Wednesday 16 December 2020

The Last Little Godfrey

Arthur Godfrey called nine people into his office after his morning programme went off the air on April 15, 1955. The first thing he said to them was “I will read you a press release prepared for the wire services.”

That’s how they learned they were fired.

When Godfrey finished reading, singer Marion Marlowe asked Godfrey if that means “as of this moment.” Godfrey replied “Yes. Any other questions?” She then said “No,” and Godfrey simply responded “Thank you for your cooperation. Good bye.” That was it.

Marlowe quickly signed with Ed Sullivan at $3,000 a show. Godfrey had been paying her half that—for an entire week (Godfrey was on five days a week on radio).

The firing story related by Judith Crist in the New York Herald Tribune quoted Godfrey as saying “new ideas and personalities” were needed to jack up the ratings. But Godfrey kept about half of his performers. One writer was spared—a gentleman named Andrew A. Rooney. And so was announcer Tony Marvin.

One can only imagine Godfrey’s reaction when Marvin, about two weeks later, appeared in a nightclub act with the Mariners, the racially-diverse quartet that Godfrey had fired.

Here’s the story from the Boston Globe of April 30, 1955. In it, Marvin relates how he got into the radio business and his take on the latest Godfrey turmoil.
Tony Marvin, Mariners, Join Voices in Club Act
Globe Radio-TV Editor
That tremendous roar you heard late yesterday afternoon when it rained hardest wasn’t a clap of thunder. It was simply the deep baritone voices of Tony Marvin and the Mariners in greeting at the Latin Quarter. Tony had just arrived from New York to join the Mariners act of last night. He will remain here until Sunday.
After exchanging greetings, the group gathered around the piano on stage and the Mariners became a "quintet." Waiters, preparing the tables for the evening trade, paused with the press to enjoy the fine singing. There were no long faces here. The boys were having fun, despite their dismissal from the Arthur Godfrey show.
Tony Marvin isn’t fired . . . yet. And since he is under contract to the C. B. S. network, he is sure of his job. “I arrive for rehearsal each morning at 9, driving in from my home on Long Island. When I finish my TV day, I head right for home and the golf links,” said Tony.
“Of course, some TV days are longer than others. Wednesday is a long day and when 9 p. m. comes, we on the show know we've put in a hard day. It was especially rough learning our parts for the ice shows and special performances, but from now on there won't be the big casts connected with the Godfrey shows,” continued Marvin.
No Prompter for Tony
“Do you use a teleprompter on the commercials?” we asked. “They are so letter perfect, yet you don't appear to be consulting one.”
“No teleprompter. But I do use cue cards. If one has a good product to demonstrate and one knows the subject matter thoroughly, one needn't have difficulty getting the commercial message across,” replied Tony.
Night club work is new to Tony, although he frequently entertains at outside functions with the Little Godfreys. The group will put on a performance in another few weeks when the Indianapolis Speedway races get under way.
Where was he when Godfrey lowered the boom? Out to lunch. When he returned to C. B. S., the street was lined with newspapermen, photographers and the curious. Tony was collared by the press. “What happened?” asked Tony.
“The cast was fired” . . . this was news to Tony.
“I look upon my position as a job. I enjoy my work and do it as well as I can. Once in a while I talk out of turn; perhaps, but it isn't harmful. If anything, it churns up a bit of unexpected laughter. Work over, I head for home.”
Tony is staying with Boston friends during his Latin Quarter engagement. Weather permitting, he will be out on the golf links today.
Sidetracked Doctor
Viewers know Tony as a walking encyclopedia. Godfrey hasn't stumped him many times. Tony is quick to smile, is witty and is looking forward to meeting his TV followers at the Latin Quarter. He is excellent on the emcee chores, sings a little and tells stories in that delightfully resonant voice of his.
Tony is about 45. His ambition was to become a doctor. He attended Long Island College of Medicine for two years, but the depression interefered. He did odd jobs in the theatre but was channeled into radio by Jerry Wald, who had a talent show on radio and asked Marvin to emcee it.
Meanwhile, his voice won him the leading bass part with the New York Operatic Guild and after that he got into musical comedy, playing in such hits as "White Horse Inn," "Virginia," and "Having Wonderful Time."
Eventually he got parts in daytime radio programs. One day during a visit to New York's municipal station, WNYC, he walked into an audition session. He tried out . . . and won a job. The late Mayor LaGuardia heard him and appointed him announcer and chief of special events for the station.
When the World's Fair opened, Tony became chief announcer. He closed the fair, walked over to CBS and got a job. He has been with the network since 1939.
He has been with the Little Godfreys for seven years. He thoroughly enjoys the group. “They're a wonderful bunch,” says he, refering to Haleloke, the Mariners, Marion, etc., as if the family was still intact.
The Marvins have one daughter, Lynda Ann, age 14. “She doesn’t know whether she wants to be a scientist, a doctor . . . but she does know she doesn’t want to be an entertainer,” chuckled Tony.
However, as inevitable as night follows day, Godfrey’s sharpened axe fell on Tony Marvin. How abruptly it happened is unclear but Marvin was very classy about it in public. This is from the Herald Tribune syndication service of June 30, 1959.
Stardom Is Goal Of Tony Marvin
Having overcome the initial effects of bad news, Tony Marvin drew himself up to the full height of his magnificently tailored six-foot frame and determined to become what former boss Arthur Godfrey is, a full-fledged TV and radio star.
"Right now," said the announcer whose pearl-shaped basso profundo filled the Godfrey shows for a record run of 13 years, "My agent and manager are conferring about a Tony Marvin television show and a Tony Marvin radio show. I hope the American public loves me as much as they did or said they did during the years with Arthur.”
Though the Godfrey disconnection was not entirely unexpected (“Since Arthur’s operation, none of us knew what would happen”), Marvin reacted to the dismissal notice with the numbness that afflicts all people when adversity comes.
"I felt disembodied for a moment," he elaborated, “but I soon recovered. After 13 years with a guy you can’t accept something like this with a smile on your face, even though you understand the situation. In his letter, Arthur said that his radio show next season would be an informal sort of thing, and ‘a man of your high calibre would be a luxury.’
"The old flatterer. I'll miss him. I love the guy. I hope he lives to be nine thousand years old."
At present, Marvin's distinctively resonant voice is heard on the Godfrey replacement programs, "The Robert Q. Lewis Show" on radio, and "The Sam Levenson Show" on TV. He is assured of employment through the end of September, after which he'll be on his own and he shouldn't find it difficult to succeed, if only for that 13-year record with Godfrey. Is there another living American who can make that claim?
Well, Don Wilson could make that claim, but let’s not get sidetracked.

The Tony Marvin TV show never happened. In 1961, Marvin moved over to the Mutual radio network and spent a number of years reading top-hour newscasts before the network headquarters moved to Washington and he went into semi-retirement. In the mid-‘70s Marvin had a disc-jockey show in Connecticut and even operated his own board. He packed up for Florida where he emceed benefits in his smooth style and was the “voice of the Boca Pops” for a good 20 years.

Tony Marvin passed away in 1998 just after his 86th birthday.


  1. Sorry. Nothing to do with Arthur Godfrey. Just needed to vent. After a stellar first volume of Tex Avery cartoons, WAC crapped up the second volume with excessive DVNR and those recreated titles they're doing for HBO Max (for reasons I've never understood.) After that "Porky Pig 101" mess and now this, the names "Jerry Beck" and "George Feltenstein" attached to a project no longer mean anything to me as a guarantee of quality. What's frustrating is knowing that they're never going to go back and fix any of this. We're stuck with this. Thanks for nothing, WAC, and please know that I'll never spend another dime on classic cartoon collections from you guys.

  2. Thanks Yowp for the picture of Tony behind that classic rotor pot board. Ah, the memories of doing combo and running a " tight board ". Looks like either a " Gates " or a " Harris ". Just saw Robert Q. Lewis on a " What's My Line ". Wasn't sure how many people Godfrey had fired in his time. Most of us remember or know of the Julius LaRosa firing.

    1. Apparently he fired Bill Lawrence before that. And Bleier went when La Rosa did.
      I can't tell what board it is. I've never heard of a Harris. One place I worked at had a blue Gates mixer that our engineer bought and we used on location on election night. It used tubes, of course, and sounded better than the new board-in-a-suitcase we were sent by the network.

    2. Oh yes, the tube models sounded great. Before moving over to FM in the early 80's, I worked at a heritage 50 KW Top-40 AM station that used a Harris/Collins board. Also a Gates Yard tube model.