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.

Truth or Consequences: Truth or Dare for Adults

This month we are looking at some classic television game shows. I have fond memories of watching Bob Barker hosting Truth or Consequences when I was a little girl, but I must admit I had no idea it continued for so long. I would have guessed it ended in 1970.

Photo: ebay.com

The premise of the show was to blend trivia answers with wacky stunts, like a Beat the Clock Jeopardy. Contestants had two seconds to answer an obscure question before being beat by Beulah the Buzzer. If the contestant was able to answer the question, the host would then mention there was a part two. When the contestant was not able to answer the question with the truth, they had to take the consequence; similar to Truth or Dare for Adults. The consequence was typically a crazy stunt that often was embarrassing for the contestants.

For example, in Conveyor Belt of Doom, a woman had to stop a complex machine before the conveyor belt dropped a pie on her husband. She flipped a lot of switches and lights but later learned the only way to stop the machine was to unplug it. On one episode, while contestants were in the Green Room waiting, they “saw” a gorilla escape from a cage and run after them, not realizing it was a man in a suit and being shown to the viewers.

Photo: tumblr.com

Occasionally the contestant was there for a special reason and during or after the stunt they were surprised by some event like a child coming home from the military or a long-lost relative found.

During Barker’s run on the show, a segment was added called Barker’s Box. The box had four drawers and three of them contained money with a pop-up item in one drawer. The contestant chose a drawer at a time and could keep the money unless the pop-up was revealed. Barker also ended all his shows with the closing, “Hoping all your consequences are happy ones.”

Photo: ralphedwardsproductions.com

Ralph Edwards created the game and it was a hit immediately. It began on NBC radio where it ran from 1940-1957. In 1950 the show debuted on television on CBS. After his stint as host, Edwards would create This is Your Life which also became very popular.  In 1952 it moved to NBC when Jack Bailey hosted. Three months after going off the air, NBC revived it, bringing in Bob Barker to emcee. Barker would stay with the show until 1975. During Barker’s time on the show, a primetime version was also created hosted by Steve Dunne for part of 1958. In 1977 a syndicated version of the show was produced. Barker had already accepted a position as host of The Nighttime Price is Right, so Bob Hilton became the host but the show was canceled after one season. A decade later the show was revived again with Larry Anderson at the helm. This one also lasted one season.

The City of Truth or Consequences Photo: sierracountynewmexico.com

In 1949, Edwards aired a request as a joke that the first place to change its name to the name of the show would be the host for the tenth-year anniversary taping of the show. The town of Hot Springs, New Mexico agreed to change its name to Truth or Consequences. For fifty years afterward, Edwards returned to the town every first weekend in May for a festival called Fiesta. The town still goes by Truth or Consequences today, and Fiesta is still celebrated annually.

Barker said that the show was not affected by the quiz show scandals in that decade. He said primarily it was because they did not give away a lot of money, and the show was more about the stunts that were performed. The only way they would have been able to “fix” the show was to bring in actors and the whole appealing reality concept of using actual people on the show would have disappeared.

Photo: tumblr.com

With the exception of Jeopardy, we tend to think of game shows as prime-time offerings. Many old shows have been rebooted in the past few years. However, in the fifties and sixties, they were an essential part of daytime programming. Truth or Consequences was one of the highest-rated game shows on the air during those decades, and the show propelled Bob Barker to stardom. When contestants were slimed on the Nickelodeon network or have some humiliating consequence on Ellen’s Game of Games, they can thank Truth or Consequences for inspiring such outcomes. It seems odd that a show that relies so much on visual antics was so successful on the radio for 17 years. I guess we all had more imagination back then.