I made a Julius LaRosa joke about Ellen DeGeneres’ current problems a couple of places on social media yesterday. The LaRosa story happened before I was born, and so it was before my time, but I’d heard about it for years — and I am old enough to at least vaguely remember Arthur Godfrey in his waning days, as a guest star on other people’s shows. Younger people, though, may have no idea what I was talking about.
There was a point in the early 1950s (I was born in 1962) when Arthur Godfrey was a huge star on U.S. television and radio (not everyone had a TV yet). He had a daily morning show that was broadcast on both TV and radio; he also had two weekly prime-time shows, one of them a variety show and the other a talent contest.
Godfrey was known for his warm, relaxed, welcoming on-air personality. He was just likable in front of the camera, like a favorite uncle.
But it would be nearly impossible for anyone to be as successful as Arthur Godfrey was and not be a little more driven than his on-air personality would indicate.
I remember when I got the chance to do a telephone interview with Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas. Dave was doing all of Wendy’s TV commercials at the time, and he came across as very low-key, almost sleepy. But it was obvious just from a few minutes of talking to him on the phone (and also from reading his autobiography, “Dave’s Way”) that he was closer to a Type A personality. He’d have to be, to achieve what he achieved. I don’t mean to criticize him in any way, or to portray him as a hypocrite or poser; I’m just saying his real-life personality was different from the part he played in those TV commercials.
Arthur Godfrey had a singer named Julius LaRosa as a regular on his morning show. LaRosa was quite popular, and the consensus seems to be that Godfrey was threatened by this, and took note when LaRosa’s weekly fan mail started exceeding his own. In any case, LaRosa, claiming a family emergency, missed a dance class which Godfrey had mandated for all his cast members. Godfrey decided to fire him. That might have been the end of things, except for the bizarre way in which Godfrey fired him.