Henry Morgan (born, Henry Lerner Van Ost, Jr. on March 31, 1915) was an American humorist who is best remembered in radio as a satirist and on television as a panelist on I’ve Got a Secret.
Morgan began his radio career as a lowly page at WMCA in New York in 1932. His original name of Van Ost was changed to Morgan when his radio career began to take off as an announcer. Despite the fact that he disapproved the name change, Morgan was told to either ‘take it or leave it.’
Henry Morgan soon became known in radio circles as cantankerous and difficult to work with. He was once blacklisted when he was listed in the anti-communist pamphlet, Red Channels, as a communist sympathizer.
He was mentioned in the pamphlet because of his ex-wife’s allegations of Morgan’s leftist leanings. Later, Morgan confirmed that the allegations were true when he wrote his memoirs.
Meet Mr. Morgan aired in 1940 as a comedy that initially aired for 15 minutes each Saturday. Later, it was increased to air three times per week and then five times per week in the evening hours as The Henry Morgan Show.
Morgan was one of three comedians who became stars by knocking the ‘establishment.’ Fred Allen and Arthur Godfrey were the other two. Morgan was the most outspoken of the three, often turning his barbs on his own sponsors. Henry Morgan appeared as a guest several times on the Fred Allen Show.
In 1947 Henry Morgan starred in Dream Song an episode of Suspense playing a serious role, in contrast to anything he'd ever done before.
Morgan’s biting candor towards radio and his sponsors caused him to be fired – and one sponsor even threatened a lawsuit. But, Henry Morgan became the darling of his listeners, among them many intellectuals who eschewed the establishment.
One of Morgan’s sponsors, Life Savers, was accused by Morgan of cheating their customers by removing the center of the candy to make a hole. Morgan said that he would market the holes himself and call them, Morgan’s Mint Middles.
To make it worse, he named 3 of Life Saver’s six delicious flavors, cement, asphalt and asbestos. The candy company withdrew their sponsorship the following day, but soon found that Morgan was too popular to control. A cult following that included other humorists, children, people from all walks of life -and even a group in an insane asylum – expressed outrage to Life Savers for ending their sponsorship.
Morgan was moved from the Saturday morning slot and given his own 15 minute early evening slot by WOR, New York, where he could let off steam, and blend with the brash talking New Yorkers. His opening theme was based on the tune to For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, and the line, Good evening, anybody; here’s Morgan! The program closed with, Morgan’ll be on this same corner in front of the cigar stand next week at this same time.
For a while, Morgan’s negative advertising style was popular, but eventually it fell into distaste with the public. Morgan never achieved the popularity of the milder mannered, Arthur Godfrey and more comedic Fred Allen.
Henry Morgan passed away of lung cancer on 19th May 1994, a few weeks after he made a national television appearance on Talk Live.