John Cameron Swayze
– August 15
), was a popular news commentator
and game show
panelist in the United States
, during the 1950s.
Born in Wichita, Kansas
, the son of a wholesale drug salesman, Swayze first sought to make his way as an actor
, but his move to Broadway
in 1929 was derailed by the scarcity of acting roles following Wall Street
's stock market crash.
Swayze returned to the Midwest and hired on with the Kansas City Journal Post
as a reporter.
From there, Swayze graduated to radio doing news updates for Kansas City's KMBC in 1940 and, reportedly, an experimental early television newscast. Four years later, Swayze went further west, to Los Angeles and Hollywood, where NBC hired him for its western news division before moving him to its New York news operation in 1947.
During 1948, Swayze provided voice-over work for the 'Camel Newsreel Theatre', an early television news program that broadcast Movietone News newsreels.
At the same time, Swayze proposed and got a radio quiz program, Who Said That?, but NBC had other plans for him. They made him the host of their national political convention coverage in 1948---the first commercial coverage ever on television (NBC Television
did broadcast the Republican National Convention from Philadelphia in 1940 on a non-commercial, semi-experimental basis).
NBC and the public liked what they saw, and Swayze was picked in 1949 to host NBC's first television newscast, the fifteen-minute Camel News Caravan
. He read items from the news wires and periodically interviewed newsmakers, but he's remembered best for his two breezy catch-phrases: "Let's go hopscotching around the world for headlines," and his somewhat cartoonish sign-off: "That's the story, folks---glad we could get together." In early 1955, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, maker of Camel cigarettes, cut back its sponsorship to three days a week. Chrysler's Plymouth division sponsored the other days, and on those days, the program was labelled the Plymouth News Caravan
. In time, Swayze's almost manic style seemed frivolous compared to his CBS
rival, Douglas Edwards with the News
, who Swayze once out-rated but whose anchor sounded sober and no-nonsense. By 1956, Swayze had fallen out of favor and was dismissed in favour of a new anchor team, Chet Huntley
and David Brinkley
. In very short order, The Huntley-Brinkley Report
became the nation's top-rated television newscast, ultimately pushing Edwards out of the anchor chair in 1962 in favour of Walter Cronkite
By that time, Swayze---despite a brief turn anchoring an evening newscast for ABC
---was more familiar for a series of commercials he did for Timex
. Again, his flair for writing or handling catchphrases banked him: "It takes a licking and keeps on ticking" ended up living even longer than hopscotching around the world for headlines did, as Swayze appeared in Timex spots that amounted to mock newscasts before delivering the catch-phrase at the end of the spots. Swayze did the Timex spots for over two decades. One live ad for Timex using a huge tank of water and a scuba diver went terribly wrong. Swayze went up to the tank and the diver placed the Timex watch where the camera could zoom in on it. The watch had stopped! Swayze was flustered and the ad abruptly ended. So much for, "it takes a licking and keeps on ticking."
Swayze also appeared in commercials for Studebaker, promoting the automobile company's 1963 model line.
He was satirized easily enough himself, perhaps most memorably by rock and roll comics Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman
, whose first "break-in" novelty hit (mock newscasts spliced with bits of current rock and roll hits), "The Flying Saucer," satirized him as reporter John Cameron Cameron (played by Goodman). Swayze is mentioned in lyric of Allan Sherman
's novelty song "My Grandfather's Watch", a parody of Henry Clay Work
's "My Grandfather's Clock".
John Cameron Swayze made periodic cameos in films, beginning with 1957's A Face in the Crowd. He also hosted and narrated from 1955-57 the long running television drama series, The Armstrong Circle Theater (1950-1963) , after leaving NBC News, as well as a daytime game show on ABC, Chance for Romance.
He is mentioned in one of the scenes of Walt Disney World's attraction, Carousel of Progress at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida.
In the 1980 Ray Stevens recording, "The Watch Song", Ray tells his problems in song to John Cameron Swayze.
Swayze is the first person shown in the montage of former anchors that currently begins the NBC Nightly News
John Cameron Swayze was the son of Jesse Ernest Swayze and Christine Cameron, aka Camerona (cited by some sources). He married Beulah Mae Estes in 1935. He was survived by his widow and two children, John Cameron Swayze, Jr. of Bedford, New York who anchors weekend news on WCBS
Newsradio 880 in New York (under the name Cameron Swayze) and Suzanne Swayze Patrick of Alexandria, Virginia. Six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. He died 15 August 1995 in Sarasota, Florida.
John Cameron Swayze and the actor Patrick Swayze are distant cousins. Both are descendants by 7 or 8 generations of Judge Samuel Swayze (1688/1689-1759) and his wife Penelope Horton (1689/1690-1746). Judge Swayze was the son of Joseph Swasey and his wife Mary Betts. Mary Betts was the daughter of Captain Richard Betts and his wife Joanna Chamberlayne. Other noteworthy relations descending from the Betts or Swayze lines are actors William Holden, Tom Hulce and Evgenia Citkowitz, wife of actor Julian Sands.