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Remembering “The American Sportsman,” Curt Gowdy

By Wilmot “Wiggie” Robinson

Memories of the great sports announcer and OWAA member Curt Gowdy have been sung in every newspaper and publication in the United States. Who can argue the need and deserving gratitude of his legions of fans, who knew this man as the voice of baseball, football and other sports? Gowdy also received bouquets of words for his television show, “The American Sportsman.” This outstanding man and his show profoundly affected the field of outdoor recreation.

Curtis Edward Gowdy was born in Green River, Wyo., on July 31, 1919. Gowdy was proud of his Wyoming heritage and loved the outdoors, claiming that he was “born with a fly rod in one hand; and the sports microphone came a little later.” Of his upbringing, he said, “My father, Edward Curtis Gowdy, taught me to hunt and fish. He was the best fly-fisherman in Wyoming. We had free access to prime-time hunting and fishing, and the outdoors was a way of life for me. I should have paid THEM to host ‘The American Sportsman.’ ”

“The American Sportsman” featured Curt as host with sports and entertainment celebrities as guests. One of the best-remembered was bird hunting with Phil Harris. Bing Crosby was another guest. While shooting and camaraderie were major parts of the show, safety, resource conservation and respect for the land were emphasized, as well. Gowdy’s more than 20 awards include six Emmys for producing the show.

On March 27, 1972, during Wyoming’s “Curt Gowdy Day,” a new 11,000-acre park was officially named Curt Gowdy State Park. (Since then, more acreage has been added to the park.) Gowdy was proud of this honor, saying, “It has two beautiful lakes, hiking trails, camping, boating, fishing and beauty. It has everything I love. What greater honor can a man receive?”

I am especially proud of the time I spent with Gowdy when he came to Maine to do a woodcock-hunting segment for his show. Besides the usual entourage of camera, sound and production people, the stars of the show were Brooks Robinson, third baseman for the Baltimore Cardinals, and Ralph “Bud” Leavitt, outdoor sports editor for the Bangor Daily News. My job was to handle Sadie, my English pointer, off camera. Even though I wasn’t on the air, the days I spent making this segment and meeting Curt and his daughter Cheryl were a highlight of my life. I was just getting started in outdoor writing and was thrilled to be part of one of America’s most-watched TV shows. Many miles of film were taken to get the 11 minutes for the show.

Gowdy died on Feb. 20, 2006, at his winter home in West Palm Beach, Fla., after an extended battle with leukemia. He was 86. His wife Jerre, daughter Cheryl Ann, sons Curt Jr. and Trevor, and five grandchildren survive him.

Here are some entries in the guest book at Gowdy’s funeral:

“Curt Gowdy and his show ‘The American Sportsman’ were a wonderful inspiration to us youngsters back in the 1960s and early 1970s. Mr. Gowdy showed that outdoor sports were meant to be fun and friendships developed can last a lifetime. I hope that one of the networks can bring those old ‘American Sportsman’ shows back, because what they stood for is timeless. Today’s youth could learn from them. They certainly made a difference in my life.”

“As a kid in eastern North Carolina I used to watch ‘The American Sports-man’ with my dad. How I wished to live my life fishing and hunting like Mr. Gowdy and his famous friends. His inspiring descriptions of life in the great outdoors helped me understand and appreciate nature.”

“I remember watching Mr. Gowdy on ‘The American Sportsman’ and seeing the pheasant hunt with bow and arrow. I was very impressed listening to the words of wisdom from the true master of the outdoors. His signature line of ‘Tight lines, folks!’ will forever live in my memories. I only hope he is scouting out a place where he and I will someday fish with my dad.”

“Mr. Gowdy’s show ‘The American Sportsman’ was where I learned of this great man. I watched him host this show every week. — I was only a teenager at the time, but he gave me the insights to take up fishing, and I have never lost that desire. — He brought me into America’s homes with the big stars of the day and of the past and put them in an everyday light — not to promote something but to enjoy the wonders of wildlife. For this I say, Thank you, Mr. Gowdy.”

The last time I saw Curt Gowdy was at the Haines City, Fla., OWAA conference in 1997 when he was presented with OWAA’s Excellence in Craft Award. I met him as he was leaving the hall. He looked at me, and I spoke first, saying, “Do you remember me, Curt?” Without hesitation he said, “I’ll never forget you, Wiggie!” And we embraced.

I called Cheryl Ann after his funeral and we wept together over the phone. It was a moving moment I shall never forget.

Curt Gowdy, you may be gone but will never be forgotten!

Wilmot “Wiggie” Robinson joined OWAA in 1977 and has attended 20 conferences. In 2001 he received the Jackie Pfeiffer Memorial Award. He lives with his wife in Millinocket, Maine, where he was born and still is a registered Maine guide. His column,
“Katahdin Country,” appears in Northwoods Sporting Journal and the Katahdin Press.

© Outdoor Writers Association of America

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