John Cameron Swayze was pushed into television against his will. In a time when most journalists referred to television as "that thing," Swayze was the new guy and got the assignments that no one really wanted. The better-known voices were kept in radio.
Swayze started in radio while a newspaper reporter in Kansas City, Missouri. When he joined the paper, he was assigned the task that no one wantedóreporting the news over the wires of a local radio station. Ten years later, Swayze left the newspaper to be on the radio full time.
In the mid-1940s, Swayze, his wife, the former Beulah Mae Estes, and their two children moved to Los Angeles, where Swayze become news and special events director for the Western leg of a national network. Two years later, Swayze and his family transferred to New York where, in 1949, he became the anchorman for one of the two first network television news programs, the "Camel News Caravan" on NBC. The show was named for the sponsor, Camel cigarettes. He was anchor until 1956, drawing an estimated 15 million viewers per night.
Swayze was also a commercial spokesman. His most well-known commercials were for Timex Watches. The commercials featured Swayze looking on as the watches were subjected to various kinds of torture, only to emerge intact. Then he would deliver the now-famous line: "It takes a licking, but keeps on ticking." For twenty years, Swayze helped beat up Timex Watches.
Swayze's demeanor on air helped define how television news would be presented. With his trademark lapel carnation and sharp wardrobe, he used to make the best-dressed lists. He came to gain a reputation for his ties. Someone once put out a publicity release stating that he never wore the same tie twice. He was swamped with requests for his discarded ties. When he missed a broadcast one evening, he got a wire from a viewer stating, "Next time you can't come, send your tie."
Swayze was initiated into Washington Chapter DeMolay in Atchison, Kansas, in 1922. He received the Legion of Honor in 1938. Swayze was a member of the first class to be inducted into the DeMolay Hall of Fame on November 13, 1986.
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