The Today Show in 1956: A Chimp, a Goofball, and Miss America

When the Today show first aired in 1951, the idea of early morning news was an oddity. But the show’s first host, Dave Garroway (plus Lee Meriwether and a chimpanzee), made it work.

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When the “Today” show first went on the air in January of 1951 with host Dave Garroway, the idea of an early morning news broadcast seemed crazy to NBC executives. Who wanted to get up at 7:00 a.m. to “look” at news?

As Garroway describes it in The Saturday Evening Post article from February 11, 1956, “I Lead a Goofy Life,” the show’s developers faced a lot of resistance to the idea. So they made the package more appealing by adding special features, interviews, and fashion shows.

Garroway was joined by Miss America Lee Meriwether in 1955. The producers even gave the program a mascot, a chimpanzee named J. Fred Muggs, who regularly appeared with Garroway. Within two years, the show was being watched by millions of viewers, who had to find a way to have breakfast and watch the program. (Back then, the family’s one, massive television set stood in the living room.) One person cut a hole in the kitchen wall so he could see the TV in the next room. Others hung mirrors in the kitchen that would catch the image off the screen in another room.

The chimp, fashion shows, and on-screen antics were great, but the main reason the affable Garroway thought the show ended up doing so well was that most people just wanted to “have a friend around the house.”

Read “I Lead a Goofy Life” from the February 11, 1956, issue of the Post.


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  1. An interesting behind-the-scenes look at the ‘Today Show’ while still in its infancy. I’m a big fan of the still beautiful Lee Meriwether. If anyone ever deserved the title of ‘Miss America’, she definitely did.

    I had no idea when putting the comments in on ‘The Most Famous American Princess’ you’d be doing a story just days later, where I’d get to mention Miss America again so soon!


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