Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Mr. Morfit Becomes a Star

Garry Moore can owe much of his success to three things—his own talent, a sponsor that could pull network strings and an unlikely teaming with ol’ Schnozzola.

Moore had been kicking around NBC day-time radio in the early ‘40s when his agents landed him a guest spot on the “Camel Comedy Caravan” on Friday March 5, 1943. Camel and its agency, William Esty, were delighted and wanted Moore back the following week, and even talked about building a show around him because of the dearth of young comedians. The problem—the “Caravan” was on CBS and Moore was under contract to NBC. Well, it was no problem. Camel sponsored another show, one on Thursday nights on NBC starring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Costello got sick. Abbott asked to be let out of his contract until his partner was well. So Camel worked out a deal reported to be worth $1,500 to play a game of musical chairs. Moore was handed the Abbott and Costello NBC Thursday time slot but Camel moved some of the people from the CBS “Caravan” to his show, including Georgia Gibbs, Xavier Cugat and newcomer Jimmy Durante. It debuted March 25th.

All the talk on Radio Row that this was Moore’s show ended quickly. Moore and Durante clicked as a team. Who would have thought it? Durante had previously worked with noisy vaudevillians but Moore’s humour involved wordplay and semi-surreal stories. But the differences complemented each other and listeners could sense a genuinely friendly relationship between the two; there was no person more genuine on the radio than Durante. Moore’s star rose quickly and though he had a lengthy career in radio and TV, he was never better than when he worked with Durante. And Durante remained loveable until the day he died but he never had a better radio cohort than Moore.

Here’s an Associated Press story published a month after the Durante-Moore show went on the air.

Garry Moore’s Tomfoolery Clicks On Night Radio Show

NEW YORK, Apr. 25—(AP)—Until this month Garry Moore’s tomfoolery wasn’t known to anyone who doesn’t listen to the radio before lunch. He joined the aristocracy of radio comedians—those who don’t appear until after dinner—unexpectedly when the Abbott-Costello program was canceled because of Lou Costello’s illness.
But before any radio audience grinned at Moore’s gags (and his are the kind you grin at) he was the class show off. While we were being very serious about comedy, he flashed a fan letter before me and said: “This is what I mean.”
Over my shoulder: “I am under the impression that you are Garry Morfit of Baltimore and at one time went to Baltimore City college. If you are, this is a line of congratulations and best wishes from a former teacher of yours.
“I used to enjoy the ‘programs’ you put on during English history in room 210. When I gave up trying to be tough about your interruptions I laughed too.”
High praise. A comedian has no better friends than they who laugh at his jokes.
Hardworking by nature and training, Moore is quietly authoritative through practise. At 27 he looks like a collar ad with a crew haircut and Princeton length trousers.
His ascent to night-time commercial radio was steady, a little slow but sure—seven years in all. He could be a control engineer, a station manager, or a director with the same facility that he is master of ceremonies. He has done everything in radio, even to sweeping out the studio after everyone has gone home.
His apprenticeship included continuity writing at station WBAL in Baltimore (this period immediately followed his collaboration with F. Scott Fitzgerald on a play that has yet to see the light of day). He went to St. Louis as special events announcer, eased into a variety show, and glided from there into Chicago to the already established “Club Matinee.”
Moore not only pulled the jokes on “Club Matinee,” he made them up. He did the same for “Anything Goes.” As ring leader of that morning show, he became H.V. Kaltenborn’s office mate, and sensing the comical possibilities of this quartering, practiced a telephone imitation of Kaltenborn until it became a pretty good piece of mimicry that he uses to this day.
Because of his flair for mimicry, Moore doesn’t listen to other comedians on the air. He’s afraid he might pick up their idiosyncrasies. All week long he works at his home in Larchmont on his material for the Thursday night broadcast. He doesn’t have a gag writer.
“I like whimsical comedy,” he explains, “punched up with gags, pseudo-serious stuff. I don’t there is any sin in wasting a few words to make a show warm and human. Most of the night-time shows are too fast-paced, they are hysterically trying each to outpunch each other.”
Moore is fervent, too about the way he gets his laughs. The easy way at the moment is to mention a butcher, horse, shoes—he tries to steer clear of these pat provokers. He’d like to try “a ‘clambake show’ on the order of “Anything Goes” after the other comedy shows were finished for the night. I think it would be a sensation.”
His present Thursday night show includes Jimmy Durante and Xavier Cugat and is not on anything like a permanent basis. That’s because the army may require Mr. Moore for a bit of business overseas. But, says Garry, “the army can take me anytime at all now. Just as long as I have hit the mark in night-time radio, it will be easier to return.”

Moore never did end up in the service, though his draft status kept him out of the running of a job hosting “Truth or Consequences” in March 1944 (Ransom Sherman and Harry Von Zell made it to the audition stage). He did end up at the Roxy in New York at the same time for $3,500 a week.

It’s interesting Moore wanted to try something like the earlier versions of “The Tonight Show.” Moore hosted a somewhat quirky daytime show in television in the ‘50s that might have translated into an interesting late-night programme. But I’d still rather watch him work with Durante.


  1. Newcomer Jimmy Durante?
    Newcomer to what?

  2. The "Caravan" show. He had only been with it a couple of weeks when part of the cast was transferred to NBC to be part of Moore's show.