Garry Moore poses for a portrait 1962. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)
The logo for The Gary Moore Show –– a stylized head with a crew cut and a bow tie –– said it all. It couldn’t be anyone else but the affable radio/TV talk show host whose chipper, charming ways made him a welcome guest in so many mid-century households.
Moore, who died 20 years ago today – Nov. 28, 1993 – is best remembered for his namesake show and the game shows I’ve Got a Secret and To Tell the Truth, which aired in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. His friend and TV sidekick Durward Kirby was at his side through the 1950s and ‘60s.
Moore started out on Baltimore radio in the late 1930s as Garry Morfit. He was born Thomas Garrison Morfit III in Baltimore but a radio contest was held to find a name easier to pronounce, and a woman from Pittsburgh won $100 for coming up with Garry Moore. The name stuck –– and so did he.
After a decade of various radio gigs, including a joint show with Jimmy Durante, Moore was given his own one-hour variety show on CBS radio. It did so well that he moved on to a 30-minute evening show in 1950. He also hosted the game shows I’ve Got a Secret, on which blindfolded panelists tried to identify the guest, and To Tell the Truth. But it was The Garry Moore Show that introduced so many stars-to-be to audiences: Alan King, Don Knotts, Jonathan Winters, Carol Burnett and Dorothy Loudon, to name just a few. The show, which ran through June 1964 , was moved from daytime to evenings, although Moore said he liked the housewives in the daytime audience the best and his folksy humor certainly appealed to them.
Washington Post television critic Tom Shales said, "Garry Moore was never much of a jokester. He was a host. He would surround himself with talented people and try to bring out the best in them, and he did."
Moore won an Emmy and a Peabody award during his four-decade-long career. Another sign of his immense popularity was when, in 1954, he asked viewers to send a nickel to a housewife in Michigan. Within two days she had received 48,000 nickels –– $9,600.
By the time The Gary Moore Show was cancelled in 1964, Moore said he was ready to retire. Steve Allen replaced him on I’ve Got a Secret, Kirby went on to co-host Candid Camera with Allen Funt, and Carol Burnett got her own show, while Moore took off on a trip around the world with his wife. Moore did guest appearances and was back on the air with To Tell the Truth –– up against the popular Bonanza –– which lasted until 1976.
That year Moore was diagnosed with throat cancer. While he had surgery, Bill Cullen took over the host’s seat. Moore recuperated but did not go back on the air and retired with his wife to homes in Hilton Head Island, S.C. and Northeast Harbor, Maine.
While living on Hilton Head, Moore wrote a humor column, “Mumble, Mumble,” for The Island Packet; the columns were compiled into a book to raise funds for the Hilton Head Hospital auxiliary.
At the age of 78, Moore died of emphysema at home on Hilton Head. He was survived by his second wife Betsy and two sons, and was buried in Maine.
In 2007, Time magazine named Moore one of the 15 greatest game show hosts of all time. “For 15 years, from 1952 to 1967, this was the best of TV's plethora of panel-game shows, and a big reason was its boyish, crew-cutted host,” wrote TV critic Richard Zoglin. “Less stuffy than What's My Line's John Charles Daly, more fun than To Tell the Truth's Bud Collyer, he lent an eager ear to the ‘secrets' of both ordinary folks (a man who has collected seven miles of string) and celebrity guests (Ernest Borgnine disguised himself as a cab driver and drove panelist Jayne Meadows to the show). Not even Steve Allen, who took over near the end of the show's run, could match him.”
Susan Soper is the author of ObitKit®, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she has written for Newsday and CNN, and was Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief." Find her on Google+.