John Cameron Swayze

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
John Cameron Swayze
John Cameron Swayze News Caravan 1955.JPG
Born(1906-04-04)April 4, 1906
DiedAugust 15, 1995(1995-08-15) (aged 89)
  • News presenter
  • reporter
  • game show panelist
Years active1940–1985
Beulah Mae Estes
(m. 1935)
Children1 son, 1 daughter

John Cameron Swayze (April 4, 1906 – August 15, 1995) was an American news commentator and game show panelist during the 1940s and 1950s who later became best known as a product spokesman.

Early life[edit]

Born in Wichita, Kansas, Swayze was the son of a wholesale drug salesman.[1] He attended school in Atchison, Kansas,[2] and at Culver Military Academy.[3] He left the university before graduating, opting instead for work in radio.[4]

Swayze first sought to work as an actor, but his activity on Broadway ended when acting roles became scarce following the Wall Street Crash of 1929.[2]


Early Years[edit]

Swayze returned to the Midwest and worked for the Kansas City Journal-Post as a reporter and as radio editor. From the newsroom, he narrated bulletins for broadcast by Kansas City radio station KMBZ via a microphone the station had placed at the newspaper.[5] On September 27, 1933, he also began the radio program Stranger Than Fiction.[6] In addition, Swayze worked in sports, writing about and broadcasting football games,[7] and took part in early experimental television broadcasts.[5]

Swayze began working full-time doing news updates for KMBZ in 1940. He broadcast news items prepared by United Press Kansas City bureau overnight editor Walter Cronkite.[8]


In 1946, Swayze went to Hollywood, where NBC hired him as director of news and special events for its Western Division.[9]

NBC transferred Swayze to New York City, where he proposed a radio quiz program he called Who Said That Quote.[5] Some sources claim that the show was first proposed and edited by Fred W. Friendly, later of CBS News,[10] who co-produced it with his first wife, Dorothy Greene.[11] In the series, celebrities tried to determine the speaker of quotations taken from recent news reports.[10]

NBC premiered the radio program, re-titled Who Said That?, in October 1948. It subsequently also ran on television, from December 1948 until July 1955. Swayze was a permanent panel member of the show and was referred to as the anchorman in what may be the first usage of this term on television.[12]

NBC appointed Swayze the host of its national political convention coverage in 1948, the first commercial coverage ever by television. (NBC Television did broadcast the 1940 Republican National Convention from Philadelphia on a noncommercial, semi-experimental basis, seen in just three cities: Philadelphia, New York City and Schenectady, NY.)


In 1948 NBC produced The Camel Newsreel Theatre, a 10-minute program of daily events using newsreel film, which Swayze narrated and often scripted.[2] It was a precursor of the modern television network news program, sponsored by R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, maker of Camel cigarettes.

In February 1949, NBC premiered the 15-minute Camel News Caravan, with Swayze appearing on screen. It was the first NBC news program to use NBC-filmed news stories rather than movie newsreels. Swayze read items from the news wires and periodically interviewed newsmakers, but he is remembered best for reporting on the Korean War nightly and for his two catchphrases: "Let's go hopscotching the world for headlines" and his signoff: "That's the story, folks—glad we could get together."[13]

Veteran broadcaster David Brinkley wrote in a memoir that Swayze got the job because of his ability to memorize scripts, which allowed him to recite the news when the primitive teleprompters of the time failed to work properly. Walter Cronkite also credited Swayze with an amazing memory, able to recite the news without resorting to a script.[8]

In early 1955, R.J. Reynolds reduced its sponsorship of the Camel News Caravan to three days a week. Chrysler's Plymouth division sponsored the other days, and on those days the program was titled the Plymouth News Caravan. Eventually, NBC executives tired of Swayze's flamboyant delivery style, in contrast to anchorman Douglas Edwards's comparatively low-key delivery. His rival broadcast on CBS, Douglas Edwards with the News, began to attract Swayze's viewers, hurting his ratings.[14][15] In 1956, Swayze was dismissed in favor of the new team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. By 1959 The Huntley-Brinkley Report soon became the nation's top-rated television newscast. CBS replaced Edwards in April 1962 with Walter Cronkite.

Other TV roles[edit]

From 1955 to 1957 Swayze hosted and narrated the long-running television drama series The Armstrong Circle Theatre (1950–1963). He hosted the ABC daytime television game show Chance for Romance[16] as well as the syndicated travel program It's a Wonderful World (1963).[17] Swayze was also a substitute host on the television game show To Tell the Truth (1956-1968).[16]: 1089 

Product spokesman[edit]

Over a period of twenty years beginning in 1956, Swayze became widely known as the commercial spokesman for Timex watches, and for the slogan "It takes a licking and keeps on ticking." In one of these commercials, performed live, he strapped the watch to the propeller blades of an outboard motor, lowered it into a tank of water and ran the motor for a few seconds. When he pulled the motor out of the water and tipped up the blades, the watch was missing. Unfazed, he ad libbed, "It's probably on the bottom of the tank–still ticking."[18] Swayze performed in Timex commercials that were mock newscasts before delivering the trademark catchphrase.

Swayze appeared in commercials for auto manufacturer Studebaker, promoting the company's 1963 "Standard" model.[19]

He also appeared in a Volvo television commercial, driven in an early 1970s two-door model on a muddy racetrack by a professional rally driver. In a tip of the hat to Swayze's Timex commercials, the announcer intones, "We've strapped John Cameron Swayze to this stock, standard Volvo to demonstrate just how much this man can take."[20]

Swayze appeared in a 1984 commercial for radio station WHTZ in New York City, which was broadcast in other markets promoting different radio stations.

Popular culture[edit]

He was satirized by comics Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman, whose first "break-in" novelty record (a mock newscast spliced with current rock and roll music), "The Flying Saucer," satirized him as reporter John Cameron Cameron (played by Goodman). Swayze is referenced in a lyric of Allan Sherman's novelty song "My Grandfather's Watch," a parody of "My Grandfather's Clock" by Henry Clay Work.

In 1980, Ray Stevens recorded a novelty song titled "The Watch Song," in which his character, in a bar, is approached by a cowboy whose wife he's been seeing and who challenges him to a fight. Outside, in the course of the fight, the cowboy stomps on the watch and busts it beyond repair. In the refrain, Ray's character calls out to John Cameron Swayze (who, in a series of 1960s commercials, would subject a Timex watch to a grueling physical test, then show it still to be ticking away) to tell him how crazy it sounds to say that the cowboy had busted a watch that had been shot at, dipped in beer, and tied to a motorboat and dragged on a beach. At the sight of his busted watch, Ray's character freaks out and beats the cowboy to death.

Swayze made periodic cameo appearances in movies beginning with 1957's Face in the Crowd and the first scene of 1968’s “The Boston Strangler,” a newscast about Boston’s parade celebrating the feats of the John Glenn’s Mercury orbit.

Swayze was fairly frequently mentioned on the television series The Golden Girls. In episode 805 of Mystery Science Theater 3000, when the watch of a character in the movie The Thing That Couldn't Die is found in a traderat's nest, Tom Servo exclaims: "John Cameron Traderat".

In the 1940s scene of the 1994–present version of Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, John extols the virtues of television, stating "I kind of like it, you know? A guy named John Cameron Swayze gives us all the news and then they have all this singing and dancing. A lot of fluff, but it's fun."

For over 20 years, Swayze was the spokesman for Timex watch commercials and was one of the most recognized personalities on television.[21] Swayze’s line at the end of each commercial, "It takes a licking and keeps on ticking," became an iconic phrase and part of American pop culture.


In 1950 Swayze received the Alfred I. duPont Award.[22]

Personal life[edit]

Swayze was the son of Jesse Ernest Swayze and Christine Cameron, aka Camerona (cited by some sources). His father's name is of Norman French origin and dates back to Dorset, England, in the early 17th century. He married Beulah Mae Estes in 1935. He died in Sarasota, Florida, on August 15, 1995.[23]

Swayze and the actor-brothers Patrick Swayze and Don Swayze were sixth cousins once removed. Both John and Patrick's father were descendants by seven generations of Judge Samuel Swayze and his wife, Penelope Horton. 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 lineages are actors William Holden and Tom Hulce, and Evgenia Citkowitz, wife of actor Julian Sands.[24]


  1. ^ Randy Kennedy (August 17, 1995). "John Cameron Swayze, 89, Journalist and TV Pitchman". The New York Times. p. B12.
  2. ^ a b c "Swayze, John Cameron". Retrieved February 24, 2022.
  3. ^ "(untitled brief)". The Atchison Daily Globe. Kansas, Atchison. March 18, 1923. p. 3. Retrieved September 27, 2019 – via
  4. ^ Christy, Marian (September 16, 1979). "Cameras And Action Second Nature To John Camerion Swayze". Daily Press. Virginia, Newport News. p. 92. Retrieved September 27, 2019 – via
  5. ^ a b c Roman, James W. (2005). From Daytime to Primetime: The History of American Television Programs. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-31972-3.
  6. ^ "Radio Favorites on Bee Station in New Schedule". The Fresno Bee The Republican. California, Fresno. September 27, 1933. p. 5. Retrieved September 27, 2019 – via
  7. ^ "Today's Features". Chicago Tribune. Illinois, Chicago. November 24, 1938. p. 40. Retrieved September 28, 2019 – via
  8. ^ a b Bliss, Jr., Edward W. (2010). Now The News: The Story of Broadcast Journalism. Columbia University Press. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-231-52193-2.
  9. ^ "John Cameron Swayze To NBC In Hollywood". The Atchison Daily Globe. Kansas, Atchison. February 20, 1946. p. 1. Retrieved September 30, 2019 – via
  10. ^ a b Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle (2007). "Who Said That?". The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows - 1946-Present (Ninth ed.). p. 1513. ISBN 978-0-345-49773-4. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  11. ^ "Fred Friendly, Pioneering Television Journalist, Dies". Los Angeles Times. 5 March 1998. Retrieved February 26, 2022.
  12. ^ "If Cronkite wasn't TV's first anchorman, who was?". Futurity. Retrieved 15 October 2012.
  13. ^ "The Cigarette Company That Reinvented Television News". 22 February 2019. Retrieved February 24, 2022.
  14. ^ Johnston, Lyle (2003). Good Night Chet, A Biography of Chet Huntley. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland Inc., Publishers. p. 148. ISBN 978-0786415021.
  15. ^ "Ted Stillwell – John Cameron Swayze, Howdy Doody and other old-time TV". The Examiner. Retrieved February 26, 2022.
  16. ^ a b Terrace, Vincent (2011). Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010 (2nd ed.). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p. 175. ISBN 978-0-7864-6477-7.
  17. ^ Erickson, Hal (1989). Syndicated Television: The First Forty Years, 1947-1987'. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 176. ISBN 0-7864-1198-8.
  18. ^ "John Swayze watched Timex 'take a licking'". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved February 26, 2022.
  19. ^ "Introducing the 1963 Studebaker Standard". Motor City Garage. Retrieved February 28, 2022.
  20. ^ "Edward McCabe". The One Club for Creativity. Retrieved February 28, 2022.
  21. ^ "John Cameron Swayze". The Pendergast Years. 2018-02-21. Retrieved 2022-05-16.
  22. ^ All duPont–Columbia Award Winners Archived 2012-08-14 at the Wayback Machine, Columbia Journalism School. Retrieved 2013-08-06.
  23. ^ Cameron Swayze dead at 89
  24. ^ Schoenberger, Nancy (2012-07-18). Dangerous Muse: The Life of Lady Caroline Blackwood. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-307-82235-2.

External links[edit]

Media offices
Preceded by
NBC evening news anchors (as the Camel News Caravan)
February 1949 – October 26, 1956
Succeeded by
Preceded by ABC Evening News News anchor
1960 – 1962
Succeeded by