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John Swayze watched Timex "take a licking'

Published Aug. 17, 1995|Updated Oct. 4, 2005

John Cameron Swayze, a journalist whose ads for Timex watches became part of American pop culture, died Tuesday at his Sarasota home. He was 89.

A winter resident since 1986, Mr. Swayze had moved permanently to Sarasota from Connecticut last year as his health began to fail.

Mr. Swayze's long-running Timex commercials _ his signature line was "It takes a licking, but keeps on ticking" _ made him an icon for several generations.

In the commercials, which ran for 20 years starting in 1956, Mr. Swayze looked on as watches were subjected to extreme cruelties only to emerge "still ticking."

The commercials made Mr. Swayze a household name. But it was his earlier work as a network broadcaster that was of potentially lasting impact: He was an early role model for TV anchormen nationwide.

For seven years he was the anchor of the Camel News Caravan, NBC's first 15-minute nightly TV news broadcast. The show took its name from the sponsor, Camel cigarettes.

Mr. Swayze's trademark lapel carnations and smooth presence helped define how American television news would be presented.

"He managed to project a certain innocence, a feeling of promise, a genuine friendliness," said his son, John Cameron Swayze Jr. "His favorite signoff was, "That's the story, glad we could get together.' When he signed off "glad we could get together,' he really meant it, and I think people understood that he meant it."

The News Caravan folded in 1956. One of its correspondents, David Brinkley, went on to greater fame in television news.

For Mr. Swayze, the Timex years were next.

To each commercial, Mr. Swayze brought both gravity and humor in his dual role of newsman and pitchman. Many of the ads were broadcast live.

In a 1987 interview with the Herald-Tribune, Mr. Swayze recalled how he had to ad-lib one problem spot. In it, a Timex was strapped to the propeller of an outboard motor. The commercial was done in a studio, with the engine running in a tank.

The script called for the propeller to be lifted out of the water and the camera to move in and catch the sweep hand. But the watch wasn't there.

Mr. Swayze didn't skip a second. Gravely, he announced: "It's probably on the bottom on the tank _ still ticking." He later was proven right.

Born in Wichita in 1906, Mr. Swayze's ambition was to be an actor. But he ended up working as a reporter and editor at the Kansas City Journal Post and in Kansas radio before getting his start with NBC, first in radio, then on TV.

Mr. Swayze is survived by his wife, Beulah Mae; a son, John Cameron Swayze Jr. of Bedford, N.Y.; a daughter, Suzanne Patrick of Alexandria, Va; six grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.

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