Charles Osgood’s Love Affair With the Bow Tie Began With a Dire Warning About Clip-Ons

As one of his iconic bow ties arrives at the Smithsonian, Osgood reflects on good and bad doggerel and how to tie a good knot

Charles Osgood
Osgood says he can walk peacefully in total anonymity if he leaves his bow tie at home; but people always make him cakes with bow ties. Michele Crowe/CBS

Charles Osgood has had a long career as a radio and television journalist. A one-time playwright, author of six books, songwriter, newspaper columnist and host of CBS News Sunday Morning. But like most men who deviate from standard neckwear, Osgood will forever be remembered as "that guy in the bow tie."

Osgood's tenure as host of the popular Sunday Morning show recently ended after 22 years (he would prefer that you not refer to him as retired). He offered one of his iconic bow ties to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. In recognition of his contributions to American public life, the museum has accepted the bow tie into the permanent collection of its arts and culture division.

Most of us will never learn how to tie a bow tie. Osgood first learned how when he was hosting an evening news program.

“It was one of the writers on the evening news” who taught him, Osgood says. “A very good writer who was also an expert on Shakespeare and his writing. I showed up with a bow tie that was clip-on one night. And he was appalled. And he said 'never do that, that's not what you do.' He always wore a bow tie. I said that I didn't know how to do it. And he said, 'I'll lend you mine for tonight and I'll show you how to tie it.' I was already an old dog by then, and when an old dog learns a new trick he wants to use it.”

Charles Osgood sings for his 80th birthday

Most celebrities are forced to give up a certain amount of privacy as part of the price of fame. Just walking down the street can invite requests for autographs and photos. Osgood has the unusual advantage of being able to remove his trademark bow tie and thus become completely unrecognizable to the public. But when making a public appearance, the tie is an absolute requirement.

“I've discovered sometimes if I'm doing a speaking gig, if I don't wear a bow tie then people are saying 'why aren't you wearing it?' When they bring the dessert out it's in the shape of a bow tie. For public appearances that's sort of my uniform.”

Second only to Osgood's bow ties is his notorious habit of occasionally delivering scraps of news in rhyming verse, or sitting at his piano and singing it. Not since The New Yorker's Ogden Nash has anyone in American public life made a habit out of delivering doggerel to the masses.

“[Doggerel] is the right word because it isn't poetry,” says Osgood.

Not everyone appreciated Osgood's wardrobe or love of verse.

“There's an expression that people use, 'what makes you think that you can get away with wearing a bow tie or using verse?'” says Osgood. I don't think that either is illegal. One time someone called and said that my poetry was terrible and I should stop doing it. And they said that if I didn't stop doing this, they would kill me. And CBS took it seriously enough that someone met me at the door [for security] and that went on for several weeks. …A very good friend of mine told me if there was a murder and someone was being tried for it, they would call it justifiable homicide.”

As he leaves television at the age of 83, Osgood isn't ready for retirement. He spent most of his career as a radio host and will continue his radio program.

“I'm a radio guy really and that's what I'm doing now,” Osgood says. “I've continued doing that five days a week... you can do verse on radio, but your tie is really beside the point.”

Osgood's bow tie will be stored in the museum's permanent collections, but there are no immediate plans to display it. Don't worry, he has plenty more where that came from.

“I don't know how many I have,” Osgood says. “In the hundreds, I'm sure.”

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