When Alec Brown, a middle-aged biographer, takes as his subject broadcasting pioneer Alec McGowan, host of television’s very first wake-up show, “Morning,” the project is marked by a sinister obsession. For intertwined with McGowan’s life and the birth of the box is Brown's own family history. His estranged father, Chet Standish, was not only McGowan's best friend and "Morning" cohost, he was also the man who shot and killed McGowan on the air....
When Alec Brown, a middle-aged biographer, takes as his subject broadcasting pioneer Alec McGowan, host of television’s very first wake-up show, “Morning,” the project is marked by a sinister obsession. For intertwined with McGowan’s life and the birth of the box is Brown's own family history. His estranged father, Chet Standish, was not only McGowan's best friend and "Morning" cohost, he was also the man who shot and killed McGowan on the air. Now dying of cancer, Standish is being released from prison into his son's care.
W. D. Wetherell weaves together the story of McGowan's rise to television notoriety–back when the medium, and indeed the nation, seemed ripe with promise–and Brown's tenuous steps to better understand the love triangle that drove his father to violence. Morning is at once a riveting glimpse of an era gone by, a moving portrait of a family in turmoil, and a penetrating reflection on the rise of mass media.
Award-winning novelist W. D. Wetherell transports us back to the days when television made its debut in living rooms nationwide, capturing the energy, hope, and innocence of the early '50s. Morning is a taut, gripping saga about the murder of Alec McGowan, creator and host of the first-ever morning television show. Years later, Alec Brown, a restless biographer, obsessively interviews everyone who remembers those early days, with the hope that he might gain some understanding of the circumstances that sent the show's cohost, Brown's father, to jail for killing McGowan.
Mr. Wetherell artfully captures the giddy pulse of New York City at midcentury: its nightclubs, its ball teams, its Automats and new skyscrapers, and he limns with equal passion the high-pressure world of television, from the behind- the-scenes maneuvering of executives to the improvisatory performances of anchors and reporters working out the kinks of broadcasting on live TV.
— New York Times
- Publisher's Weekly
Capturing the high spirits and excitement of television in the early 1950s, when no one was sure yet what might be successful, Wetherell builds a dramatic story on the format and best-remembered personalities of TV's original Today show, complete with its bespectacled star with his outheld palm as a signoff and his chimpanzee sidekick. The delight of this imaginatively told narrative lies in how fully it makes use of the history and technology of the early years of television, and how little it depends upon exploiting familiar personalities. The casting, rapid rise and hectic career of Morning host Alec McGowan comes to an abrupt end in 1954 when he is shot and murdered on the air by his announcer and longtime sidekick from radio days, Chet Standish. That story is now being reconstructed in the winter of 2000 by Chet's son and Alec's namesake, Alec Brown, the book's narrator, who is researching a biography of Alec McGowan and about to meet his father, now aged and dying of cancer, on his release from prison. Cast superficially in the mold of reportorial novels of the '50s like The Great Man, which purport to dig up the private truth about a recognizable public figure, this ambitious and inventive novel makes free use of its historical material, creating a story with meaning and dramatic weight entirely its own. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
The publisher's lead title for April reimagines the early days of TV--and a host's improbable on-air murder. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
W. D. Wetherell is the author of eleven previous works of fiction and nonfiction. He has received two fellowships from teh National Endowment for the Arts, two O. Henry Awards, the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters' Strauss Living Award. He lives in Lyme, New Hampshire, with his wife and two children.
Morning wasn't morning until McGowan came to town. This would have been the
early autumn of 1950, that difficult corner year between then and now. He'd
done well with his evening show in Chicago, but he was convinced that
nighttime would be the slums of TV, and in any case his affairs had caught
up with him and it was time to move on. New York, summoning him like that,
seemed the providential next step. Yes, he had done well in television. No,
he had not forgotten the great romance of his life. Yes, he still had lots
left to prove. On that late September day when he got off the train in
Grand Central, tipped the porter to carry the one bag that was all he had,
walked up the ramp to daylight, stood there staring at the slick bronze of
the skyscrapers, as awestruck as any rube, he teetered on that most
appealing and vulnerable of points: a young man on the verge of making it
in the big splashy American way.
For what was morning before he confronted it, seized it, spun it all
around? An intermission between night and day, the neutral ground
separating nightmares from daydreams, reality's launching pad, hope's
fragile hour-the one moment in the day when if you felt courageous and
energetic and hopeful the sun backed you up. It was a time when people went
first thing to appraise the weather, suck in fresh air, stoop down to touch
the dew, rise again and stretch. It was a time when chores were still
performed before breakfast, cows milked, sidewalks shoveled, faces scrubbed
behind the ears. Wives pulled on robes and went outside to cut flowers for
the breakfast table, waved to neighbors doing the same, then went in to
break eggs into cast-iron skillets with thick cuts of ham. Kids played
outdoors, got shouted at to get ready for school, propped their bikes up
with kickstands, ready to zoom off the moment they finished. Cats scratched
at screendoors to get in or out. Dogs fetched newspapers. Roosters still
crowed. The city, the town, the village came once again to light.
Morning was the cards you'd been dealt by fate. You woke up and felt
lonely, circled your hand around on the sheets trying to summon up a genie
who would rescue you, then forced yourself to plunge back into another day
alone. You woke up beside someone you hated, bitterness a sandpaper collar
around your neck, cutting off your breath. You woke up beside someone you
loved, and reached for that familiar warmth and pulled it closer, no hurry
now, content to linger in the sweet, lazy hollow of awakening. And yet even
here you felt a little hunger, if you were lucky. Just enough vacancy in
the heart for the day to fill.
There was radio, but it was only music, or farm reports, or weather,
nothing that stopped you, made you sit down. Seven now and you were
showering. Seven-thirty and the first swallow of juice. Eight and the
morning paper. Eight-thirty and outside to the car or the station or the
tractor, joining the mainstream, everyone in lockstep, eyes squarely
forward on the day. But until you left home all you wanted from the rest of
the world was to know it was still there, and you could get that in those
little sounds and rumors that leaked in from outside. Birdsong in elms.
School buses changing gears. The clink of milk bottles on the stoop. Sun
edging through curtains. The soft summoning whistle of trains. Everyone did
morning differently, and yet everywhere it was the same. You woke up to who
you were in your narrow, most essential denomination, who you were when you
were alone, the larger world for ninety minutes be damned.
All this was in morning until McGowan regarded it, sensed everything was
not well there, turned it to his purpose. A morning so rich and textured
and unbroken, and yet all it took was for the right man to come along at
the critical moment, stare fixedly out into its depths, clear his throat to
its deepest baritone, peer down those horn-rimmed glasses, talk, and it all
Hence this biography etc.
Explain here in intro how he's remembered, but barely now. Aging boomers
mostly, the ones who as kids pressed close to the screen as they waited for
breakfast, hoping the picture would stop rolling, squinting at the
fuzziness to try and make it go sharp. They remember the chimpanzee, of
course. They remember the clumsy sidekick, Chet Standish, and all the
beautiful Morning girls, including Lee Palmer, prettiest of all. They
remember the window on 49th Street, the people outside mugging, waving,
holding up little signs with the names of their hometowns. They remember
how McGowan met his end. A good many claim they saw it happen, were
actually watching that last morning, and there are those who still remember
how it seemed to change everything from make-believe to all too real. The
early shows weren't taped, so little did anyone regard them, and the later
ones, on Electronicam or Kinescope, were either destroyed when more modern
taping methods became available or dissolved into acid while in storage.
What survives is barely a thousand feet of film from four years of
programming. As the film disappeared, as even smoother, more relaxed hosts
succeeded him on the program, the memory of McGowan disappeared, too, and
so only someone in their late fifties is old enough to actually remember
what he looked like on the tube.
Alec McGowan? Sure, the one who started the Morning show, the man with
glasses. Talent? Nothing obvious. Looks? Interesting, our mothers used to
say, with a certain look in their eyes. There was all kinds of stuff. The
chimp in diapers. That Chet guy stumbling into things, getting his words
wrong. The clocks showing what time it was all over the world. The smart
lady with the warm smile and the short hair, the one who was so obviously
nuts about him. His slogan, the sign-off everyone imitated. A lot of
educational stuff, too, though it's hard to say just what. Our dads put it
on when they got up in the morning and our moms turned it off when it was
time to go to school. Only when we left they turned it back on again,
because we caught her once and she blushed all red.
The fifty-year-olds grope, they squeeze their hands into fists and reach,
as if to pull from the ether what it was they found so compelling, and yet
only the shrewder ones come close to pinning down the secret of his
extraordinary success. A lot of people have spent their lives staring at a
television screen, but Alec McGowan was the only one who devoted his life,
right down to its brutal last seconds, to staring intently back out.
Support this with quotes. Intro blending into first chapter. Starting with
Jay etcetera and so forth. Thumbnail bios or blend right in?
Barbara Jay (1922-). Came to KDKA in Pittsburgh after stint with radio ad
agency in Evanston, then moved to New York with network. Head writer, Morning, 1950-53. Later formed independent production company. Emmy for
writing/producing documentary "Behind the Mask" exposing obstetricians
without licenses, 1963. Adjunct professor Columbia Graduate School of
Journalism 1965-92. Interview of 5/9/99.
Living out on Long Island like so many from early days. Southampton, house
built by bootlegger on bluff above pitch pine. Bright morning, wind
bringing in sunshine with surf, tossing both across rocks. Tall woman as in
pictures, only in pictures seems somehow older thanks to flouncy
skirt/thick lipstick/high heels; 1950 in drag (save that line). Now
jeans/leather vest/short hair, coming to door with boxer puppy in arms,
scolding it and kissing at same time.
Seventy-seven, she says right off. Horny as ever and backs this up with
grin. Strong forehead and chin are what's left from picture, except
everything in between has gone leathery. Voice burred by too many
cigarettes-a voice that snaps/crackles/bangs like an old manual typewriter.
What you have to remember, she says, is that smooth didn't work in those
days. The resolution was terrible, the matrix. Put on one of these pretty
boys you have nowadays and it would have been like watching scrambled eggs.
Crude didn't work either. There was this big thing about how we were being
allowed into people's homes and you had to look a certain way to pass
muster. The educational function, too-we took that very seriously. If you
go back you'll notice the first ones who made it big looked like professors
with bow ties and hankies.
That's who Abramsky was searching for. A host who could be seen through the
blur, someone handsome in an unusual way and more or less intellectual.
Namely, McGowan, who had made a big splash in Chicago. He had a forehead
that would have done justice to Einstein, but below that his shoulders were
wide as DiMaggio's, and no one, no one, ever looked better in a
double-breasted suit. He had a sleepy expression-only a little more awake
than you were yourself, and that went down easy.
His glasses were the big thing, of course. His trademark. He had horn-rims,
which must have been among the first pairs-everyone wore rimless before
that-and it made him interesting right off the bat. He didn't need them. He
needed them, but only tinted because the klieg lights were so strong. They
were big with the audience right from the start. He put them on, it was
like he was putting on the entire McGowan. In the Chicago days sometimes he
took them off on camera, like he was thinking and the only way he could do
that was suck on the earpieces. He was thinking, I can vouch for that, only
in those days it was about whether to screw the script girl or the
assistant grip. But it was the sexiest thing you ever saw, like he was
taking his clothes
off right there on camera. Those were the days when most TV sets were still
in bars, and they claimed the moment he took them off youcould stand outside any dive on the Loop and hear dozens of women moaning simultaneously as they came. The same thing happened on Morning. Women
loved him. Here was this sexy, intelligent, soft-spoken man appearing in
their homes when they were all alone. The show became-maybe it still is-the
biggest grosser in show business history, and those glasses were a big part
Study door opens, woman enters with tray. Black coffee, raspberry scones. A
younger woman, not by much. Spry in the old-fashioned way, vest just like
Jay's, only of velvet. Smiles as Jay rumples her hair. My partner, she says
proudly. The coffee. The scones. The window open, breeze coming in. The
iodine smell of seaweed and salt.
She talks on with her partner behind her. Explains how hard it was writing
cues for him. He'd ad lib all over the place, go off on his own for five
minutes at a stretch, and the writers would despair, throw their hands up,
but then he would wink and come out with it-how this new musical called Guys and Dolls was opening on Broadway that night and they'd woken the
chorus up early to do their final dress rehearsal right there in the
studio. He always hit the cue, but it would drive them crazy the loops he
took to get there.
But I'm wandering, she says. What I wanted to say about those glasses,
those horn-rims, was that they cut through the fuzziness. Watching out in
Peoria at the far end of the cable, using only rabbit ears, that's all you
could see sometimes. It wasn't like there was a man on the screen at all,
only those square black frames and they centered and held the picture like
nothing else could. He'd push them back on his nose, kind of tuck his head
in like this and squint down through one lens. People picked up on that
after a while, all the impersonators. "Well, old tiger." They picked up on
that, too, though even the best of them never got his purr down, the way it
People in the business were slow in taking him seriously, deciding whether
he was a visionary or a huckster, but I think both were pretty evenly
balanced. You know what grace means, in the old Latin sense? Gratia-favor.
Favored by the gods. He was favored all right, for those first years. You
thought about Hemingway's grace under pressure, too, seeing what he had to
deal with just in the way of getting the show on. Of course there was that
telegenic quality-he was blessed with good bioelectricity. But I wasn't
kidding before, what I said about his staring back out through the camera.
You wouldn't notice it sitting in the studio, but what I used to do was
take sponsors or network bigshots and pull them around to the monitor,
which, don't ask me why, was located right next to the ladies' john. There
it was obvious as soon as I pointed it out. Alec wasn't trying to see out
of his glasses-they were just transparent glass. He wanted to see out
through the camera, wanted to see who was watching and why, see right into
their souls. He had this wonderful curiosity about people that wasn't fake
at all, just as strong when he died as when he started. Look at me, that's
what all the pretty boys are saying if you watch them today. Study Alec, if
by some miracle you can find some tape, and you see it's just the opposite.
Look at you, he's saying, and that's why people responded to him right from
the start. He wasn't just bringing the world into ordinary people's lives,
he was bringing ordinary lives out into the world, and that's what made him
larger than life, a true hero, goddam his sexist soul to hell, even to me.
Michael Rinaldi (1924-2000). Deli clerk, Broadway Charlie's, 1948-54. Owner
Broadway Charlie's, 1956-82. Fast-food franchise owner, Fort Walton,
Florida. Interview of 6/18/99.
Tan, fit-looking, black T-shirt over plaid golf slacks. Sucks in what
little he has for gut, punches to show how tight. Enough hair left to brush
straight back from forehead, like bobbing crest of little bird. A contented
man, pleased to be found.
Yeah, yeah, sure. People still come up to me, even down here. Mike the
Muffin Man! Sometimes I correct them, sometimes I don't. It was always Mike
the Muffin, no man. I was short and plump in those days, my hair had kind
of a raisin-bran color, and so it was Mike the Muffin almost from the start.