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Jack Lescoulie, 'Today' Show Pioneer, Dies

July 23, 1987|From Times Wire Services

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Jack Lescoulie, a founding personality on NBC's "Today" show, died Wednesday of cancer in a hospital here. He was 75.

Lescoulie was second banana to Dave Garroway on the original "Today" show in 1952, handling light features on the morning program. His last regular appearances on "Today" were in 1966, when Hugh Downs was the anchorman.

Lescoulie ushered in a new concept in television as the "Today" announcer.

"When I first went to work on 'Today,' I did not have a strong role," he once said. "I did the announcing at the top of the program and at the end of the breaks and that was it."

"Since 'Today' was designed to be a television 'newspaper,' I went to the city room of a New York newspaper to observe. While there, I found a young man who used to come and just kid everybody and no one seemed to resent it. When I tried that on the set it worked beautifully, and did for many years," he said.

He said "Today" host Garroway dubbed him "the saver" for his ability to rescue interviews that were going badly.

"There was a great rapport" between Garroway and him, he once said. "Garroway told me several times that if I felt an interview or particular segment on the program was dying, I should step in and 'save' it."

On the show he presented sports, news and features, including "fearless forecasts" on baseball and football. He also took part in general features and interviews.

After leaving "Today," Lescoulie was host of NBC's "Tonight: America After Dark," a short-lived replacement for the "Tonight" show that ran half a year in 1957 after Steve Allen had left and before Jack Paar took over the late-night slot.

The next year, he was co-host of the quiz show "Brains and Brawn" on NBC, in which a celebrity teamed with an athlete in contests of knowledge and athletic ability.

In 1961-62, Lescoulie and 10-year-old Richard Thomas--later to star as "John Boy" on "The Waltons"--were co-hosts of NBC's "1,2,3-Go!", an educational series for children.

Lescoulie's parents were vaudeville performers and he debuted at age 7 in song and dance with his siblings. After high school, he worked as an announcer at Los Angeles' KGFJ, where he spent three days and nights covering the 1933 Long Beach earthquakes without leaving the studio.

He spent a day at the zoo learning to imitate an elephant for sound effects in the Pasadena Playhouse production of "Achilles Had a Heel," which later moved to Broadway.

He stayed in New York for other Broadway parts, then returned to Los Angeles to create "The Grouch Club" for NBC's Pacific Coast network.

He also served in the Army during World War II as an enlisted combat reporter in Italy. After the war, he returned to New York and with Gene Rayburn created the "Jack and Gene Show" on early morning radio. He became a TV producer at CBS in 1950 and moved over to NBC-TV in January, 1952.

Lescoulie, a native of Sacramento, is survived by his wife, Virginia, and two children.

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