CNN U.S. News

John Cameron Swayze dead at 89

August 16, 1995

From Correspondent Brian Jenkins

(CNN) -- In 1949 television was a new-fangled box few people could afford, and news film from overseas took days to arrive. The NBC Network included only a handful of east coast stations, and its first anchorman spoke with a clipped Midwestern accent.

John Cameron Swayze was born in Wichita, Kansas. He was the son of a wholesale drug salesman. Cameron came to Broadway seeking fame in 1929, but with Wall Street's crash, acting parts became scarce. So Swayze went back west and got a reporting job with a Kansas City newspaper, later doing radio updates and even an experimental TV newscast.

In 1947, he landed a radio job with NBC in New York. But the next year, his bosses stuck him with handling the first-ever TV coverage of the national political conventions.

Fred Friendly, later the producer of Edward R. Murrow's "See It Now" series, but then president of CBS news, recalls how the big names in radio news hated the new medium. "They couldn't care less than they did about television," says Friendly, "cause they thought that radio was gonna survive and television wouldn't. Television turned out to be a monster."

Swayze built up monster ratings with his energetic manner. He wrote most of the scripts and memorized them so he could look directly as his audience. "He could remember anything, anything at all," says Friendly.

When his ratings sagged and he was replaced in 1956 with Huntley and Brinkley, Swayze became a pitchman for Timex watches. There, he boosted sales faster than the company could boost production by uttering the famous line in countless commercials, "It takes a licking and keeps on ticking!"

Swayze kept ticking along in good health until a broken hip in April left him bedridden. Now, at age 89, the legendary John Cameron Swayze has passed away of natural causes at his home in Sarasota, Florida.


Copyright © 1995 Cable News Network, Inc.