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.

Just “Ellen”: The First Ellen DeGeneres Show

I remember watching Ellen when it first aired. I don’t recall many details, but I remember it being funny and the characters rang true to me. I recently watched the episode about bowling for another blog (see September 3, 2018), and it prompted me to take a closer look at the show.

Photo: celebrities-galore.com

Ellen DeGeneres was born in Metairie, Louisiana into a middle-class family. When she was sixteen, her parents divorced and later when her mother remarried, she moved to Atlanta, Texas with her new husband and children. Ellen started college but decided it wasn’t for her and made her living in various jobs before trying stand-up comedy. Only four years after graduating from high school, she was touring the nation with her comedy. In 1986 she would appear on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

From 1989-1990, Ellen starred as Margo Van Meter in Open House. Open House was about a real estate company. Ellen played the man-hungry secretary. In 1992 she gave sitcoms another try, portraying Nancy MacIntyre on Laurie Hill. This time the show was about the medical profession, and Ellen was a nurse with a great sense of humor.

Ellen appeared in a handful of shows and movies and then received her own show, Ellen, not to be confused with The Ellen Show which debuted in 2001 or The Ellen DeGeneres Show which aired in 2003 and is still going strong. Ellen ran on ABC from 1994-1998. The show was created at an interesting time in her career. Now a household name, Ellen had established herself as a respected comedian but was not the typical star who carried a self-named sitcom. Think of The Doris Day Show, The Jimmy Stewart Show, or The Joey Bishop Show, all well-established stars.

Photo: pressfrom.info

Ellen was created by Carol Black, Neal Marlens, and David S. Rosenthal. (Black and Marlens had created Growing Pains and The Wonder Years as well. Rosenthal would go on to produce many successful series.) Originally titled “These Friends of Mine”, the show is centered around Ellen Morgan, a bookstore employee and her friends and coworkers, whose lives become intertwined. Like Seinfeld, the show was primarily about Ellen’s relationship with her quirky friends and dealing with day-to-day life and issues. Ellen works at “Buy the Book” bookstore. She lives in an apartment with Adam (Arye Gross), a college friend.  Adam just can’t find the right woman and gets dumped often.

Recurring characters throughout the series were Ellen’s parents, Harold (Steven Gilborn) and Lois (Alice Hirson). Her dad is a bit naïve. Her mom spends a lot of time interfering in Ellen’s life. At one point, they plan on getting divorced but later reconcile.

Photo: imdb.com
Clea Lewis

Ellen’s friend Holly (Holly Fulgar) is only seen in season one. She is very shy and introverted but would like to be an extrovert. Anita is another first-season friend who is not seen in subsequent years. Joe (David Anthony Higgins) is a sarcastic Canadian and the coffee barista at the bookstore café. He becomes closer to Ellen as the series continues. Audrey (Clea Lewis) began as Ellen’s neighbor and eventually becomes a coworker as well. Audrey has a high voice and is extremely perky and cheerful and she loves pink. She was born into a wealthy family but has put her money aside for a job at the bookstore.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

During season two, Joely Fisher joined the cast as Ellen’s friend Paige. She works for a movie studio and is a little arrogant. Paige had previously dated Spence (Jeremy Pivens), Ellen’s cousin, and she leaves her fiancé at the altar to resume the relationship.

The show always did well in the ratings but because some of the characters were more appealing than others, most of the main cast was dropped for the third season.

The theme song from season three on was an altered version of “So-Called Friend” by a Scottish band, Texas. A running gag on the show centered around the altered lyrics which changed from time to time. The lyrics resulted in different opening sequences as Ellen searched for the perfect opening.

During season three, Adam moves out when his character takes a job in England. and Ellen lives alone. Eventually her cousin Spence moves in. Spence has been going to medical school but wrestles with a career decision, going to law school for a bit before returning to the medical profession.

Photo: visiontv.ca

During the fourth season, Ellen buys her first house. Paige is still having a hard time adjusting to Ellen’s being out of the closet but accepts it at the end of the fourth year. Another change during season four is the arrival of Ed who manages the bookstore. He often disagreed with Ellen on how to run the business.

Of course, you can’t discuss the show without talking about a 1997 episode, “The Puppy Episode” that made television history. DeGeneres revealed that she was gay in real life which the writers and producers decided to carry over into the sitcom, making Ellen Morgan the first openly gay sitcom character who was the star of a show. Other gay characters appeared on shows; e.g., Billy Crystal as Jodie was a gay character in Soap, but he wasn’t the star. Ellen’s therapist on the show was Oprah Winfrey. The revelation caused a lot of controversy and media exposure.

Photo: tvguide.com

While the show made it easier for gay characters on television in the future, it didn’t help Ellen. Ellen DeGeneres not only was chastised by members of society who didn’t approve of gay characters, she also was criticized by the LGBT community as well. They were unhappy when she said she never wanted to be a role model for LGBT. “I was looked at as the new leader, and I didn’t want to be a leader and I didn’t want to be political . . . I just wanted to be free from a secret and that’s all I wanted.” She was portrayed as not gay enough for some groups and too gay by others, a no-win situation.

Photo: imdb.com

With so much controversy, I think the powers that be on the show could not make the announcement and then ignore it but to put too much emphasis on it detracted from the relationship all the characters were involved in. Most of the subsequent episodes focused too much on the gay issues, destroying the camaraderie of the group by focusing more on one character. Rather than shows being about the group or even Ellen, it was about being gay. Ratings declined and the show was cancelled, but it had an impact, making way for gay characters in the television community. Despite all the backlash the show received for featuring a gay character, Will and Grace debuted the same year Ellen was cancelled and became a huge hit.

Of course, Ellen DeGeneres would go on to become a superstar with an award-winning talk show and a producer extraordinaire of eclectic shows. She does games shows, she has a line of home goods and shoes on QVC, and she has hosted a design competition on HGTV. Like Oprah, she has the avenues open now to explore whatever types of shows capture her interest. I have not seen Ellen on syndication in years, but episodes exist on YouTube. The DVDs were released from 2004-2006.

It’s too bad the show could not return to its original premise. Like Friends, Seinfeld, Will and Grace, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, it had a cast of interesting personalities that had a special bond. Ellen DeGeneres received Golden Globe nominations for best comedy actress for the show three of its seasons. Joely Fisher received best supporting actress in 1998. Ellen also received the Emmy nomination for best comedy actress every year from 1994-1998. The show was also nominated for Emmys for directing, writing, and guest stars. It was a hilarious show, and it would have been amazing to see how long it could have lasted if it had not been forced off the air for non-creative reasons.

Photo: memorabletv.com

As I mentioned, I recently watched the bowling episode which brought out Ellen’s competitive streak. I remembered how funny the show was and what an amazing ensemble cast the show featured. I will definitely watch more episodes.