Henry Morgan; Irreverent Radio, TV Personality
Henry Morgan, the irreverent, satiric entertainment personality whose trademark impudence led to a McCarthy-era blacklisting that he overcame using the grit and wit for which he was famous, has died.
The Associated Press reported Friday that the former three-pack-a-day smoker died of lung cancer Thursday at his Manhattan home (where the welcome mat once said “Go Away”). He was 79.
The freewheeling radio show host and game show panelist was one of the most biting, unpredictable characters to stomp across the nation’s airwaves.
He insulted friends, sponsors, politicians and station owners, relying on an innate, instantaneous wit that required no scripts and few notes.
Morgan often said he prided himself on biting the hand that fed him. On many occasions, the hand was soon withdrawn, leading to a constant search for sponsors.
His signature sign-on of “Good evening, anybody. Here’s Morgan,” first attracted a radio following in the 1940s. It was initially a New York-based, 15-minute program, then a half-hour radio network show.
Since his first experience with radio (as a pageboy in New York City in the early 1930s) he had been appalled by the serious demeanor of radio’s early stars--particularly the announcers who solemnly intoned commercial messages.
From that he developed routines that nearly always succeeded in tormenting his employers.
Among the more memorable sponsor-baiting moments of “The Henry Morgan Show” was a “shave-a-thon,” in which contestants supposedly demonstrated that his sponsor’s razor shaved more quickly than those of the competition.
Then he would recite horror stories of death and maiming suffered by shavers trying to do something absurd with the time they had saved shaving.
Morgan baited the pharmaceutical industry when he talked about the town of More, Utah. He said it had two doctors and “this led to the famous ad which begins, ‘More doctors recommend. . . .’ ”
And the makers of Oh! Henry candy bars withdrew their support after he said the candy was a meal in itself, “but you eat three meals of O’Henry’s and your teeth will fall out.”
Once in 1947, he asked parents to leave the room, then advised children to run away from home and become smugglers. “It’s exciting, it’s healthy, it’s a wonderful life,” he told them. “Get out now before it’s too late.”
But he somehow enjoyed a long run with Adler Elevator Shoes, whose owner, derided on the air as “Old Man Adler,” didn’t mind the barbs.
This was unlike the evening he decided to mock the hole in the middle of Lifesavers. He accused the candy maker of cheating the public by selling them an empty space and offered to market the holes as “Morgan’s Mint Middles.”
Lifesavers canceled the show hours after Morgan left the air.
While Arthur Godfrey and Fred Allen occasionally tickled the mighty with a sardonic feather, Morgan wielded a club.
But his impudent style--which attracted legions of loyal followers--also was resented by many. They concluded that anyone that iconoclastic must be a Communist, and he found his name included in Red Channels, a listing of entertainers accused of Communist ties. He insisted he was apolitical but was blacklisted anyway. By refusing to quietly disappear from public view--as had many others similarly accused--he was able to keep his name before the public and eventually returned to regular TV appearances.
He was seen occasionally on the urbane panel show “What’s My Line” and regularly on “I’ve Got a Secret,” both enduring series of the 1950s and ‘60s. His lines there, however, were carefully monitored.
In 1951 he tried “Henry Morgan’s Great Talent Hunt,” a takeoff on amateur talent contests. It featured violinists who plucked the strings with their teeth, people who taught their dogs to “talk” or dancers who played various instruments while they were jumping about. It lasted five months.
In lieu of a funeral service, his friends are planning a cocktail party next month at Sardi’s restaurant.