June 14, 2021

Hugh Downs, Perennial Small-Screen Fixture, Is Dead at 99

He moved to WWJ in Detroit in 1940 and, after serving briefly in the Army and receiving a medical discharge, joined the staff of WMAQ, the NBC station in Chicago. Later in the decade he made the transition to television, working on “Kukla, Fran and Ollie,” a popular puppet show that began in Chicago and soon went national.

While in Chicago he met Dave Garroway, whose easygoing manner as the first host of NBC’s “Today” show would make him one of television’s earliest stars. He later recalled that he “learned from Dave how to ad-lib in a very casual way.”

In those days being on the air was rewarding but frightening for Mr. Downs. Although he projected the image of a quietly confident performer in the manner of Mr. Garroway, he suffered from a bad case of mic fright. Mr. Downs recalled those days in “On Camera,” his memoir:

“At the end of a piece of music, when I was supposed to say something, my knees would shake uncontrollably. My pulse and respiration went up. Fortunately, the fear never showed in my delivery, but it did in my hands. If I had to hold copy, the paper would rattle. As a defense, I learned to lay copy out flat on the desk, or, if standing, to grab my lapels along with the copy, so the paper didn’t move with my hands.” His fright did not diminish until after he had been in the business a good 10 years.

Despite his fears, he came to New York in 1954 and was soon working as an announcer for Arlene Francis on “Home” and Sid Caesar on “Caesar’s Hour.” He joined “The Tonight Show” when Mr. Paar did, in 1957, and remained until Mr. Paar left in 1962.

During those years he was also host of the popular daytime game show “Concentration,” a job he held from 1958 until 1969. And in 1962 he began his most high-profile and prestigious assignment to date, the one that would establish him as not just an announcer but also a respected television journalist: Mr. Garroway’s old job as host of “Today.” He remained there for a decade.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/02/arts/television/hugh-downs-dead.html

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