Hugh Downs

Hugh Downs

Hugh Downs in 1972
Born Hugh Malcolm Downs
(1921-02-14) February 14, 1921
Akron, Ohio, U.S.
Occupation Television broadcaster, host, producer, author
Years active 1945–1999
Spouse(s) Ruth Shaheen (m. 1944)
Children 2

Hugh Malcolm Downs (born February 14, 1921) is a long-time American broadcaster, television host, news anchor, TV producer, author, game show host, and music composer. He is perhaps best known for his roles as co-host of the NBC News program Today from 1962 to 1971, host of the Concentration game show from 1958 to 1969, and anchor of the ABC News magazine 20/20 from 1978 to 1999. In addition, he's served as announcer/sidekick for Tonight Starring Jack Paar, host of the PBS talk show Over Easy, and co-host of the syndicated talk show Not for Women Only.

Early life

Downs was born on St. Valentine's Day in the year 1921 in Akron, Ohio, to Edith (Hicks) and Milton Howard Downs, who worked in business.[1] He was educated at Lima Shawnee High School in Lima, Ohio; Bluffton College, a Mennonite school in Bluffton, Ohio; and Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, during the period 1938 to 1941. He worked as a radio announcer and program director at WLOK in Lima, Ohio, after his first year of college.[2] In 1940 he moved on to WWJ in Detroit. Downs served in the United States Army during World War II in 1943 and then joined the NBC radio network at WMAQ as an announcer in Chicago, Illinois, where he lived until 1954.[2] He married a coworker, Ruth Shaheen in 1944, three days after his 23rd birthday. He also attended Columbia University in New York City during 1955–56.

Television career

Downs and daughter, Deirdre (1960)
Jack Paar, Downs, Jose Melis on The Tonight Show; Downs was host Paar's announcer.
With Darren McGavin on the set of the TV series Riverboat

Downs made his first television news broadcast in September 1945 from the still experimental studio of WBKB-TV (now WBBM-TV), a station then owned by the Balaban and Katz theater subsidiary of Paramount Pictures. He became a TV regular, announcing for Hawkins Falls in 1950, the first successful television soap opera, which was sponsored by Lever Brothers Surf detergent. He also announced the Burr Tillstrom children's show Kukla, Fran and Ollie from the NBC studios at Chicago's Merchandise Mart after the network picked up the program from WBKB. In March 1954, Downs moved to New York City to accept a position as announcer for Pat Weaver's The Home Show starring Arlene Francis. That program lasted until August 1957. He was the announcer for Sid Caesar's Caesar's Hour for the 1956–57 season, and one of NBC Radio's Monitor "Communicators" from 1955–1959.[3] Downs became a bona fide television "personality" as Jack Paar's announcer on The Tonight Show from mid-1957, when he replaced Franklin Pangborn, until Paar's departure in March 1962,[2] and then continued to announce for "The Tonight Show" until the fall of 1962, when Ed Herlihy took the announcing reins. Herlihy held that post until October 1, 1962, when Johnny Carson took over the show, and brought Ed McMahon as his announcer. On August 25, 1958, Downs concurrently began a more than ten-year run hosting the original version of the game show Concentration. Also, he hosted NBC's Today Show for nine years from September 1962 to October 1971, plus co-hosting the syndicated television program Not for Women Only with Barbara Walters in 1975 and 1976. Downs also appeared as a panelist on the television game show To Tell the Truth and in an episode, cast as himself, on the NBC police sitcom, Car 54, Where Are You?, set in New York City.

Downs earned a postgraduate degree in gerontology from Hunter College while he was hosting Over Easy, a PBS television program about aging that aired from 1977 to 1983.

He was probably best known in later years as the Emmy Award-winning co-anchor – again paired with Walters – of the ABC news TV show 20/20, a primetime news magazine program, from the show's second episode in 1978 until his retirement in 1999.

In 1985, he was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as holding the record for the greatest number of hours on network commercial television (15,188 hours), though he lost the record for most hours on all forms of television to Regis Philbin in 2004.

A published composer, Downs hosted the PBS showcase for classical music, Live from Lincoln Center from 1990 to 1996.

Downs made a cameo appearance on Family Guy in addition to other TV shows.

Downs has been seen in infomercials for Bottom Line Publications, including their World's Greatest Treasury of Health Secrets, as well as another one for a personal coach. He did an infomercial for Where There's a Will There's an A in 2003. His infomercial work since then has aroused some controversy, with many arguing the products are scams.[4]

Downs has most recently appeared in regional public service announcements in Arizona, where he currently lives, for that state's Motor Vehicles Division; for Hospice of the Valley, a Phoenix-area non-profit organization specializing in hospice care, as well as in many public, short-form programs in which he serves as host of educational interstitials. [5]

On October 13, 2007, Downs was one of the first inductees into the American TV Game Show Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Downs was inducted as a Laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois and awarded the Order of Lincoln (the State's highest honor) by the Governor of Illinois in 1967 in the area of communications.[6]

Film appearances

Public service and political views

Hugh Downs in 1961

Downs was a special consultant to the United Nations for refugee problems from 1961–64 and served as Chairman of the Board of the United States Committee for UNICEF.

Downs wrote a column for Science Digest during the 1960s. He was Science Consultant to Westinghouse Laboratories and the Ford Foundation and an elected member of the National Academy of Science. He is chair of the Board of Governors of the National Space Society and was a longtime president and chairman of the predecessor National Space Institute. The asteroid 71000 Hughdowns is named after him.

The auditorium of Shawnee High School in Lima, Ohio and the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, are named in his honor.

As part of the Centennial of the State of Arizona celebration in February 2012, Downs narrated Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait" on stage with the Phoenix Symphony.

Downs has expressed public praise for many libertarian viewpoints. He opposes the U.S. "war on drugs". He did several pieces about the war on drugs and hemp.[7] On his last 20/20 he was asked if he had any opinions of his own that he would like to express: he responded that marijuana should be legalized.[8]


See also



  1. Hugh Downs Biography (1921–)
  2. 1 2 3 Rayburn, John, ed. (2008). Cat Whiskers and Talking Furniture: Memoir of Radio and Television Broadcasting. McFarland. p. 256. ISBN 0-7864-3697-2. Retrieved 15 September 2010.
  3. "Monitor's Communicators". Retrieved 10 August 2010.
  4. Quill, MD, Timothy J. "The World's Greatest Treasury of Health Secrets". Infomercial Watch. Comments on the 2006 Book and Infomercial
  5. "Other works". at Hugh Downs at the Internet Movie Database
  6. "Laureates by Year - The Lincoln Academy of Illinois". The Lincoln Academy of Illinois. Retrieved 2016-03-07.
  7. Evans, Rod; Berent, Irwin, eds. (1992). Drug Legalization: For and Against. Open Court. p. 346. ISBN 0-8126-9183-0. Retrieved 14 October 2010.
  8. "Hugh Downs".
  9. Portnoff, Collice (March 1, 1970). "Books--in the news". Arizona Republic. p. N-11. Retrieved May 5, 2015 via
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Media offices
Preceded by
Franklin Pangborn
The Tonight Show announcer
Succeeded by
Ed McMahon
Preceded by
Jack Barry
Concentration host
Succeeded by
Bob Clayton
Preceded by
John Chancellor
Today Show Host with Barbara Walters
September 17, 1962–October 1, 1971
Succeeded by
Frank McGee
Preceded by
Harold Hayes and Robert Hughes

(first episode only)
20/20 Anchor
himself June 13, 1978–1984,
with Barbara Walters, 1984–1999

Succeeded by
Barbara Walters
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