We have come to our final blog post about four interesting To Tell the Truth panelists. Today we are concentrating on Bill Cullen, who many of us associate with game shows during the era we grew up in.
Born William Cullen in 1920 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he was an only child. His father owned a Ford dealership there. Like many children in that era, he was diagnosed with polio which left him with physical issues to deal with for the rest of his life. The combination of the effects of polio and a motorcycle accident in 1939, that left him hospitalized for nine months, made it difficult for him to stand or walk for long periods of time.
He was originally a pre-med student but had to leave school because of financial problems. After a break to earn some money, he later returned to college to earn a degree in Fine Arts.
During this time, Cullen was married to Ruth Harrington; the two would divorce in 1948.
In 1939, Cullen worked at WWSW, a Pittsburgh radio station. He was a disc jockey and a play-by-play announcer with Joe Tucker for the Steelers and the Hornets (an earlier hockey team). In 1943 he was hired by KDKA. In 1944 he moved to New York where he got a job as an announcer at CBS.
While working on CBS, he tried his hand at joke writing, supplying Arthur Godfrey, Danny Kaye, and Jack Benny with his humor. He also obtained a writing job for the radio show Easy Aces.
During WWII Cullen became a pilot and served in the Civil Air Patrol as an instructor. He had become a pilot at age 13, and it remained one of his great passions his entire life.
In 1945 he was hired as the announcer for a radio quiz show called Give and Take. In 1952, he worked with Mark Goodson and Bill Todman on Winner Take All. This relationship would bring him a lot of work during his gameshow career, and he would host numerous game shows during the late forties and early fifties.
In 1948, Bill tried marriage again, wedding singer Carol Ames. They were married seven years before calling it quits.
In 1952, Cullen made the move to television where he would become a household name. During the fifties, he hosted The Bill Cullen Show, Bank on the Stars, Place the Face, Name That Tune, and The Price is Right. Cullen beat out Dick Van Dyke as host of The Price is Right. Later it was determined the demands were too high for him when the show moved to prime time, and he was replaced by Bob Barker.
Not long after his divorce from Ames, Bill married dancer and model Ann Macomber. They would remain married until his death. She passed away in 2018.
He also appeared as a panelist on I’ve Got a Secret from 1952-1967, on To Tell the Truth from 1969-1978, What’s My Line, The Cross Wits, Password, Match Game, and Tattletales.
Not one to sit around, he also hosted Eye Guess, Three on a Match, Blankety Blanks, The 25,000 Pyramid, Chain Reaction, Blockbusters, and The Joker’s Wild. After his stint with The Joker’s Wild, he retired.
After retirement, he was able to spend more time on his hobbies including photography, interior decorating, model airplanes, painting, magic tricks, raising fish, writing plays and poetry, learning the saxophone and guitar, and flying.
In 1969, Cullen got very ill and was diagnosed with pancreatitis that required surgery. The surgery and recuperation took quite a toll on him and left him 30 pounds lighter.
In a TV Guide interview in 1984, Cullen said he was just lucky with game show offers. He said “This is how it happens every time. A known packager comes up with the idea for a new show. The network says do a run-through. They do. The network likes it, and they say, we’ll give you a pilot. Then the network says ‘Who are we going to get to host it?’ Then he says they have the discussion about hiring someone new or someone gets mentioned who didn’t work out on another show. They hire the staff and weeks before the pilot is scheduled, they say, ‘Let’s just go with Bill Cullen.’”
Cullen was nominated for an Emmy three times but only won for Three on a Match in 1973. It was said he hosted more than 25,000 episodes of television during his career. Cullen often filled in for other people including The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson took vacation, for To Tell the Truth when Garry Moore had throat cancer, and for Allen Ludden on Password when he was ill. During the 1960s, he was the first game show announcer to be working on all three networks at the same time. He was also the first game show host to appear on the cover of TV Guide in 1954, and he would go on to have six more covers.
It sounds like Cullen was more than satisfied with his career and had no desire to be a television star. With his limp and horn-rimmed glasses with thick lens, he said “I often ask myself, ‘How am I working? I’m certainly not the guy who appeals to women between the ages of 18 and 35.’” When asked if he had frustrations about his career, his response was, “If anything, the industry has treated me better than I deserve. If you don’t have high aspirations—and I don’t—it’s terrific. I like my niche. I’m never under great pressure, and I’ve made a lot of money over the years doing what I enjoy.”
If that isn’t a definition of success, then I’m not sure what is. I have to admit that I think being a panelist on a game show would be a pretty fun gig. I really enjoyed learning about the four panelists of the To Tell the Truth that I remembered watching on television when I was a youngster.