TV celebrity was hometown boy Fame: Garry Moore moved from City College to radio and eventually became host of nationally-aired television shows.

Way Back When

October 03, 1998|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

To most Americans watching television in the 1950s and 1960s, he was known as Garry Moore -- the eternally youthful guy with the wick-wire crew cut and inch-wide bow ties. But to Baltimoreans, he was still Garrison Morfit, the kid who grew up in Bolton Hill, attended City College and McDonogh School, and began his show-business career here on WBAL radio.

Known as the city's second best-loved crew cut, right behind Colt legend Johnny Unitas, Moore later became the host of two network quiz shows, "I've Got A Secret" and "To Tell The Truth."

While a student at City College, Moore, who wrote "Diary of a Freshman," for the school's newspaper and a gossip column under the nom de plume of "Walter Watchall," planned on becoming a professional writer.

Moore, who once collaborated on an unpublished play with Bolton Hill neighbor F. Scott Fitzgerald, was hired in 1936 by Brent Gunts, a former City College student and young radio producer, to be host of WFBR's "The Variety Club," a live radio variety show with an in-studio swing band.

He later moved to WBAL radio as a $25-a-week comedy writer, but soon took to the air when the station's comedian failed to appear one day.

He was later the host of "High Noon Hi Jinks" and "Dr. Pepper Treasure Hunt," where prizes were hidden all over the city and Moore gave clues as to their whereabouts on the radio.

After leaving WBAL, he went to St. Louis to work as a sports commentator and to nurture his writing career. Instead, his reputation as a comedian made him a very desirable talent, and he abandoned writing.

He worked in Chicago as a comedian-writer for three years for the "Club Matinee" show, and while there, he staged a contest to change his name from Morfit. A Pittsburgh woman won $50 when she suggested "Garry Moore."

He went to New York in 1942 when he became Jimmy Durante's partner on CBS's "Comedy Caravan," with a national audience of 4 million listeners.

He first went on TV in 1950 with "The Garry Moore Show," on CBS, which highlighted such young entertainers as Carol Burnett, Don Knotts, Alan King and Jonathan Winters.

"Fred Allen [the famous radio humorist] once told me that I was a 'pointer,' " he told The Sun in a 1958 interview.

" 'You have discovered the secret of longevity on television,' Fred said. 'You are like Ed Sullivan and Don McNeill and [Arthur] Godfrey and all those fellows. You never do anything yourself, you simply invite a talented guest to come out on the stage, and then you point at him and tell the people that he's going to do something marvelous, and he does.

" 'Shucks, Garry, you could teach a dog to do the same thing. All you'd have to do would be to smear some meat on the visiting actors,' " he said.

Moore's theory of daytime TV shows was simple.

"They're like comic strips in the newspapers," he told The Sun in 1950. "People get used to following them day after day, and there's a big carry-over interest."

For most of America, he was probably best known as the easygoing moderator of "I've Got A Secret," which aired from 1952 to 1966, and "To Tell The Truth" (1969-1976), when he retired from broadcasting because of throat cancer.

Moore died in Hilton Head, S.C., in 1993.

"What a delightful guy," Gunts told The Sun at his death. "Garry never had any delusions about himself. At the height of his career, he was the same down-to-earth man he was at City College."

Pub Date: 10/03/98

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