Sunday, March 13, 2011

Betty, Roy Neal, Arthur Godfrey and Me

In her otherwise unremarkable autobiography, “Here We Go Again,” Betty White describes co-hosting coverage of the Rose Bowl Parade (possibly in 1964) with legendary Arthur Godfrey. This was very likely at the time I was working at NBC News as an editorial assistant. White had previously co-hosted coverage of the parade with NBC newsman Roy Neal (space agency reporter). I distinctly recall Neal’s comments in the Burbank newsroom that Godfrey was very difficult or something to that effect. Godfrey could be downright subversive.
White confirms the “challenge” that Godfrey presented for the NBC crew. While the action was on the street, Godfrey was describing off camera nonsense of little interest to most viewers. Although Neal was not involved in that year’s broadcast, he had some role in arrangements involving Godfrey.
Godfrey was his own man and would tweak the nose of his sponsors on CBS, defying people to find any chicken in Lipton chicken noodle soup. Yet advertisers in the 50s made him and CBS radio and TV quite rich, I am sure. By the time he wound up at NBC covering the parade his career was in its twilight.
White’s book shows a photo of her covering the parade with Neal, who was a delightful man and treated me like a human being which is more than I can say of some others at NBC news in 1964. Neal sported a cigarette holder which gave him quite a continental look unlike the other heavy smokers in the windowless NBC newsroom. We never gave a thought to second hand smoke back in the 60s, confined in that converted RCA warehouse.
A couple of years ago I bought a “Life With Elizabeth” DVD which features White’s very early syndicated sitcom that started on LA’s KLAC-TV (now KCOP). It was the usual air head comedy but it was about all we had in the mid 50s on KHQ-TV. Also syndicated on the same channel was Liberace, with whom White enjoyed a “date.” Guess things went well with Betty and Lee, but she never dated any of the stars of Hollywood, Chicago and Texas wresting, all very popular on KHQ and KXLY in the 50s. Gorgeous George and Betty? Nah!
Also working at NBC Burbank were Jack Latham, news anchor, and an African American editorial assistant, whose name escapes me. Both are featured in the AIP movie, "Wild in the Streets," as news anchors. Latham had worked at KHQ in Spokane and was a very thoughtful, kind man. Elmer Peterson and Cecil Brown, both with long radio careers, were commentators on the KNBC nightly broadcasts. We were very old looking in '64. My big moment: When Peter Lorre died in '64 they needed movie footage and I suggested the AIP horror movie, "The Raven," so they sent me to AIP where I picked up a 35mm print of that movie. I had touched ground at nirvana-- American International Pictures. It doesn't get better than that.