Bob Barker: Celebrity Game Show Host

This month we are learning about game shows, and no one is better known for game show hosting than Bob Barker. Born in 1923 in the state of Washington, Robert William Barker was best known for hosting the two games shows we discussed the past two weeks: Truth or Consequences and The Price is Right.

Photo: cnn.com

Barker’s family did not have much money, and he spent most of his youth on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in Mission, South Dakota with his mother. The U.S. Indian Census Rolls list Barker as an enlisted member of the Sioux tribe. His mother was a school teacher, and his father was an electrical line worker for the state of Washington. When his mother remarried, she and Bob moved to Springfield, Missouri. Bob met Dorothy Jo Gideon at an Ella Fitzgerald concert when he was in Missouri going to high school. They began dating at that time. Barker received a basketball scholarship at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. Later the street behind Drury University would be changed to Bob Barker Boulevard. Barker has contributed more than 3 million dollars to the University as well.

On Bonanza Photo: cnn.com

Bob enlisted in the Navy during WWII, hoping to train as a fighter pilot but did not have any active duty. On one of his military leaves, he and Dorothy married. After he was discharged, he returned to Drury, graduating with a major in economics. During his college studies, he was also working part time in radio on KTTS FM. Bob and Dorothy moved to Florida, and he took a job as news editor and announcer at WWPG AM in Palm Beach. In 1950, he moved to California to pursue a career in broadcasting. He received his own radio show in the early fifties, The Bob Barker Show. Ralph Edwards caught Barker’s show and thought he had a nice voice and asked him to work on Truth or Consequences.

In 1956 he began his game show hosting with Truth or Consequences. In 1967 he was asked to host the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants which he continued to do until 1987. Bob joined The Price is Right in 1972. Barker would win 19 Emmys and the Lifetime Achievement Award. Before Bob Barker, emcees dyed their hair to look younger on the air. In 1987 Barker decided to stop coloring his hair and go with his natural gray.

Dian, Holly, Bob, and Janice Photo: worthpoint.com

There was one disturbing part of Barker’s career which never seemed to affect his emcee duties. In 1994, one of the former models, Dian Parkinson filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment after she and Barker had a three-year affair. She later dropped the lawsuit, citing it was putting her under too much stress. The following year, another long-time model, Holly Hallstrom, sued Barker saying he had fired her because she gained weight caused by one of her medications and because she would not testify falsely in Parkinson’s case. Barker countersued for slander, but Hallstrom won the case in 2005. Then in 2007, Deborah Curling, a CBS employee on the show, filed a suit against Barker and the producers saying that she was forced to quit her job after testifying against Barker in a lawsuit made by a former producer. Barker was later removed from the lawsuit and later the case was dismissed.

Photo: insideedition.com

In 2007 he decided to retire, reaching fifty years in the entertainment business. Bob would revisit The Price is Right three times after retirement: in 2009 he showed up to promote his recent biography, in 2013 he returned to the set to celebrate his 90th birthday, and in 2015 he walked out as the emcee instead of Carey for an April Fool’s Day prank.

The autobiography is titled Priceless Memories and discusses his fifty years in show business. It was authored with LA Times book review editor Digby Diehl.

With wife Dorothy Photo: amomama.com

Bob has made other appearances in addition to his game-show hosting duties.

In 1960 Bob received a part on Bonanza, playing Mort.

In the seventies, he hosted the Pillsbury Bake-Off. During the seventies and eighties he also took over hosting duties for the Rose Bowl Parade several times.

Barker made his way around the talk show circuit, appearing on Dinah, Larry King Live, The Arsenio Hall Show, Crook & Chase, Donny & Marie, The Rosie O’Donnell Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Wayne Brady Show, The Late Show with David Letterman, and the The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.

Barker could be seen on a number of game shows as a celebrity. He and his wife were on Celebrity Tattletales, and he sat in for Richard Dawson after he left Match Game.

HOLLYWOOD, CA – NOVEMBER 29: PETA Goes Postal: Bob Barker unveils Vegetarian Icons Postage Sheet at Hollywood Post Office on November 29, 2011 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/WireImage)

In 1996, he appeared in his first big-screen film, playing himself in Happy Gilmore.

In 2009 he even managed to guest host a show for WWE Raw or The Price is Raw. He agreed to be a rotating host for Mike Huckabee’s show beginning in 2010.

He took part in a State Farm commercial when a woman who needed a new car was presented with her new car by him. He made a few public service announcements for the networks and did some campaigning for a Republican candidate in Florida.

And if all that was not enough, he voiced the character of Bob Barnacle on Sponge Bob Square Pants.

Photo: yahoo.com

When his wife Dorothy died from lung cancer in 1981, he decided to become a vegetarian and an animal activist. He worked for animal rights and gave his support to such groups as The United Activists for Animal Rights and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. In 2010 the Society secretly purchased and outfitted a ship to intercept Japanese whaling operations which Barker contributed $5,000,000 to. In 1989 he created the DJ&T Foundation for his wife and mother and the fund has contributed millions of dollars to fund animal neutering and animal rescue and park facilities construction around the US. He was known for reminding viewers to have their pets spayed or neutered at the end of his shows. In 1987, Barker requested the removal of real furs on the Miss USA pageant and when the show refused, he quit as emcee. In 2004, Bob donated one million dollars to Columbia Law School to support the study of animal rights. In 2009 he wrote several businesses in North Carolina to ask them to close their bear exhibits. In 2010 Barker gave 2.5 million dollars to renovate a building for PETA’s office which opened in 2012.

In 1999, Barker was asked to testify before Congress regarding proposed legislation that would prohibit traveling shows with elephants. During his preparation, he realized something was wrong with his hand. He was admitted to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a partially blocked left carotid artery. The procedure was successful and he returned to work a few months later. He had a stroke in 2002 and was hospitalized for six weeks. Shortly afterward, he underwent surgery for prostate cancer. He also experienced mild bouts of skin cancer over the years.

Photo: usatoday.com

Bob had several episodes with falls and one bout with severe back pain. For the last decade or so he was confined to his house with a caretaker, primarily going out only to visit his wife’s gravesite.

It’s hard for me to disregard the lawsuits brought against Barker while hosting The Price is Right. Before that time, I thought he was a pretty great guy. He has had a long and full career, becoming a celebrity and able to pursue his own causes to help animals. Many of us who grew up in the seventies and eighties have fond memories associated with watching The Price is Right. You have to give him credit for helping to make the show a successful one for decades.

The Secret Word is George Fenneman

I am cheating just a bit with this post. During this Oddly Wonderful series, I think I can push the envelope enough. You Bet Your Life was a very different type of game show. If ever there was a person who personifies oddly wonderful it was Groucho. But I really wanted an excuse to write about George Fenneman.

George Fenneman is best remembered for his role on Groucho Marx’s quiz show, You Bet Your Life which began on radio in 1947 and transitioned to television in 1950. The show went off the air in 1961, the year I was born. Obviously, I don’t remember the original show, but I saw it in reruns and always had a crush on George; I think it was his smile that always got me.

Photo: imdb.com

George was born in Beijing (then Peking), China in 1919. His father was in the importing/exporting business. When he was not quite one, his parents moved to San Francisco where he grew up. After high school, he attended San Francisco State College. He graduated in 1942 with a degree in speech and drama. He took a job with a local radio station KGO for a short time. He married his college sweetheart Peggy Clifford in 1943 and they would stay married until George died. The couple had two daughters and a son.

Photo: collectors.com

Poor eyesight and asthma prevented Fenneman from military action in World War II, but he was able to become a broadcast correspondent for the War of Information. In 1946 he was back in California, in the radio industry again. One of the shows he announced for was Gunsmoke. After the episode concluded, he would introduce Matt Dillon (William Conrad) to discuss the sponsor’s products which often was cigarettes such as L&M or Chesterfield.

Some of the other radio shows he announced for included The Orson Welles Show, The Eddie Albert Show, and the Hedda Hopper Show.

Photo: aveleyman.com

He and Peggy were neighbors of Christian Nyby. In 1951, Nyby was hired as director for the film, The Thing from Another World. George joined the cast as in the minor role of Dr. Redding who has an important scene at the end of the film. It took 27 takes for him to get the speech right, and he realized he was better suited for radio. However, he would appear in two additional films, the little-known Mystery Lake in 1953 and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in 1967. While his voice was part of several other films, most notably in the original Ocean’s 11 as the man talking on the phone to Sheriff Wimmer.

Jack Webb had worked on broadcasts with George during the war. He hired Fenneman as announcer for his radio show, Pat Novak, For Hire. When Dragnet aired the same year, Jack took George with him. George, along with Hal Gibney took on the role of narrator for the show. They both continued with the show in 1951 when it moved to television. Dragnet was off the air for a number of years and returned to television in 1967. Fenneman was again hired as narrator with John Stephenson for that version. George was the one who was heard saying, “The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.” Stephenson handled the closing narration. Fenneman was also cast as a news reporter in a variety of shows including Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Name of the Game, and on Batman in 1966 in the episode, “The Yegg Foes in Gotham.”

Photo: pinterest.at
On Batman

In addition to appearing on Groucho’s show on television, Fenneman was the host or announcer for several other shows. He emceed two games shows during his time with Groucho: Anybody Can Play in 1958 and Your Surprise Package in 1961. In 1963, He hosted a show on ABC titled Your Funny, Funny Films which was a cousin to the later Candid Camera and America’s Funniest Home Videos.

He was usually an unseen announcer on The Ed Sullivan Show, but in 1964, the night the Beatles were on the show for the second time, he did a spot on the air for Lipton Tea. From 1978-1982 he hosted a show on PBS, Talk About Pictures. In this show, Life magazine photographer Leigh Weiner and George interviewed respected photographers and looked at their best photos.

Photo: pinterest.com
With Leigh Weiner on PBS

He also was the voice for Home Savings & Loan commercials from the late 1960s until his death from emphysema in 1997. He also acted as announcer for shows such as Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Donny and Marie, The Jim Nabors Show, and The Life of Riley.

Photo: hollywoodphotographs.com
With Martin and Lewis

In 1993, The Simpsons aired an episode that spoofed Dragnet, and Fenneman can be heard on the show delivering his famous line about names being changed to protect the innocent.

Despite his large cannon of work as an announcer and emcee, Fenneman became a household celebrity when he went to work for Groucho on You Bet Your Life. One day George was standing on the corner of Hollywood and Vine. Robert Dwan, who had hired him at KGO Radio, came up and told him he was holding an audition for a new show for Groucho. Fenneman went up against thirty other announcers and won the job which paid $55 a week. He was hired just to do commercials. At some point, Groucho decided he should also be scorekeeper, as well as his straight man.

Photo: usawoopro.blogspot.com

When discussing Groucho, George said, “I have to say he was unique, and he was fearless. It was a great privilege to work with him for 15 years and to be his friend for 30.” After Fenneman’s death, Peggy did an interview for an article by Lawrence Van Gelder for the NY Times in June of 1997. She said that George was always a fan of Groucho and the Marx Brothers. She remembered them often going to the Golden Gate Theater when they were in college. They went to watch the Marx Brothers rehearse future movie scenes for comic timing. She remembered watching scenes from A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races.

Groucho, known for his quick wit and acid tongue, found an agreeable and attractive man in Fenneman. When viewers queried George whether the show was scripted or ad-libbed, he always said yes. Actually, it was about 50/50.  Groucho was fed some lines from the interviews with the contestants, but he never met them ahead of time and was given the freedom to interject whatever comments he chose.

Photo: mptvimages.com

George often took the brunt of Groucho’s humor. One time he had to inhale helium, one day he came down from the ceiling when the secret word was said in place of the usual duck, or he would be questioned about something on the show. For example, one evening each of the contestants was a very attractive woman and Groucho made it seem that Fenneman had set that up on purpose. One contestant mistakenly referred to George as Mr. Fidderman, and Groucho called him out to discuss his double life.

Photo: popflock.com

George never knew what Groucho had in store for him. Often Marx would summon George from behind the curtain, and he always looked uncomfortable which was quite genuine. But Groucho had great affection and appreciation for him, calling him the perfect straight man.

At times on the show, George could also be quite funny, but he knew his main role was straight man, and he usually toed that line carefully.

George and Groucho remained friends long after the show was cancelled. They often got together before Groucho’s death in 1977 at age 87. Groucho never lost his sense of humor. At one of their last visits, Groucho was in very frail health. Helping Groucho get across the room, George lifted him out of his wheelchair and carried him. He had his arms around his torso and began to shimmy him across the floor. Groucho’s rasping voice said, “Fenneman, you always were a lousy dancer.”

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

Although the shows have never been released in a chronological DVD collection, they are available. The programs were recorded in full and then edited to the desired length. On MP3 discs, some of the unedited tapes are available which provide a very different perspective than the aired show.

There are a few announcers still well known in the business. I think of Rod Roddy, Johnny Gilbert or Johnny Olson who have game show fame, but it is a career that is being phased out. There is something charming about watching the former announcers for shows promoting products and interacting with the stars. Harry Von Zell from the Gracie Allen and George Burns Show comes to mind or Don Wilson from the Jack Benny Show. Like rotary phones, transistor radios, and Polaroid cameras, they are fondly remembered from a slower and less technological period in history.

With this series being Oddly Wonderful, I am stretching it a bit by focusing on George. In our definition of oddly wonderful, he was definitely the wonderful.

I’ll Take Paul Lynde for the Win

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Today we are talking about the career of Paul Lynde.  Paul Lynde was an icon when I was growing up; he was probably best known at that time as the center Hollywood Square, the voice of Templeton the Rat in Charlotte’s Web, and Uncle Arthur on Bewitched.  His life encompasses both a unique and successful career as a comedian loved by many fans and the all-too-common saga of a star’s life ruined by drugs and alcohol. Many of the things you read about Paul Lynde concerning his behavior and cruel things he said to others are disheartening to a fan, but I learned that the characters I loved growing up (and continue to as an adult) are the characters, not the actors and actresses behind them.  With a few exceptions such as Fred MacMurray, Jimmy Stewart, or Cary Grant, most stars don’t live up to our illusions of them. Although truth be told, if someone studied our entire lives and wrote about them, there are probably parts of them we would not want the world to learn about either. I wanted to talk about Paul Lynde’s career, because although he was extremely well known during my youth, most young adults today probably have no idea who he is.

Paul was born in Mount Vernon, Ohio, one of six children.  His father was a local police officer and for a time, the family lived above the jail when his father was the sheriff of the jail.  Like many youngsters growing up in the 20s and 30s, he became interested in acting when he went to the movies  with his mother. The first movie he remembered was Ben Hur.  That interest propelled him to Northwestern University where he studied drama.  After school, he relocated to New York City where he worked as a stand-up comedian and then received a part in a Broadway show, “New Faces of 1952.” Alice Ghostley, who would be featured on Bewitched was also in the show. In 1963 he recorded a comedy album. From then on he was a popular guest, television star, and movie celebrity. His unique delivery of his sarcastic one-liners made him a popular entertainer.  There is not a lot of difference between the role of Uncle Arthur and his humor and delivery on Hollywood Squares.

He starred in several television series including Stanley with Buddy Hackett and Carol Burnett where he played a hotel owner in 1956-57 and The Pruitts of Southhampton with Phyllis Diller in 1967. From 1965-71, he was on Bewitched where he played Harold Harold a driving instructor the first season and then became a regular in the role of Uncle Arthur, Endora’s brother.  Surprisingly, the character of Arthur only appeared in ten episodes of the series. After Bewitched, he starred in The Paul Lynde Show where he played an attorney with two daughters and a liberal-minded son-in-law. Stiller and Meara were also on the show which was done to satisfy his contract with ABC in place of the ninth season of Bewitched. The show was up against The Carol Burnett Show and Adam-12 so it was cancelled, but he was nominated for a Best Actor Golden Globe award. His last starring role in television was in New Temperatures Rising where he played a penny-pinching doctor running a hospital owned by his mother.

Paul appeared on Hollywood Squares for 15 years (801 episodes).  In addition to that game show, he accumulated 80 credits playing himself on a variety of shows including Donny and Marie, Password, The 10,000 Dollar Pyramid, Dean Martin Roasts, The Carol Burnett Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and on several Paul Lynde Comedy Hour specials.

He appeared on a variety of television shows – 33 in all.  In addition to those he starred in, he was also in The Phil Silvers Show, The Patty Duke Show, The Jack Benny Show, The Munsters, Gidget, F-Troop, That Girl, I Dream of Jeannie, The Mothers-in-Law, The Flying Nun, and three episodes of Love American Style.  Had he lived a few years longer, I’m sure we would have seen him cruising the ocean on The Love Boat.

In addition to his television work, he also appeared in 18 movies between 1956 and 1975. He and Dick Van Dyke were the only Broadway performers from Bye Bye Birdie to be cast in the movie version.  He was also in Beach Blanket Bingo, and two of my favorites, Send Me No Flowers and The Glass Bottom Boat, both Doris Day movies.

Although he was gay, he did not discuss his sexual orientation, and the media respectfully did not report on it either.  In 1965, his partner and companion Bing Davidson died. They had been out drinking and Bing thought it would be funny to pretend to dangle from a hotel balcony but fell to his death.  Whether this exacerbated his alcohol and drug problems isn’t known, but Lynde’s health suffered from his addictions and he was arrested for public intoxication frequently. In 1980 he went through a successful rehabilitation, becoming sober and drug free.  Unfortunately, the damage that was done to his body was extensive, and he died from a heart attack in January of 1982 at age 55.

Some other interesting facts are that he was friends with Elizabeth Montgomery and her husband William Asher, he purchased Errol Flynn’s Hollywood Mansion, he was a dog lover, and he was one person who was able to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show while singing a song from Bye Bye Birdie about being on The Ed Sullivan Show. He was also a chef and considered opening a restaurant. To see some of his recipes, visit www.paullynde.info.

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To truly appreciate Lynde’s comedic personality, here are a few lines from Bewitched and Hollywood Squares.

To Endora, his sister, on  Bewitched:  “Endora when I think of you as a blood relation, I long for a transfusion.”

On Bewitched, telling a story, “Then I spent the summer hunting lions with the British expedition. One morning I shot a lion in my pajamas. Now, what he was doing in my pajamas, I’ll never know.”

Answers on Hollywood Squares:

Peter Marshall: According to Ann Landers, what are two things you should never do in bed?

Paul Lynde: Point and laugh.

 

Peter Marshall: According to the IRS, out of every 10 Americans audited, how many end up paying more taxes?

Paul Lynde: 11.

 

Before a cow will give you any milk, she has to have something very important. What?

Paul Lynde: An engagement ring

 

Peter Marshall: Fred Astaire says, his mother has been trying to get him to do this since he was 35. But he hasn’t done it and says he won’t do it until he’s ready. Do what?

Paul Lynde: Move out of the house!

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Perhaps the award that best sums up Lynde’s career was bestowed upon him in 1976 when he received the Entertainer of the Year Emmy for the funniest man of the year. If you don’t know much about Paul Lynde, check out some of the youtube videos from Hollywood Squares or watch a few of his episodes from Bewitched. Although not as well known today, his influence on present-day performers is wide spread and his career deserves to be remembered and celebrated.