We’re saddened to report that longtime NBC “Today Show” weatherman and parade host Willard Scott died Saturday at 87. While he didn’t live long enough to wish himself a 100th birthday, he did pass away peacefully at home, surrounded by his family.
Scott got his start in radio in the 1950s, and his early TV work included entertaining kids as Bozo the Clown. He was also the first person ever to play Ronald McDonald in local commercials in Washington (the character looked very different than he does now.)
Scott brought his love of clowning and entertaining people to his weatherman gig at NBC, for instance, dressing up as a groundhog on Groundhog Day, or famously, as Carmen Miranda to earn a $1000 donation to the USO (warning: there’s a photo of that at the link.) He took flak for it, but he told the New York Times, “People said I was a buffoon to do it. Well, all my life I’ve been a buffoon. That’s my act.”
Scott was deeply hurt when in 1989, Bryant Gumbel, the poster child for arrogant elitist anchormen, wrote a memo to NBC blaming Scott for a slip in ratings, and claiming he was holding “the show hostage to his assortment of whims, wishes, birthdays and bad taste. This guy is killing us and no one’s even trying to rein him in.” But a USA Today call-in poll found that 27,300 people liked Scott’s weather segments and only 854 sided with Gumbel.
I like to think of that as one of the first examples of the divide between the media elites and normal Americans that Gov. Huckabee wrote about in “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy” and that eventually led to the rise of Trump (and the demonization of him and his voters by the pompous Bryant Gumbel types.) Scott once told Time, “If you watch, you’ll see that I am trying to weave a web of love. I want to make the whole country feel as if we are one. I may be a cornball, but I am me – not a sophisticated, slick New York wazoo act.” I wonder who he was referring to?
It reminds me of John Candy’s speech to the pompous Steve Martin character in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”: “You wanna hurt me? Go right ahead if it makes you feel any better. I'm an easy target. Yeah, you're right, I talk too much. I also listen too much. I could be a cold-hearted cynic like you...but I don't like to hurt people's feelings. Well, you think what you want about me; I'm not changing...I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. 'Cause I'm the real article. What you see is what you get.”
That was Willard Scott: the real article in a business of self-important, image-obsessed phonies. I don’t think “Today” viewers miss Bryant Gumbel any more than they miss Matt Lauer, but it’s definitely a duller show without Willard Scott, one of the last true American everymen allowed on network TV. Or as Instapundit quoted him from his 1982 autobiography:
“If you were to look at my resume, you’d see that I’m bald, I’m overweight, I don’t make all the smooth moves, and I dress like a slob. I take tremendous pride in the fact that I beat the system.”