Gary Edward Keillor was born August 7, 1942, in Anoka, Minnesota, the son of John Philip and Grace Ruth Denham Keillor. His father was a railway mail clerk and carpenter. Keillor attended the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis, where he worked as a staff announcer for the campus station, KUOM radio, from 1963 to 1968. This job began a long career in radio, during which he took the more formal Garrison Keillor as his professional name. He married Mary C. Guntzel on September 11, 1965, and they had a son, Jason.
Keillor received a B.A. from the University of Minnesota in 1966 and briefly sought a writing job in New York. He had hoped to join the staff of The New Yorker, a magazine he had admired since boyhood. He was not at that time successful, so he continued in broadcasting. In 1971, he began working as an announcer and producer with Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul. In 1974, he launched the highly successful weekly program A Prairie Home Companion, for which he served as host and principal writer. He was divorced in May, 1976.
A Prairie Home Companion, inspired by the Grand Ole Opry radio program, was broadcast live before a theater audience on Saturday nights. The program initially ran for more than a decade. It was carried by more than two hundred public radio stations and was televised during the 1987 season. It was a variety show made up of an eclectic musical component, comic sketches (written or cowritten by Keillor), and the host’s weekly monologue about the goings-on in his fictional hometown of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. Keillor’s leisurely monologues drew heavily upon his small-town upbringing, although he has always insisted that Lake Wobegon is a romantic creation, not a caricature of his actual hometown.
Keillor grew up in a Fundamentalist sect called the Plymouth Brethren, whose strictures made other Fundamentalist denominations appear rather “loose.” The monologues often treated the American practice of Christianity humorously but also gently and affectionately. A Prairie Home Companion was interspersed with commercials for fictitious businesses and products: Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery, Bertha’s Kitty Boutique, the Chatterbox Cafe, Bob’s Bank, the Sidetrack Tap, Scottie’s Cough Syrup for Dogs, and—most popular of all—Powdermilk Biscuits.
Although never perhaps reaching the mass audience available to commercial radio, the show was a phenomenal popular success for public broadcasting. It was a critical success, receiving the George Foster Peabody Broadcasting...
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