"In 1953 Arthur Godfrey opened his first television show by diving off a boat and swimming ashore. He waded into the camera saying, "It's great down here at Miami Beach. Why don't you come down? It's warm. The moon's out."Just five days before the above article was published, the News reported "Arthur Godfrey, the man who helped put Miami Beach on the map, will celebrate his 30th year with the Columbia Broadcasting System this week by originating his coast-to-coast radio show from the Convention Hall Thursday."
"With this illustrated endorsement Godfrey started a tourist rush. Within six months the City Of Miami Beach got a record number of inquiries from potential visitors.
"At a luncheon yesterday in [the] Miami Beach Convention Hall, attended by 900 or so grateful well-wishers, Godfrey was still plugging Miami Beach." —Miami News, Feb. 28, 1964.
In 1964 Godfrey had been broadcasting from Miami Beach for 11 years.
In 1956, three years after he brought his popular show to the Beach, a group of grateful 41st Street merchants petitioned the city to rename the street Arthur Godfrey Road.
|Jan. 8, 1955.|
(In the late 1950s the word "swank" was often used to describe Arthur Godfrey Road. In 1959 Miami Beach businessmen and religious leaders panicked after learning that the head of Royal Castle planned to open one his hamburger joints on the street.)
But Godfrey was more than just an entertainer and a pitchman for Miami Beach.
|Still from "Flying With Arthur Godfrey" |
According to his 1983 obituary in the New York Times, "he constantly plugged the glories of air travel on his shows, and on one occasion [WW I ace and one-time chairman of Eastern Airlines] Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker credited Mr. Godfrey with having done more for the aviation industry than anyone since Charles A. Lindbergh." (In 1953, Godfrey and Rickenbacker starred in a film produced for Miami-based Eastern Airlines that commemorated 50 years of powered flight.)
When Godfrey died in March 1983, his page one obituary in the Miami News said he "soft-sold Florida to millions upon millions of snowbound, ice-weary Americans...."
"He made TV and promotional history here," the News quoted publicist Hank Meyer as saying.
But just a year and half after Godfrey died, one Miami Beach commissioner wanted Godfrey's name gone from 41st Street.
"Arthur Godfrey means nothing to this community anymore," declared Miami Beach Commissioner Bruce Singer in October 1984.
Singer was soon getting stacks of hate mail, and a month after he proposed that Godfrey's name be removed, he was backpedaling.
In a letter to the Miami News, Singer blamed the 41st Street Merchants Association for raising the issue.
Now, thirty years after Singer tried and failed to get Godfrey's name removed, another Miami Beach commissioner is trying again.
In a June 30 memo to City Manager Jimmy Morales, Commissioner Joy Malakoff asked that an "item regarding removing the Arthur Godfrey Road co-name be placed on the July 23rd Commission agenda."
A July 31 Miami Herald story quotes Malakoff as saying, “Arthur Godfrey is no longer well-known or well-regarded in the city of Miami Beach by many. This is no longer 1956. I think we should call it 41st Street.” Malakoff offers no proof to support her claim that Godfrey is no longer "well-regarded."
(Pop quiz: How many co-designated street names are there in Miami-Dade County? Click here for the answer.)
The Herald story also recycles oft-repeated and unfounded rumors of Godfrey's alleged anti-Semitism, citing the fact that the hotel where the entertainer's 1950s shows were broadcast from - the Kenilworth - did not allow Jews to stay there.
But Howard Kleinberg, a Miami Beach historian and former Miami News editor points out that “There were a lot of restrictive hotels in Miami Beach. [And] none would allow blacks.”
Seth Bramson, a South Florida author who claims to be a "historian," wrote in a 2008 book that "Godfrey was known as a virulent anti-Semite." But like others before him, he offers no sources or proof.
Bramson, despite calling himself a "historian," apparently wasn't curious enough to ask why "900 or so well-wishers" would fete a "virulent anti-Semite" at that Miami Beach Convention Center luncheon in 1964.
And had Bramson the "historian" researched a little more thoroughly, he would have learned that at a testimonial dinner in 1954, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation presented Godfrey with a hand-wrought, silver-covered Hebrew Bible honoring him for "outstanding service to his fellow man and his community."
According to the Herald, during a commission meeting last June, Commissioner Jonah Wolfson said that "if the anti-Semitism claims can be validated, then the name should be removed. But that otherwise, removing the name would validate rumors." [Emphasis mine.]
“I think you want to be very careful to do this because if there’s details that do prove that those are positions that he held... then you want to take the name off as quick as you can,” Wolfson said. “But if you can’t show that, at the same time, I don’t think you want to come into a public setting and say that there was a suggestion of anti-Semitism, and then take the name down. Then you’re calling somebody something without necessary proof.”But Malakoff doesn't overtly claim that Godfrey was an anti-Semite. Instead, she suggests it, somewhat deceitfully, by claiming that Godfrey is "no longer well-regarded by many in the city." She doesn't say who the "many" are.
Note to Commissioner Malakoff: Do a little research before the next commission meeting on July 23rd and you may learn just how well-known and how well-regarded Arthur Godfrey still is.