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Dave Garroway

Louis Edouard Fournier (1819-1880), “The Funeral of Shelley” (1889) / Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Those “of a certain age” recall NBC’s “Today Show” and its founding host and anchor Dave Garroway, as thoughtful a personality as television has ever known. Insightful and dryly witty — he worked with a chimpanzee named J. Fred Muggs — Garroway ended each program with several lines of poetry that may not have been attributed or I may simply not have payed attention; I was, after all, eight or nine years old. Some time later I learned that these were part of the concluding stanzas of “Renascence”, a poem by Edna St Vincent Millay. Millay alternates with Charles Bukowski as the poet laureate of Agincourt, depending on my mood at the time. I’ve appended here those twelve concluding lines, though Garroway quoted just the first eight. The final four were too grim for early morning T.V.

“The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky,
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat—the sky
Will cave in on him by and by.”

What I hadn’t known until this afternoon was Garroway’s fate in the entertainment marketplace: He departed the show in 1961, shortly after his wife’s death of prescription overdose sent him into a deep depression from which he never recovered. Complications from heart surgery some years later only worsened his mental state and he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1982, sensing long before that he had become a dinosaur in the Ice Age of 70s T.V.

Somewhere in my heart, if not in Agincourt itself, there is a shrine to Garroway’s easygoing reassuring presence throughout the cold War of my youth. I can still hear his voice in my mind’s ear.

How, I wonder, would Dave have dealt with the current occupant of the White House — He who shall not be named — given that Garroway’s “co-host” was a simian with greater intelligence than DJT; certainly possessing a larger vocabulary. Do you suppose there are old kinescopes of his programs?

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