If I haven’t mentioned it before at least a dozen times or so, I’m a third generation native Angelino, and obviously a product of the television generation whose earliest childhood memories inevitably revolve around three primary sounds: Earl Shreib commercials - "I'll paint any car, any color, for only twenty-nine ninety-five! Riiiiiiight!”, the legendary voice of Dodger baseball sportscaster Vin Scully and the booming, theatrically stentorian voice of George Putnam, the pioneering television news anchorman and right wing commentator who was a mainstay of Los Angeles news broadcasting for many a decade. Putnam died last Friday morning at Chino Valley Medical Center. He was 94.
When I was kid my grandfather had his television on constantly and his nightly vigil was Putnam’s newscast. My grandfather ate it all up, every right wing paranoid dramatic declaration; he absolutely trusted everything Putnam said. And of course, Putnam was one of the most influential commentators of the era.
In pop-cultural history he is most fondly remembered as the inspiration for fictional newscaster Ted Baxter, Ted Knight's windbag of a character on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Putnam was also famous for his annual Rose Parade ride on his silver-saddled palomino for almost 50 years. In fact I believe it never rained when he rode in the parade … talk about a man with connections!
Putnam began his broadcast career on a Minneapolis radio station in 1934, moved to New York in the 1940’s. In late 1951 he was hired at KTTV, the independent station then owned by Times-Mirror Co., which also owned the Los Angeles Times. Putnam quickly became a dominant force in Los Angeles TV news. The winner of three Emmy Awards, six California Associated Press Television and Radio Assn. awards and more than 300 other honors, at one point he was reportedly the highest-rated and highest-paid TV news anchor on the Los Angeles’ airwaves. In the mid 1960s, Putnam moved to KTLA Channel 5. Also, Putnam was briefly a co-host on the political news talk show Both Sides Now with comedian Mort Sahl.
Despite his reputation as staunchly right wing conservative, Putnam claimed in a 1994 interview that he never thought of himself as a conservative. “People have never bothered to determine my background: Farmer-Labor Party, Socialist Party, lifelong member of the NAACP, member of the Urban League. I went through the Depression, and my father was reduced to selling peanuts door-to-door. Then, because of that, I fell in love with Franklin D. Roosevelt. I’ve been a life long Democrat. I’m a conservative Democrat.”