John Cameron Swayze, a pioneering television journalist who later delivered the famous line “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking” in Timex watch commercials, is dead at 89.
The newscaster and announcer with the folksy voice died Tuesday at his home.
After becoming host of the 15-minute “Camel News Caravan” on NBC in 1949, Swayze developed into one of the first popular TV personalities.
The show, sponsored by Camel cigarettes, was the forerunner of the modern newscast and boasted presenting “today’s news today.” It replaced a straight newsreel format with live shots, interviews and commentary.
Swayze, who was host for seven years, was known for the opening line “hopscotching the world for headlines” and the carnation on his lapel. His sign-off was also fondly quoted by the public as a farewell phrase: “Glad we could get together tonight.”
“When he signed off [with that phrase],” said his son, John Cameron Swayze Jr., “he really meant it, and I think people understood that he meant it.”
During the 1950s, Swayze held other broadcasting jobs, serving as a panel member on the NBC quiz show “Who Said That?” and was emcee of a children’s educational show, “Watch the World.”
After “Camel News” folded in 1956, Swayze went to work for Timex and was featured in its commercials for 20 years.
The ads showed the watches being subjected to various kinds of abuse, always emerging intact. Elephants stomped on the watches in one commercial, and another showed a watch strapped to the pontoon of a plane landing in water.
A Wichita, Kan., native, Swayze began his career as a reporter with the Kansas City Journal Post. He later switched to radio, and did a brief stint on pioneering television in Kansas City in 1933.
He permanently moved into the new medium in 1948, when it wasn’t considered a plum assignment. Many journalists referred to it as the “thing,” Swayze recently recalled.
Even as television began to grow in the 1950s, Swayze saw it in conservative perspective.
“Newspapers are necessary if one is to have the complete story of what is going on in the world,” he said in an address to the Los Angeles Advertising Club in 1952. “Neither radio nor TV can give the background of a news story the way a daily newspaper can.
"[But] television . . . has the extra dimension of the pictorial to aid it in telling a news story. Television more than any other medium brings the story to the public and lets the viewer make up his own mind.”
Last year, Swayze moved from Connecticut to Sarasota, which had been his winter home since 1986.
In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife, Beulah Mae; a daughter, Suzanne Patrick; six grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.