1955 – CBS talent scout Arthur Godfrey turned down the chance to sign Elvis Presley

Arthur Godfrey

1955 – CBS talent scout Arthur Godfrey turned down the chance to sign Elvis Presley, instead at the same audition he signed singer Pat Boone.

Godfrey was born in New York City in 1903. His mother, Kathryn Morton Godfrey, was from a well-to-do Oswego, New York, family which disapproved of her marriage to an older Englishman, Arthur Hanbury Godfrey. The senior Godfrey was a sportswriter and considered an expert on surrey and hackney horses, but the advent of the automobile devastated the family’s finances. By 1915, when Arthur was 12, the family had moved to Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. Arthur, the eldest of five children, tried to help them survive by working before and after school, but at age 14 left home to ease the financial burden on the family. By 15 he was a civilian typist at Camp Merritt, New Jersey and enlisted in the Navy (by lying about his age) two years later.

Godfrey made such an impression on the air that CBS gave him his own morning time slot on the nationwide network. Arthur Godfrey Time was a Monday-Friday show that featured his monologues, interviews with various stars, music from his own in-house combo and regular vocalists. Godfrey’s monologues and discussions were unscripted, and went wherever he chose. “Arthur Godfrey Time” remained a late morning staple on the CBS Radio Network schedule until 1972.

In 1947, Godfrey had a surprise hit record with the novelty “Too Fat Polka (She’s Too Fat For Me)” written by Ross MacLean and Arthur Richardson. The song’s popularity led to the Andrews Sisters recording a version adapted to the women’s point-of-view.

Godfrey’s morning show was supplemented by a primetime variety show, Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts broadcasting from the CBS Studio Building on 52nd Street where he had his main office. This variety show, a showcase for rising young performers, was a slight variation of CBS’s successful Original Amateur Hour. Some of the performers had made public appearances in their home towns and were recommended to Godfrey by friends or colleagues. These “sponsors” would accompany the performers to the broadcast and introduce them to Godfrey on the air. Two acts from the same 1948 broadcast were Wally Cox and The Chordettes. Both were big hits that night, and both were signed to recording contracts. Godfrey took special interest in The Chordettes, who sang his kind of barbershop-quartet harmony, and he soon made them part of his broadcasting and recording “family.”

Performers who appeared on Talent Scouts included Lenny Bruce, Don Adams, Tony Bennett, Patsy Cline, Pat Boone, opera singer Marilyn Horne, Roy Clark, and Irish vocalist Carmel Quinn. Later, he promoted “Little Godfrey” Janette Davis to a management position as the show’s talent coordinator. Two notable acts rejected for the show were Elvis Presley and Sonny Till & The Orioles. Following his appearances on the Louisiana Hayride, Presley traveled to New York for an unsuccessful Talent Scouts audition in April 1955; after the Talent Scouts staff rejected The Orioles, they went on to have a hit record with “Crying in the Chapel” and kicked off the “bird group” trend of early rock ‘n’ roll.

Godfrey also was an avid amateur radio operator, with the station call sign K4LIB. He is a member of the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in the radio division.

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