Henry Morgan was an American humorist. He is remembered best in two modern media: radio, on which he first became familiar as a barbed but often self-deprecating satirist ; and on television, where he was a regular and cantankerous panelist for the game show I’ve Got a Secret. Morgan was born Henry Lerner Van Ost, Jr. in New York City; he was a second cousin of Broadway lyricist/librettist Alan Jay Lerner.
His radio career began as a page at New York station WMCA in 1932, after which he held a number of obscure radio jobs, including announcing. He strenuously objected to the professional name “Morgan”. What was wrong with his own name, Henry van Ost, Jr.? he asked. Too exotic, too unpronounceable, he was told. “What about the successful announcers Harry von Zell or Westbrook van Voorhis?” he countered. But it was no use, and the bosses finally told Henry he could take the job or leave it. Thus began a long history of Henry’s having arguments with executives.
In 1940, he was offered a daily 15-minute series on Mutual Broadcasting System’s flagship station, WOR. This show was a 15-minute comedy, which he opened almost invariably with “Good evening, anybody; here’s Morgan.” In his memoir Here’s Morgan, he wrote that he devised that introduction as a dig at popular singer Kate Smith, who “.started her show with a condescending, ‘Hello, everybody.’ I, on the other hand, was happy if anybody listened in.” He mixed literately barbed ad libs, satirizing daily life’s foibles, with novelty records, including those of Spike Jones. Morgan stated that Jones sent him his newest records in advance of market dates because he played them so often.
He also targeted his sponsors freely. One early sponsor had been Adler Shoe Stores, which came close to canceling its account after Morgan started making references to “Old Man Adler” on the air; the chain changed its mind after it was learned business spiked upward, with many new patrons asking to meet Old Man Adler. Morgan had to read an Adler commercial heralding the new fall line of colors; Morgan thought the colors were dreadful, and said he wouldn’t wear them to a dogfight, but perhaps the listeners would like them. Old Man Adler demanded a retraction on the air. Morgan obliged: “I would wear them to a dogfight.” Morgan later recalled with bemusement, “It made him happy.”