Here’s that other big interview you’ve been anticipating. Of course, if you haven’t anticipated it, SURPRISE!
Tonight, I’m also interviewing that great man, Mr. Don Morrow. A legend in his field whose experience goes back as far as television itself (63 years to be exact). You will soon discover another side to this man. Whether it’s good or bad, I won’t say. Here’s a picture of him.
No, that’s not Sean Connery. It’s actually Don Morrow. I know, you’re all disappointed. However, should I find Mr. Connery, you’ll be among the first to know, but that’s beside the point.
Greg Palmer: Hello, Don. First off, how did you get involved in broadcasting?
Don Morrow: I got into broadcasting in Syracuse, NY after WWII as a result of taking a class in announcing. I simply loved it, got an A in it and started auditioning at local stations. The first TV station had just opened and I was first in looking for a job. This was WHEN, Channel 8 owned by Meredith Publishing. I did the news, emcee whatever, run back into the booth for the station breaks, et al. After 3 weeks, they paid me $3 a night (we were on Mon to Fri 7pm to 10pm) to open at 7 with a voiceover for Joe Schweitzer’s Bar and Grill in West Syracuse…so I actually started in VO on television.
GP: You’ve announced a number of shows, including GE College Bowl with the late Allen Ludden. What was that like? Do you have any experiences you’d like to share?
DM: In the 2 or 3 years on television with the College Bowl, I had an hilarious time with Ludden. Bill Lewis (agency producer) and I would create scenarios to terrify Allen, such as “Don’t look out on the wing Allen, the engine is on fire” and all other sorts of juvenile stuff.. Boy did we have fun.
GP: You’ve done a number of prolific gigs in the past 25 years or so. One of those was replacing Jay Stewart on Sale of the Century. How did you land the job?
DM: I’m not sure now but Jay may have died and they needed somebody fast. The producers were friends of mine and I needed a job because my on-camera career was ebbing. I announced game shows all through the fifties, had my own in the sixties, heavy in commercials all through those years, finished off as the Shell Answer Man in the eighties and was looking for work instead of it looking for me by the end of the eighties.
GP: Your next show was Now You See It, when you replaced a local DJ by the name of Mark Driscoll. How did you get the job?
DM: Somebody went from Sale to Now You See It and asked me over. The only thing I really remember about that limited exposure was that they gave me about an extra $100 a show to buy stuff for the warm-up and I’d go to the Price Club (now Costco) and buy huge bags of popcorn for the audience. CBS got pissed off because the audience would eat it during the show and make a helluva mess in the studio. I remember a little weasel named Dawson (if that’s Dick Dawson’s son) who used to bug me about nonsense and I’d ignore him. He just wanted to shoe some authority as an assistant’s assistant. I think it went off because of bad ratings….usually the reason.
GP: Next, you did The Challengers with Dick Clark (with whom I will probably never get an interview with, all things considered), one of the reasons he couldn’t host the 1991 revival of The $100,000 Pyramid. Interestingly enough, it’s probably the only game show I know of where you can get your winnings handed to you in a debit card. I’ve seen stacks of cash put in bags, cash given away in suitcases, checks, but never in plastic. Also, you had a nice little deal with Newsweek. That’s probably how the show was able to keep up with current events. Nowadays, you can probably get away with having a computer in the host’s lectern. That way, he or a judge could stop tape, Google the answer to verify, and then start the tape again. Still, for 1991, what Challengers did was incredible. It’s just a shame that the show was cancelled only after a year. It should’ve lasted longer, but it didn’t. Don, I’ve asked this question to countless people and it seems that the most common reason a show is cancelled is because of ratings. I can also infer that the Merv Griffin Suite also had a major role in the extinction of this game. Is that pretty much it or is there more?
DM: Somebody from Now You See It moved over to Dick’s show and called me. As far as the handling of prizes go, I have no opinion nor did anyone ask me at the time. What I do remember most was that Dick had a make-up girl who was one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen. As to why the show went off, I have no idea unless Dick’s Parkinson’s was getting worse. I was commuting back and forth to my home in CT. And really wasn’t involved with being [anything] other than a voice for hire. The Internet of course is the future for about everything. I do as much VO today for the Internet as I do for radio and TV commercials. At my age, I’m lucky and happy just to be working. I’ve been doing this stuff for over 60 years.
GP: Wow, you mean “America’s Oldest Teenager” has Parkinson’s?
DM: Dick does have Parkinson’s and his father died of it. He told me when we were having lunch one day.
GP: Recently, strange things have been happening in the field of game show announcing. All of Rich Fields’ potential heirs on The Price is Right are improv comedians. Joey Fatone’s announcing Family Feud, and just recently we’ve had the first female announcer in Wheel of Fortune‘s history (not to mention Vanna doing a few plugs herself). Why do you think this is happening?
DM: The changes happen as a result of the audience desire for something new and the producer’s desire to capture more audience. You will see things changing ever faster as you grow older…it’ll make your head spin. None of this is even remotely like the business I entered in 1949. I miss the old days and the 3 martini lunches with my advertising agency pals, mostly gone now. But the good news is, I work as much right in one of the kid’s bedrooms that I turned into a studio without that 4 hours of commuting to NYC every day.
GP: Now you teach other people how to do voiceovers while still staying busy in the V/O field yourself. You certainly disprove the saying, “Those who can’t, teach.” What else are you doing now?
DM: Sort of just answered that question, didn’t I? I started teaching in Hollywood about 13 or 14 years ago, was involved with a crook who stole the money, dumped him and started teaching here in CT, about 11 years ago, put out what I’m pretty sure is the only one-on-one home study course in the whole world and work just about every day. Nationally, for the past several months, I’ve been voicing the DirecTV ads with Peyton Manning, Jeopardy Tournament of Stars promos and a goodly number of regional campaigns. If anyone wants to check me out, go to donmorrowvoiceovers.com and they can wallow in all kinds of nostalgia from Clint Eastwood’s first Spaghetti Westerns to James Cameron’s Titanic and Fortune 500 companies up the gazoo.. It’s been a happy ride and sure beats working.
GP: I understand you’ve written a new book, Don. Please, tell us about it.
DM: I’ve written a book about a vet pal of mine from WWII who I know from Hollywood. His name is Al Brown and god-willing, he’ll be 106 come October. He is the oldest living veteran of our war. Google the danbury news-times.com Jan.5 and see the front page.
GP: Finally, what advice do you have for those who want to enter your field of work?
DM: 3 words of advice for anyone entering any desirable field….persistence, persistence, persistence. If you don’t have it, go on welfare.
GP: Thank you very much, Don.
DM: Thanks, Greg.
Again, I’d like to thank Don Morrow for this interview. This demonstrates a point I once read in a religious manual. 3 men were working cutting stone. The first man says, “I am cutting stone.” The second man says, “I am earning 3 gold coins a day.” The 3rd man says, “I am building a house of God.” Guess which man Don is.