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Julius LaRosa made TV history because of Arthur Godfrey

offBeat with PHILIP POTEMPA

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Julius LaRosa made TV history because of Arthur Godfrey
BOYISH SMILE -- Julius LaRosa captured a generation of fans with his crooning when he was discovered by Arthur Godfrey in 1953. His "on the air" firing by the variety show host sparked a debate that continues today. (Photo courtesy of Julius LaRosa)

A humble story

In my class about the history of mass media and broadcasting I teach at Valparaiso University, singer Julius LaRosa is a name that comes up in text and lecture, dating back to the early dates of live television.

Even if the class is only half-interested in what I'm talking about, students always perk up when I tell them LaRosa was fired live on the air during the most popular television/radio show of 1953.

Known as "the boy singer," LaRosa shot to fame at age 23 after he was discovered, just as was Phyllis, Dorothy and Christine McGuire of the harmonizing McGuire Sisters, by the media titan of his time Arthur Godfrey.

When asked why he had fired LaRosa, Godfrey responded with the now-infamous answer that haunted him until his death in 1983.

Godfrey told the press that LaRosa had "lost his humility."

LaRosa, 76, is appearing in the Chicago area this weekend for two rare concert dates as part of a show called "That's Italian" at Centre East at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. He is sharing the bill both Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. with Dick Contino (a long-time favorite with his accordion at the old Drury Lane Theater in Evergreen Park, Ill.), Frankie Randall and Pete Barbutti, along with Vincent Falcone and his 15-piece orchestra. Tickets are $55 at (847) 673-6300 or www.centreeast.org.

I've never interviewed LaRosa before, but I have interviewed the McGuire Sisters many times.

While the media at the time reported Godfrey was angry shortly before the firing because LaRosa had missed a "required" cast dance rehearsal, Phyllis told me one of the reasons Godfrey had been even more upset was because LaRosa had hired an agent and manager.

"We were all told by Mr. Godfrey not to go out and hire agents and managers, because he said if he had to deal with all of the agents and managers for every one of the regular performers on his show, he'd never get anything done," said Phyllis, who was also linked to LaRosa romantically at the times, something which was also said to have angered Godfrey.

Today, Godfrey remains a broadcasting legend. He was the host of the top three network shows for CBS, all bearing his name in the 1950s. "The Arthur Godfrey Show, " "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts" and "Arthur Godfrey and his Friends" were all record advertising earners for the network, with big-name sponsors like Lipton and Pillsbury, which loved Godfrey's folksy pitchman style. For this reason, Godfrey was given permission to dismiss LaRosa how ever he saw fit.

After the incident, Godfrey appeared on legendary CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow's program "Face to Face" that same week and explained he decided he should fire LaRosa the same way he had hired him, which was live on the air.

After the firing, LaRosa was hired by the other big name on CBS and Godfrey's chief competitor Ed Sullivan.

La Rosa just completed a new television special for PBS called "Moments to Remember: My Music" hosted by actor George Clooney's father Nick Clooney. The program also features interviews and performances by Patti Page, Frankie Laine and Roger Williams.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at ppotempa@nwitimes. or 219.852.4327.

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