Jack Lescoulie circa 1954.
November 17, 1912|
|Died||July 12, 1987
Jack Lescoulie (November 17, 1912—July 22, 1987) was a radio and television announcer and host, notably on NBC's Today during the 1950s and 1960s; a newspaper source lists his date of birth as May 17, 1912. Lescoulie was also known for his impersonation of comedian Jack Benny.
Lescoulie was born in Sacramento, California. His parents were both in vaudeville along with their children; Lescoulie's first public performance was at age 7. His first media job was with KGFJ, Los Angeles, when he was still in high school. The young Lescoulie helped the radio station cover the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. Lescoulie has a star for his work in television on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In the early 1930s, Lescoulie had an orchestra that broadcast on KGFJ in California. He was billed as the "Grouchmaster" on The Grouch Club (1938–40), a program in which people aired their complaints about anything, created by future TV legend Nat Hiken, creator of The Phil Silvers Show /You'll Never Get Rich and Car 54, Where Are You?. In the 1940s, he was morning-drive partner to Gene Rayburn on WNEW radio (now WBBR) in New York City, before turning over his role in the team to Dee Finch. The Lescoulie and Finch pairings with Rayburn provided what are believed to be radio's first two-man morning teams.
During World War II, Lescoulie served as a war correspondent, flying in Air Force planes on bombing missions over Italy.
In the fall of 1947, Lescoulie became the "all night radio man" on the Mutual Broadcasting System's New York affiliate WOR (AM). On April 12, 1948, he portrayed a mysterious newscaster in "Twelve to Five," a Quiet, Please fantasy drama which recreated an all-night request radio program so convincingly that some listeners phoned in with requests. He returned to Quiet Please June 4, 1949, in the horror drama, "Tanglefoot."
On television, Lescoulie hosted one of the earliest TV game shows, Fun and Fortune (1949) which lasted only one episode, and he was an announcer on Jackie Gleason's Cavalcade of Stars (1949–52), as well as the original network announcer for The Honeymooners (1955–56). He continued to announce for Gleason into the mid-1960s, at which time Gleason began to exclusively use Johnny Olson.
During his long run on Today (1952–67), Lescoulie was a versatile cast member, as his duties included announcing the show at the top and bottom of every hour, conducting interviews, reporting on sports, chatting with the crowd outside the studio and acting as a foil for Dave Garroway's pranks. He once joked that, despite his war correspondent credentials, he was picked for Today because he thought "they were looking for a man who doesn't sleep well in the mornings."
He was a purveyor of light features, nicknamed "The Saver" by Garroway for his ability to liven up otherwise dull segments. Typical Lescoulie sketches included acting a scene from Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra with Jayne Mansfield in July, 1956, and being hit in the face with a pie by Buster Keaton in April, 1963. Often, Lescoulie would act as a traveling companion for Garroway to Today's overseas visits. He co-anchored the remote portions of both the 1959 Paris trip and the 1960 Rome voyage. It was during the latter that Lescoulie took an "accidental" dive into Trevi Fountain in front of unsuspecting pedestrians.
Lescoulie went through a brief stint as host of The Tonight Show for six months in 1957. After Steve Allen's departure from Tonight in January, NBC renamed the show Tonight! America After Dark and transformed it into an interview and news program modeled after Today. Lescoulie, and then Al "Jazzbo" Collins, served as hosts. Lescoulie's tenure ran from January 28 to June 21, 1957.
For a period starting in 1958, Today ceased live broadcasts and instead taped the afternoon before. The official line from NBC said the change would add flexibility in scheduling interviews, though the real reason had more to do with relieving strain on the cast. When Garroway left the show in the summer of 1961, NBC announced Today would resume its live broadcasts on July 17. Lescoulie promptly resigned, saying "I can't face those hours anymore."
Between 1938 and 1950, Lescoulie had a number of roles as a film actor, mostly uncredited, but he used the name Joe Hartman when he acted in the aviation drama Emergency Landing (1941).
- Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur (1939), a Chuck Jones short in which Lescoulie played Casper Caveman
- Malibu Beach Party (1940), a Friz Freleng short where he voiced Jack Bunny.
Both of Lescoulie's characters were impersonations of Jack Benny.
Lescoulie died July 22, 1987, in St. Francis Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was undergoing treatment for colon cancer.
- "Founding host of 'Today,' Jack Lescoulie, dies at 75". California, San Bernardino. The San Bernardino County Sun. July 23, 1987. p. 6. Retrieved March 28, 2016 – via Newspapers.com.
- Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur at IMDb.com
- Malibu Beach Party at IMDb.com
- "Jack Lescoulie-Hollywood Star Walk". LA Times. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
- "(radio listing)". California, Santa Ana. Santa Ana Register. October 10, 1933. p. 12. Retrieved March 27, 2016 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Quiet Please: "Twelve to Five", April 12, 1948". Archived from the original on October 27, 2009. Retrieved December 19, 2007.
- NBC News Today, January 14, 1952
- NBC News Today, January 14, 1982
- The Today Show: An Anecdotal History, by Gerry Davis; pg. 31
- NBC News Today rundown, April 26, 1963
- The Today Show: An Anecdotal History by Gerry Davis, pg. 36
- "Stevenson Plans ABC Series" by Richard F. Shepard, New York Times, June 30, 1961, pg. 55
- "News of TV and Radio" by Val Adams, New York Times, April 22, 1962, pg. X17
- "Tapestry in Gray". Playbill. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
- "News of the Stage". New York, Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. October 3, 1935. p. 21. Retrieved March 27, 2016 – via Newspapers.com.
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