George DeWitt

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George DeWitt (December 30, 1922 in Atlantic City, New Jersey – July 14, 1979 in Miami, Florida) was an American singer and comedian, best known was the host of the 1950s musical quiz television program, Name That Tune, which featured contestants guessing the name of popular tunes from a limited amount of notes, using his singing ability and good looks to make the show a hit. He later utilized his popularity on TV to become a recording artist for RKO Records.

Early life[edit]

DeWitt was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey. His given name was George Florentine, the second of four children (in order; Evelyn, George, Jackie, and Rudy Florentine). DeWitt's father Joseph was a police sergeant with the Atlantic City Police Department. As a boy during the Great Depression, DeWitt would sing on the street corners in Atlantic City for tips. Later, as a young man during high school, he would work as a singing waiter in clubs around Atlantic City. DeWitt always knew that show business was his calling. In fact, he had two great passions; entertainment and learning to be a pilot (he became accomplished at both). DeWitt would later serve his country as a pilot with the US Army Air Corps. Eventually, he entertained in USO tours during WWII. His nightclub and theater stints afterward led to becoming one of the first comedians to open for Frank Sinatra.

Music career[edit]

One evening during the 1950s at the legendary 500 Club in Atlantic City (where George’s brother Rudy worked) DeWitt entertained with the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr.) While Davis was on stage doing a great job impersonating Jack Benny, DeWitt walked out from the wings, and ad-libbed an outstanding impersonation of Jack Benny’s radio-TV valet Eddie "Rochester" Anderson. This might have been the first time that an African-American entertainer impersonated a white character, while a white entertainer impersonated an African-American character.

DeWitt soon was playing bigger venues, developing quite an entertainment resume. In September 1953, DeWitt appeared with Frank Sinatra and Bud and CeCe Robinson at the famous Bill Miller's Riviera. DeWitt was known best as the emcee of the hit TV show Name That Tune. Originally produced by Harry Salter, Name That Tune ran from 1953 to 1959 on NBC and CBS in prime time. The first hosts were Red Benson and Bill Cullen, but George DeWitt became most identified with the show.

DeWitt recorded two record albums during the show's run. The first, Name That Tune with George Dewitt was recorded in 1956. The second was titled George DeWitt Sings That Tune, recorded in 1957. DeWitt could sing well, (Bill Cullen didn't) which was vital to the show's success. CBS dropped the series in the wake of the quiz scandals, even though Name That Tune wasn’t implicated as much as Twenty One or The $64,000 Question. DeWitt made a number of guest appearances on television, including an appearance on the Frank Sinatra variety TV show with the Three Stooges.

Film and television[edit]

DeWitt appeared in the movie A Hole in the Head with Frank Sinatra in 1959, as well as hosting another short-lived TV show called Be Our Guest during the 1960-1961 TV season and guest appearances on television shows such as The Gisele MacKenzie Show, Hawaiian Eye and Surfside Six between 1960-1962. He spent the rest of the 1960s playing club dates in New York City, Miami Beach, and the Catskills (the Borscht Belt).

During the 1970s DeWitt retired from actively performing, choosing to “ghost write” for other comedians. DeWitt came out of retirement in 1974, appearing with Dustin Hoffman in the film Lenny, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress.

He died from a heart attack in 1979.

DeWitt was survived by a son, Jay Florentine (a telecommunications executive) from his marriage to actress Claire Kelly.

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