John Daly began his career as a WWII correspondent in Italy covering General Patton and other military icons. In the 1950s, Daly worked at ABC-TV as the Vice President of News, Events and Public Relations where he earned three Peabody Awards. His most famous role was that of host on the long-running CBS primetime panel show, What's My Line?
Vintage 1951 Article - John Daly
From TV TIMES (St. Paul, Minnesota, 13 October 1951)
Daly becomes a weekly habit...PROGRAM MAKES FUN OF WORK
John Daly, moderator of CBS-TV's guess your occupation show, "What's My Line?" Wednesday, WTCN-TV 4, 10:00 p.m., began his radio career, not as an actor or emcee, but first as a relief announcer, then as a special events reporter and news analyst. In the past 12 years he has covered more spot news than most newspapermen have the opportunity to witness in a lifetime.
It was in 1937 that Daly, two years after leaving Boston College, landed a job as a relief announcer at a Washington station. He enjoyed this first experience on the air so much that he decided to make radio his career. Three weeks later, with an impressive audition to his credit, he moved to CBS as an announcer, soon landing an assignment in special events.
Friend of FDR's
Daly became presidential announcer for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938. He has two cherished autographs of the late president, one inscribed to John Charles Daly and the other to "Charley Daly from his friend, Franklin D. Roosevelt." the latter is a picture Daly took of FDR himself. Daly was once known as Charley, to avoid confusion with his brother also named John but with the middle name Grant. Daly is John Charles.
Other news assignments followed: Capitol news from Washington, The major political conventions in 1940, the tour with Wendell Wilkie, assignment to London in 1942, Algiers, Sicily, Italy, the Middle East, The conventions of 1944 and 1948, the Nuremberg trials, Task Force frigid in Alaska and the Aleutians, the Berlin Airlift and a South American survey.
His Historic Pen
Daly had a clear beat on the fall of Cassino and the surrender of the Italian Fleet at Malta. His PX-purchased fountain pen became historic when he lent it to Capt. Harry Butcher, naval aide to Gen. Eisenhower, who used it in the signing of the German surrender in May, 1945. Daly never got the pen back.
Having gone through Sicily and Italy without a scratch, Daly was called back to cover the 1944 conventions in Chicago where he was conked repeatedly by the state standards held by demonstrating delegates. His more recent news assignments for CBS include the Texas City Disaster, the Greenville lynch trial and the Cleveland air races.
Daly the Thespian
Daly became an actor and a newspaperman simultaneously in 1949, when he drew the part of Walter Burns, famous managing editor of "The Front Page", a rowdy and rollicking Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur play, when it was adapted for CBS-TV. The closest he had come to acting before was in his role as newsman in the dramatic historical series, CBS's "You Are There", where he played a reporter summarizing and analyzing history as news, and interviewing historical figures.
"What's My Line?" has proved for Daly a thoroughly enjoyable change of pace from his duties as a newsman. He points out, however, that often things get a little hard to handle because the panel members are so volatile and colorful that it sometimes becomes difficult to trim their extemporaneous chatter and get them to concentrate on spotting the contestant's occupation.
Father of Three
John was born Feb. 20, 1914, at Johannesburg, South Africa. His father was an American mining engineer, a graduate of M.I.T. His mother was English. He attended the Marists Brothers College in Johannesburg until he was ten. When his family moved to the United States, he went to Tilton Academy and Junior College in New Hampshire, and then Boston College.
Daly is six feet tall, has brown eyes and brown hair and weighs about 165. Away from the studios, he enjoys reading and plays some golf and tennis. His library contains a large number of books on contemporary history, world politics and the Civil War. He and his wife live in suburban Rye, N.Y. They have three children, John Neal, 13, John Charles IV, and Helen Grant "Buntsy", 5.
(Author unknown, the 1951 article is unsigned.)
Why are there no John Charles Daly biographies or autobiographies?
To today's average reader, the name "John Daly" brings to mind images of the professional golfer. Yet, to fans of the c game show What's My Line?, this name conjures up images of the erudite moderator. These quiz show fans are often in search of more information about the elder John Daly, but nothing seems to exist. Why is that?
John Daly spent seventeen years working with Random House publisher Bennett Cerf, spent most of his career at two major networks, and wrote dozens of books. He certainly had the opportunity to publish his memoirs if he wanted to. Maybe he just didn't think his life story would be worth writing about. Journalists prefer to write and talk about other people, not themselves. Daly spent the last twenty years of his life out of the public eye. Perhaps he liked it that way.
It would be sad if he had indeed written down his memoirs, but never got around to publishing them. We will probably never know. So far, none of Daly six children have written any biographies of their father.
From what little has been written about John Daly, it appears he was a private person. He apparently "went his own way," even when he was at the height of his fame. It could be that his children and grandchildren really don't know that much about his career and life.
So, what do we know about John Charles Daly?
For the most part, our knowledge comes from what we can glean from his writings on various legal and political topics, and his appearances on television and radio.
Other authors have occasionally written about him. In Mike Wallace's book from about 10 years ago, there is some revealing information about how he and Daly were basically arch-rivals, and Wallace is very critical of Daly in his references to him. Their dispute stems from Daly's days at ABC, where Daly and Wallace employed differing of reporting.
There is also David Halberstam's 1979 book, "The Powers That Be." In this book, he writes of Daly's days at CBS in the FDR administration, and how he basically "stuck it" to reporters from the Chicago Tribune, New York Times, etc., because he thought that reporters from the radio networks deserved the SECOND car behind the president, not a car farther back. The wire services had the first car, and Daly supposedly made a fuss, saying that CBS and NBC had more of an audience than the AP and UPI, and therefore probably deserved the FIRST car, but he didn't push it that far.
Apparently, a lot of the other reporters disliked Daly for this, and also because they thought he was a prima donna who "was off practicing Shakespeare" when they were playing poker, according to a Chicago Tribune reporter.
Halberstam does mention that Daly eventually made his bones, so to speak, as a reporter by covering WWII in Europe. There are photos of Daly with Edward R. Murrow and others in Europe, wearing their military correspondent uniforms.
Another bit of information we know about Daly comes from Gil Fates' 1978 What's My Line? book. Fates writes that Daly and the panel were not a family unit, and Fates would certainly be one to know. At times, Daly had difficulties with the panel members. In particular, one tiff with Dorothy Kilgallen resulted in Daly's not speaking to her for six months, outside of the mechanics of running the show.
As we know from John's published obituary, he was born in South Africa because his father was a scientist working there. Supposedly, his ship coming over had quite a bit of difficulty and nearly didn't make it.
He supposedly got into broadcasting, for which he had no apparent formal training, because he was told he had a nice voice and should try out for radio. Before he started covering the White House for CBS, FDR supposedly only was familiar with NBC radio, and didn't even know CBS existed. Daly supposedly made a fuss there, too, and more or less forced the White House to include CBS in FDR's broadcasts. He later became professionally close to FDR, but he also apparently was quite conservative for his day, even though he was married to the daughter of Earl Warren, considered by many to be a liberal icon.
He went to lead the Voice of America after WML went off the air and lasted there a very short time. It is now unknown why his tenure there was so short.
We do need to be careful in analyzing a person from their appearances on television shows that were made 50 years ago. Like most people in his circle, Daly apparently was a complicated guy, hosting one show at CBS and working in the news department at ABC at the same time.
And, unfortunately, most of the people who knew Daly well are either dead, very old, biased (such as Mike Wallace) or may not have known the man well.
In summing things up, Daly was a man who had numerous contacts in publishing and media, and therefore could have published his memoirs any time he wanted to. Yet, no such books were ever written. It is a mystery to this day. Possibly, he may have simply not wanted to put his life in print.
Bill Savage, December 2004