Kentucky by Heart: Recalling radio and TV personality and native of Kentucky, Durward Kirby

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By Steve Flairty
Columnist of NKyTribune

Hey, elders (like me). Do you remember the name “Durward Kirby”? Let me see if I can jog your memory …

When I was able to find time away from the chores and tobacco farming of my family’s small farm as a child, I watched a lot of TV shows. It was in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and you could call it the “dark ages” of television. Viewers watched mostly black and white videos on our screens, and for the Flairty household, we had three channels, plus a dim, blurry view of another. This was good, because cable TV, with its hundreds of viewing choices, would arrive decades later and probably wasn’t even imagined by most back then.

I remember seeing parts of The Garry Moore Show, a variety TV show decidedly not designed for a children’s audience. A tall man with gentle manners was a regular on the show, and while I couldn’t necessarily pronounce or spell it, I familiarized myself with his name, mentioned regularly… Durward Kirby. Later, from the early ’60s, the same name and face appeared as Allen Funt’s sidekick in the long-running fun show (even for kids), Hidden camera. And while Durward never seemed like the guy who stepped past the room with his charismatic personality, he seemed like a screen prop and, for all I could imagine as a kid, a true “famous person.” “.

Fast forward to today, and I discovered that Sir Durward, who died in 2000 at the age of 88, was a Kentuckian. At least he lived his early years in the Northern Kentucky area and was, for a time, a nationally recognized announcer on the Cincinnati radio station WLW which was credited with the catastrophic floods of 1937. Born in 1911 at 1815 Greenup Street, Covington, Homer Durward Kirby was the son of a train dispatcher and a stay-at-home mom. He attended St. Benedict’s School, but when his family moved to Fort. Thomas, he attended St. Thomas High School and then Highlands High School. The family moved to Indianapolis after their sophomore year.

Steve Flairty is a teacher, speaker, and author of seven books: one biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six of Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a children’s version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes # 5” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly columnist for NKyTribune, and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at [email protected] or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute”. (Photo of Steve by Connie McDonald)

While at WLW after a radio experience at Purdue University, he also hosted big band shows in the area, including at Lookout House, a place where I attended a ball in the last century. (but long after Durward was there!). His career then took off when he moved to a bigger gig as an NBC broadcaster in Chicago, where he teamed up with Garry Moore. And like many at the time, his career was cut short while serving in World War II. After his stint in the military, he became a key part of the Garry Moore Show, which spanned the 1950s to the 1960s. It should be noted that Durward also worked with future superstar Carol Burnett on Moore’s program. . He was also acclaimed while advertising for the Goodyear TV Playhouse.

Durward’s name became even more recognizable when he joined the popular Hidden camera, leading to high profile and nationwide job advertisements. In 1982, he was honored as “Outstanding Spokesperson” for the Cincinnati-based company Proctor & Gamble and locally honored by his election to the Greater Cincinnati Broadcast Hall of Fame in 1991.

Interesting information about his influence in entertainment programming emerged during an event involving another series, according to an entry in The Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky. Kirby’s TV fame was spoofed in the popular 1960s TV cartoon series Rocky and Bullwinkle with a story about finding the stolen ‘Kirward Derby’, a hat that would make its wearer the smartest man in the world. world. “

Retired Broadway and TV actor Eric F. James of Danville shared this anecdote about working with the star. “I played on a summer tour of New England with Durward in the late 1960s. He was on summer hiatus from the Garry Moore Show. While rehearsing in New York City, he hosted an actor dinner in his sprawling apartment overlooking Central Park. On the tour he again hosted us, swimming and relaxing at his summer home in Connecticut. Of all the stage, film and television stars I have worked with, Durward was one of the warmest, most gracious, and supportive of young talent.

In 1992, Durward published his autobiography, My life … those wonderful years. Of course, he’s brought joy to many over the years, starting in Covington on Greenup Street.

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