BY DENNIS MCLELLAN
George Putnam, the pioneer television news anchorman and conservative commentator whose distinctive stentorian voice was familiar to millions of Southern Californians during his heyday in the 1950s and ‘60s, died September 12, 2008 at the age of 94.
Putnam, who had been suffering from a kidney ailment since December, died at Chino Valley Medical Center, said Chuck Wilder, Putnam’s co-host, producer and announcer.
Perhaps best remembered for his “One Reporter’s Opinion” TV newscast segments, Putnam began his broadcast career on a Minneapolis radio station in 1934. More than 70 years later, he was still at the microphone with his weekday, noon to 2 p.m. “Talk Back with George Putnam” syndicated program.
But it was on television in Los Angeles a decade later – on KTTV Channel 11 – that the tall, wavy-haired broadcaster with the rich baritone voice made his biggest mark.
Putnam was born in Breckenridge, Minnesota. His radio career began on his 20th birthday in 1934 at WDGY in Minneapolis, then continued in Washington, DC at WJSV and later, in New York City. While working in New York, influential newspaper columnist Walter Winchell declared that “George Putnam’s voice is the greatest in radio.”
From July 1949 to February 1951 tall, wavy-haired Putnam, known for his rich baritone voice hosted the evening version of Broadway to Hollywood on the DuMont Television Network.
Putnam began working in Los Angeles television in 1951, eventually hosting the highest-rated newscast. He anchored at all four of Los Angeles’ major independent stations – KTTV, KTLA, KCOP, and KHJ-TV (now KCAL-TV) – at one time or another. In addition to his salary, he was provided a Rolls-Royce automobile while at KTTV and KTLA. He was replaced by news legend Hal Fishman in 1975.
Putnam was also noted for his years of participation in the Rose Parade, having ridden in that event from 1951 until 2000, when his horse died. At the time, Putnam said that he was too advanced in age to train another Parade horse. Putnam lived and died at his 20-acre (81,000 m2) working ranch in Chino. The ranch houses his sixty-five racehorses, which have competed at the Kentucky Derby and all of the racetracks in Southern California. He also spent time at his home of fifty-seven years in Beverly Hills.
Putnam was the host of Talk Back, a conservative radio show he hosted daily since leaving the television anchor chair in 1975. It was based at KIEV in Glendale, California (now KRLA) until 2001 and moved to KCAA 1050 in San Bernardino in 2002 and was distributed nationwide on the Cable Radio Network on CRN1. Although Putnam advocated many conservative viewpoints, he stated many times his status as a “lifelong Democrat” since his youthful admiration of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In addition to political talk Putnam interviewed many people that he knew in show business including Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Peggy Lee, Doris Day, Charlton Heston, John Wayne, Desi Arnaz, Milton Berle and many others.
Putnam also published the weekly column “One Reporter’s Opinion” on the Web site NewsMax. His most recent focus was illegal immigration from Mexico. Putnam received an honorary LL.D. from Bates College in 1985.
Putnam had a cameo role as a TV news reporter or anchor in at least three films: Fourteen Hours (1951), I Want to Live! (1958) with Susan Hayward starring as accused murderer Barbara Graham, and the disaster film Independence Day (1996).
In a June 12, 2008, e-mail to Putnam’s Newsmax readers, it was announced that Putnam was in a Los Angeles hospital undergoing medical treatment on his liver and kidneys. In mid-July he took part in a special on-air 94th “birthday” show, in which actress Doris Day appeared by telephone, according to the Los Angeles Times.