Wednesday, 1 March 2017
There were actually three Henry Morgans. The first one had a 15-minute radio show that consisted of him grumbling about assorted subjects in an almost stream-of-conscious way; he was guided by his own scribbles about what he noticed that day. Then he graduated into full variety show mode, with stooges, an orchestra and an announcer, where he could aim his displeasure through dialogues and sketches. And then there was the TV panellist Morgan who occasionally looked happy to be there. But the satire was gone, replaced with a kind of lack of interest.
Here’s a profile of Morgan from the New York-based radio magazine, Tune In. It was published in the August 1946 issue, before Morgan was signed for his variety series on ABC that began in September for Eversharp. He was still doing musings and quasi-editorals at the time over the ABC flagship, WJZ, where he landed after leaving Mutual the previous year. If you’ve never heard Morgan’s shows—and you should take a listen to them—this gives you an idea of his jaded sense of humour.
RADIO'S BAD BOY MAKES SPONSOR-SPOOFING COMMERCIALS PAY OFF
By GORDON D. BUSHELL
HISTORY three times has known the name of Morgan—Morgan the pirate, Morgan the financier, Morgan the sponsor-baiter. The pirate and the financier are of yesterday. Today's Morgan is in 100,000 ears, poking 100,000 ribs and sending cash over 100,000 counters.
For Morgan's faithful listening audience, 6:45 p. m. EST, is the most refreshing radio-time of the day. Before Morgan went to war, his program was on at 5:45. Now he has a better spot, when most families are at their evening meal.
Probably the most popular lines Morgan's broadcasts are those in which he ribs his sponsors. He is a pleasant relief from the usual commercial harangue to hear Morgan make light of his products and gibe at his sponsors. People enjoy the unusual in his humor and gasp at his daring.
For example, he played a commercial recording for a wine company. During the playing he kept up an uncomplimentary commentary. At the conclusion he asked, "Now where do they expect to get with that? It might sell one bottle—in forty years, Why don't they let me do it my way? But no, some agency sold them that, so they think it's good."
Morgan's system is very effective. His commercials are never tuned out. They're too funny to be missed. They come in unexpectedly. They are never long. They do their job because they get the product into the consciousness of the listener by tickling his funnybone. There's good will for Morgan's products because of Morgan's wit.
Though Morgan is tremendously popular with his listeners, he is in constant trouble with his sponsors, naturally. They vacillate between fear of what his gibes may do to sales and knowledge of what they've done in the past. They resent his occasionally almost forgetting to mention a product he's paid to discuss for one minute. Some quit him. Some quit and return. Adler shoes quit twice. Now they are a Morgan steady—and there are no more complaints.
Morgan used to listen to sponsor's complaints, then go right on in his own way—now he doesn't even listen. He has devised a fool-proof system of avoiding angry sponsors. He moved, keeping his new address and phone number a secret. The only way a sponsor can get a message to Morgan is to call their agency, which in turn calls the network, which in turn calls the only person who knows Morgan's number.
She then calls Morgan, if the complaint hasn't died out, and relates the sad story to his unsympathetic ear.
Morgan has his own philosophy about radio commercials. "What do people care about where and how a product is made?" he asks, "They just want to know if its good. My stuff is good, so I tell them that—that's all." Morgan continues, "The trouble with the average sponsor is that he is just average, I know more about radio advertising than the guys in the business." The fact that Morgan's line was taken on, copied by other announcers during his absence in the army proves that there are those who agree that his style is effective.
Morgan does not bring on these complaints intentionally or out of sheer perversity—he's just himself, unpredictable. His humor is not restricted to the commercials. From the moment he comes on the air, the zany is in order. He may introduce his program by blowing into the mike, or by announcing a campaign which he is backing—"Equality Week—a week when men must be considered equal to women." He urges women during this week to remove their hats in elevators, to offer cigarettes to men, to give up their seats to men in subways, to blame all auto accidents on men drivers.
Inane records have an important place on "Here's Morgan." They are played at any point in the program for no reason at all. He has the most unique collection of records in the world, and he conducts a never ending search for new ones. But, he never plays a record through because whole records bore him.
It is not unusual for fans to send him crazy records. Recently he received an Arabic record from a G.I. who heard he was back on the air. Morgan, himself, doesn't know what this one is all about. "It might be a couple of foreigners swearing at each other for all I know," he says.
Morgan has originated a hundred different days, weeks, towns, products and schools. On one program he introduced "Unknown Mother of Her Country Day"—the day they take nylons and make coal out of them. He is the discoverer of the town of More. "There are only two housewives in that town so when you see an advertisement that says 'More housewives recommend—,' you know it's these two women who live in More, Nebraska."
Occasionally Morgan entitles his program "Time Marches Sideways." That night is devoted to reading and "analyzing" newspaper clippings which completely contradict each other. He also has "political night" and "Children's Advisory Service" night. Once Morgan told all frustrated children to bang their heads against the wall.
One night as Morgan read fan mail, a P.S. on a fan letter said "Please excuse pencil, but they don't allow any sharp instruments around here." A few months later (Morgan's always late with mail) he wrote back "Please excuse typewriter, I just ran out of blood."
Another time a listener sent in a petition to Morgan asking him to have it signed by all the people he knew in order to have Avenue of the Americas changed back to 6th Avenue. Over the air Morgan explained, "I dragged your petition to various saloons around town and everybody I talked to said "Oh, for Pete's sake! Then we'd have another beer. Well, you know how it is."
Henry Morgan is not strictly a gag man; a fact which causes his employers to have graying hair. It is not unusual for him to discuss some very ticklish subject. Officials tell him to layoff, but Morgan is seriously concerned about current happenings, so occasionally he sneaks a little philosophy into his humor.
He attacks the army for commissioning incompetent men, he urges that Brotherhood Week be a year-around enterprise, he suggests that people try to understand Russia and work toward international cooperation. This last has lost him some listeners—people immediately accused him of being a communist. "Today you're either a communist or a fascist," sighs Morgan. But he shrugs it off and goes on advocating what he believes is right. While he discusses the 10-cent subway fare and labor problems, his mail proves that his audience listens to his humorous philosophy.
Henry Morgan was born in New York City in 1915 of mixed parentage—man and woman. His radio career started at 17 when he was hired as a pageboy by WMCA at $8 a week. In a few months he applied for a job as announcer. "Much to my surprise they hired me." At seventeen and a half he became the youngest announcer in radio. He received $18 a week.
Shortly, he was engaged as a network newscaster, but was fired within five weeks because he could never reach a broadcast on time. From then on Morgan covered many radio jobs in many cities. His innate humor, his free lancing at the mike drew the attention of New York officials who decided to try his line out at nothing a week on part of Superman's time. Morgan had three nights and Superman had three nights a week. "Imagine me with that big lug" he groans. When Superman moved to an earlier hour Morgan took over the full six nights, acquired sponsors, and began to draw money—$100 a week. At this point, war and the army broke in.
"Here's Morgan" returned to the air less than a year ago, after over two years' absence. Currently on the air five nights a week at 6:45 with two shots on Thursday (the second at 10:30 p.m.), he makes considerably more money than he used to—"not yet a $1000 a week."
Morgan's script, if it can be called that, is written by Morgan about four hours before he goes on the air. It is always two pages in length. Sometimes he finds himself a few minutes short, or a few minutes over his allotted 15 minutes. This always confuses him. "Getting off the air is the toughest thing I have to do. When people ask me how I do it, I answer, I don't know—they think I'm kidding."
Most of Morgan's scripts are merely a series of notes and reminders, but his interviews are carefully written out. Interviews require a good deal of precision and I haven't time to pause to think of questions and answers." So when Morgan interviews Negative Sam, the Realty Man, or the housewife who is worried because her husband does come home early, it's thoroughly rehearsed.
Morgan claims that no one except kids will admit to listening to his program. Adults when asked usually pass the buck, "My little boy listens and of course I heard some of what you say." But an examination of Morgan's maik reveals dentists, doctors, lawyers, engineers and business executives as well as kids among his listeners.
When not criticizing or praising, fans ask Morgan what be looks like and "do you act like that off the air?" Some express a desire to see Morgan in television. To this Morgan grimly shakes his head. "I want television the other way 'round. I'd like to see my listeners in action; batting their kids around, chewing gum, or shining their boots with a polish I plug."
Morgan is good looking, of average heigbt and weight, and is abounding in restless energy. He doesn't sit still two minutes consecutively. An intense person, Morgan works hard on his program. He never permits a studio audience. The few times he did allow this, he felt that it hurt his show—he just couldn't let go and be himself.
A meticulous dresser, Morgan goes daily to the Astor barber shop. There he has corralled the only silent barber in the business, John Hindenberger. "He talks German and I don't," says Morgan explaining the blissful barber shop silence. "Furthermore, I like the er on his name. If he ever drops it, I'll quit him."
Morgan has a girl friend, "the ninth most beautiful girl in New York," but she's smart so they argue too much. "That's the trouble with getting married. If they're smart you argue; if they're dumb you can't stand them. I guess I'll I stay a bachelor," he explains.
But this Morgan, Henry Morgan, sponsor baiter, is entrenched in the ears of his listeners—he makes them laugh and he makes them buy. He is a hair raising, nerve wracking, indispensible boon to his sponsors, who have found that there's good will for Morgan's products because of Morgan's wit. So everybody's happy over Henry Morgan—even the sponsors.