Moore was born Thomas Garrison Morfit, III on January 31, 1915, in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Mason P. Morfit and Mary L. (née Harris) Morfit. He attended Baltimore City College, but dropped out to pursue a career in radio and writing. Starting in 1937, he worked for Baltimore radio station WBAL as an announcer, writer, and actor/comedian. He used his birth name until 1940, when, while on the air announcing Club Matinee hosted by Ransom Sherman at NBC, Chicago, Sherman held a radio contest to find a more easily pronounceable one. "Garry Moore" was the winning entry, which was submitted by a woman from Pittsburgh who received a prize of $100. It was on Club Matinee where he met his long-time friend and broadcasting partner Durward Kirby. In the years that followed, Moore appeared on numerous network radio shows. He started out as an announcer and then as support for broadcast personalities, one of whom was Jimmy Durante. From 1943–1947, Durante and Moore had a joint show, with Moore as the straight man. Impressed with his ability to interact with audiences, CBS offered him his own show. Starting in 1949, the one-hour daytime variety show The Garry Moore Show aired on CBS. Moore briefly returned to radio as host of NBC's "Monitor" in 1969.
Between 1947 and 1950, Moore began to make tentative steps into the new medium as a panelist and guest host on quiz and musical shows. On June 26, 1950, he was rewarded with his own 30-minute CBS early-evening talk-variety TV program The Garry Moore Show, which was a shorter version of his radio show. Until September 1950, it was also simulcast on radio. During 1950 and 1951, he hosted prime-time variety hour summer replacements for Arthur Godfrey and his Friends. He appeared as a guest star on other programs too, including CBS's Faye Emerson's Wonderful Town.
During his run as a variety show host, Moore was tapped to host CBS's weekly prime-time TV panel show I've Got a Secret. It premiered on June 19, 1952. It was on this show that Moore began his friendships with comedian Henry Morgan and game show host and panelist Bill Cullen, with whom he also had a long working relationship. Morgan himself stated that Moore had helped him to keep his job as a celebrity panelist on the show. Moore became known for his involvement in the variety of stunts and demonstrations of the show's contestants. The popularity of I've Got a Secret led to a cameo in the 1959 film It Happened to Jane. In the film, Doris Day's character was a contestant on the show, with Moore as well as the panel playing themselves.
Moore's variety program was moved to the daytime slot, where it ran until June 27, 1958. Within three months of the end of the daytime show, he and his longtime colleague Durward Kirby moved the revived The Garry Moore Show into prime time as a Tuesday night comedy and variety hour that ran from September 30, 1958, to June 14, 1964.
Although the show was a bigger hit in prime-time, Moore himself always preferred the daytime housewife audience. He thought that it gave the lonely housewives something to listen to and watch while they worked. The show provided a break into show business for many performers, including Alan King, Jonathan Winters, Carol Burnett, and Dorothy Loudon. The Garry Moore Show featured regular supporting cast members Durward Kirby, Denise Lor, and Ken Carson, as well as a mixture of song-and-dance routines and comedy skits, and introduced the public to comedienne Carol Burnett. After the show ended, Burnett became a star in her own right, hosting The Carol Burnett Show for many years.
The Garry Moore Show was cancelled in 1964, and in the summer of that year, after having been on radio and television for 27 uninterrupted years, Moore decided to retire, saying he had "said everything [he] ever wanted to say three times already." He gave up hosting I've Got A Secret and was replaced by comedian Steve Allen, who would host the show until the end of its run in 1967 (although Moore had ended his retirement before I've Got A Secret left the air, he never returned to the series to host and Allen helmed a subsequent, one-season syndicated revival in 1972). Moore's main activity during his hiatus was a trip around the world with his wife.
After two years, The Garry Moore Show returned to the CBS prime-time lineup in the fall of 1966. The week of the premiere, Moore appeared as the celebrity guest on I've Got A Secret to promote it. The new show was canceled mid-season because of low ratings against NBC's highly rated western Bonanza. The successful Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour replaced The Garry Moore Show in the CBS time slot. Moore then made sporadic guest television appearances, appearing as a panelist on various game shows, before Mark Goodson asked him to host another show.
That show was a revival of To Tell the Truth, which had ended its run on CBS in 1968. Moore was asked to host a revival of the series for syndication, which launched in September 1969. When To Tell the Truth was planned to be revived for syndication, producers Mark Goodson and Bill Todman originally wanted Bud Collyer to once again host the show.However, when they called Collyer, he declined, citing his ailing health. When Goodson and Todman called Moore about the job, he immediately contacted Collyer, who said to Moore that "I am just not up to it." Moore often took part in the show's silly and goofy stunts, as he had done on I've Got a Secret, performing magic tricks and cooking. This led to this version of To Tell the Truth being labeled similar to I've Got a Secret. Moore hosted the series from its premiere until the midway point of the 1976-77 season, the revival's eighth.
Retirement and death
Moore became ill in 1976 and was diagnosed with throat cancer. He left To Tell the Truth shortly before Christmas 1976 to undergo surgery, turning the show over to panelist Bill Cullen. Semi-regular panelist Joe Garagiola also acted as the host for several weeks, claiming he was "pinch-hitting" for Moore. Moore returned in September 1977 to begin To Tell the Truth's ninth season, to explain his sudden absence and to announce his permanent retirement, explaining that while recovering from his surgery, he believed that his throat cancer was a sign that continuing beyond his 42-year career would be "just plain greed". Joe Garagiola hosted the program for the rest of the season, which proved to be the final season.
Moore retired to Hilton Head, South Carolina, where he spent his time sailing, and also at his summer home in Northeast Harbor, Maine. He made two rare television appearances during his retirement, in a 1984 special on game-show bloopers hosted by William Shatner and in a late 1980s television tribute to Carol Burnett. Moore recounted the time circumstances forced him and Burnett to share a dressing room for one show. After many years, Moore said he had a confession to make: "I peeked." Burnett replied, "So did I."
Garry Moore died of emphysema at Hilton Head, South Carolina, on November 28, 1993, at the age of 78. He was buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Northeast Harbor, Maine.He was named one of the 15 greatest game-show hosts of all time by Time Magazine.