a subject enough to stick with it through times good and bad, easy and challenging. Is that how you could feel about Dave Garroway? Could you commit to him that way?

In the end, I could. The more I learned about him, the more I wanted to learn. Watching so many interviews with his colleagues in the great Emmy TV Legends series reminded me of how important he was to the medium, and of the magic he could make happen. In one interview a longtime television professional who worked with him laments that nobody’s ever written a book about Dave, and what a shame that is. And, personally, I’m amazed nobody’s done it before now, for Garroway’s life has a fascinating, wide-ranging, story to tell, by turns adventurous and heartbreaking.

I am looking forward to the opportunity, both through this website and the book on which we’re working, to tell a story long overdue – and to finally give Dave Garroway the biographical treatment he merits. It’s a shame it hasn’t been done until now, but it’s an honor to have the chance to do so. It will be a big job, and it won’t be easy, but I am looking forward to it.

Well, here we are.

Happy birthday, Dave!

Welcome to Garroway at Large, an online tribute to Dave Garroway, the original Master Communicator. And more specifically, welcome to Wide Wide Blog, where we’ll occasionally post thoughts, essays, discoveries, and other musings about Dave Garroway’s life and times. We’re especially pleased to launch this on July 13, which was Dave’s birthday. (Happy 104th birthday, Old Tiger!)

Why Dave Garroway, you ask? Well, because the man’s life and work have been sadly neglected. Chances are good you know him only from his work on Today, and that your vision of him is frozen in what little there is from that first morning, or you remember him trying to keep a certain primate within the bounds of good behavior. And while it’s important to remember Dave Garroway for his time on Today, there’s more to the man than just that, or Wide Wide World, or any one program in particular, or even his broadcasting career.

As we explore Dave Garroway’s life, we are finding a man of many interests and many layers, and the portrait that is emerging is much more nuanced than the stories and rumors and legends would have you believe. Certainly Garroway had his troubles, and we shall deal with those well-known troubles in as appropriate a manner and context as possible. But there are other stories to tell of this man who was headmaster of a new school of broadcasting, a very shy and private man who somehow had the ability to look into a camera and make millions of viewers feel he was a friend talking to them and them alone. Here was a man who somehow fit dozens of interests – broadcasting, automobiles, telescopes and astronomy, engineering, music, you name it – into his life. And, sadly, here is the story of a man who was once virtually everywhere in popular culture, then vanished into obscurity, his efforts to restart his career too often ending in a fizzle.

In telling the story of this fascinating man, the journey will be long and far-ranging, and it’s already taken us many places. It will take us to many more, scouring archival holdings and conducting interviews and doing all the other tasks necessary to reconstruct Garroway’s 69 years in accuracy and detail. But we’re doing it because it’s a story worth telling, and we think you’ll learn some neat things along the way.

Along with this, we extend an invitation. We are always looking for people who somehow had a connection with Dave Garroway, because while documents and recordings can tell us much, they only go so far in telling us what the man himself was like. That’s where you could come in handy. Perhaps you met Dave Garroway, either in passing, on business, or in connection with one of his programs. Perhaps you worked with him. Or perhaps you’re related to him. (We’d especially welcome a chance to talk to Garroway’s family, especially members of his immediate family.)

Even if you didn’t have an encounter with him, perhaps you have some item of Garroway-related memorabilia, some original photos, or some rare documents. Maybe you have a recording of one of his shows that has heretofore been thought lost forever. We’d welcome hearing from you too! Just click on the “Contact” button in the menu above to get in touch with us. We’ll get back to you soon as we can (day job permitting, of course).

We’re glad to be here, and we’re happy to have this chance to honor Dave Garroway. There’s a long journey ahead, and it may well be a sentimental one. We’re looking forward to it, and we hope you’ll join us.