Friday, October 5, 2012

Playing Games With My Heart

Ever since I was a child and would watch The Price is Right, The Hollywood Squares, The $25,000 Pyramid, To Tell the Truth and (to me at the time, at least) more adult and risque programs like Tattletales and especially Match Game, I've had an affinity for game shows. By the way, can you believe that this photo is from a real game of Wheel of Fortune that aired last season?! What are the chances... I knew I had to hold onto it and use it for a post in The Underworld. I have been to this well before here, but I'm in the mood to dip into it again!

I can't be sure exactly when it first developed, but I've always had a fascination with the process of elimination. That is, taking a given number of people and whittling them down to a sole winner. This explains part of the reasons why I enjoy game shows, pageants, disaster movies and even NFL football (a more recent addition to my life) in which 32 teams compete until only one is declared the winner at The Super Bowl. I even, against my better judgement, found myself enjoying Howie Mandel's Deal or No Deal because of the emphasis on the elimination of those dwindling suitcases during the course of the show.

Of course, I also have an obsession with celebrities, primarily actors and actresses, too, and always relish the chance to see them working on a game show where, with little to no prepared script, they have hardly any choice but to be themselves, especially when the heat is on. So game shows that feature celebrity guests are a particular favorite of mine. There were so many during the '70s, too, some of which are close to forgotten except in the hearts of those who watched them. (These sometimes would be aired on GSN - The Game Show Network - before their programming went straight into the toilet.)

There was Liar's Club, hosted for the bulk of its '70s run by Allen Ludden. A quartet of stars would take an unusual object and describe to a set of players what its intended use was. Only one of the stars knew its true use and the other three would lie as best as they could to throw the players off. Players would then bet part of their winnings on the celeb they felt was telling the truth. Ludden's wife, the game-loving Betty White was a frequent guest. Here, we see her on one episode with Burt Reynolds and on another nestled between Dick Gautier and a newly-minted comedian named David Letterman.

Do take note of Gautier's shirt, which is unbuttoned nearly to the waist! He even has a gold chain around his neck to make certain that we don't miss the fact that this was the mid-'70s. I don't care how tacky, tawdry or cheesy he seems here, when I was a youngin', I looked upon him with slack-jawed awe and thought he was the sexiest thing I had ever laid eyes on! LOL I went into the stratosphere (keeping it all inside, however) every time a game show started and he was one of the guests. To my pre-teen mind, he was sex on a stick (whatever sex even was to me at that tender age...)

Speaking of childhood crushes, my other one in the game show arena was the host of Wheel of Fortune. No, silly, not Pat Sajak. I'm speaking of Chuck Woolery! From 1975 to 1981, the hosting duties of the show fell to Woolery, a Kentucky-born country/folk singer and sometime actor. My childhood pea-brain could never tell the difference between Woolery and Elvis Presley and for a brief time, I thought Elvis hosted the show! Ha! In truth, he probably had more in common, looks-wise and in demeanor to Kentucky-raised Lee Majors. Something about the firm jaw and crooked smile.

I just thought he was gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous! I should be ashamed to admit this, but I'm not.  I once dated a girl in high school (just a time or two) primarily because I knew her mother had gone to prom with Chuck Woolery when she was a young girl and I wanted to try to find our more about it! (I got to see a picture at least!) I guess my fascination with stars was in place even then.

After hosting the popular show for seven years (along with then-letter-turner Susan Stafford), Woolery asked for a significant pay hike, having been receiving peanuts for the show which garnered an amazing 44 share in the ratings. Though producer Merv Griffin did agree to most of the raise Woolery was requesting (with NBC willing to kick in the difference), things fell apart when Griffin was toying with moving the show to CBS instead. Woolery was fired and the lesser-known weatherman Pat Sajak was brought in. Christmas Day of 1981, Woolery bid farewell and Stafford departed within a year as well. He went on to terrific success with Love Connection, which lasted from 1983 to 1994, and other games including the GSN show Lingo.

One celebrity show that I liked to watch as a kid was Tattletales. Hosted by Bert Convy, it featured three couples testing their knowledge about each other, with the winnings split between the audience, who sat in color coded sections, one for each of the couples. Some of the couples had only one celeb in the family, sometimes both parties were famous. Sometimes, a couple might just be two platonic, but reasonably close, friends, which allowed folks like Charles Nelson Reilly, Dick Sargent and Fannie Flagg to be a part of it.

In this shot below, we see Eight is Enough's Grant Goodeve and his wife, Bill Daly of I Dream of Jeannie and The Bob Newhart Show with his wife and Lynn Redgrave on her husband's lap.
Here, we see Let's Make a Deal's Monty Hall (backstage on headphones so that he can't hear the questions) and his wife Marilyn. Not everyone is aware that one of the couple's three children grew up to be Broadway star (and Tony winner for Into the Woods) Joanna Gleason.
And where else are you likely to see Barbi Benton and Joan Collins sitting next to one another? (Though it must be said that they both posed for Playboy, so perhaps they could have met before at Hef's mansion.)
You were never sure who might pop up from Patty Duke (Astin) to the aforementioned Dick Gautier to James Brolin (then married to Josh's mother Jane) to the omnipresent Miss Betty White.
Another celebrity-enhanced show, one that was short-lived having run under two years from mid-1984 to early-1986, was Body Language. A charades-based game that also included fill-in-the-blank word puzzles, a male and a female celebrity paired up with a contestant each. The credit sequence would show the celebs in mid-game, flailing and emoting wildly, while animated bodies below would morph into the show's title. (Here, we see Kim Fields – Tootie of The Facts of Life – and a young Jason Bateman, who even at this age was cutting the improvisational and comedic skills that would secure him an adult career in the movies.)

This is Scarecrow and Mrs. King's supporting actress Martha Smith playing opposite Ed Begley Jr, who was then a costar on St. Elsewhere.
Too Close for Comfort star JM J Bullock surely must have been happy to get paired up with this humpy contestant, Sam, for a couple of days. Sam had what we used to call “cocksucker lips,” if you'll excuse my crudeness! LOL
JM was caught in the era, just as I was for a time, of wearing pins and other d├ęcor on one's jackets and shirts, though I sure never wore anything as garish as the ensemble he has on here! Gotta love the '80s...
It wasn't until I was all grown up that I so much as even heard of two of the most classic, and classy, game shows ever to have hit the airwaves. One of them, What's My Line? not only had a four-person line-up of notable people playing the game, but also ended each half-hour broadcast with a mystery round that featured a famous celebrity. Shown below Vincent Price is the legendary Miss Bette Davis.

The regular panelists (most often Bennett Cerf, Dorothy Kilgallen and Arlene Francis, usually along with another gentleman) would be blindfolded and have to guess who it was in the studio with them. The blindfolds began as tie-backs, but then graduated to large, fabric-covered glasses in order to avoid mussing the ladies' hairstyles! For a time, the blindfolds were decorated with fake eyeglasses or large false eyelashes, but ultimately became more tasteful, streamlined things.

The celeb often tried to disguise his or her voice to throw the guessers off. This meant that the celebrity present often had a lot of fun during his or her visit. As the original version of the show ran from 1950 to 1967 (with a revival in 1968 that ran until 1975), seemingly every person of interest imaginable turned up as a mystery guest. Even Eleanor Roosevelt appeared on the program. The stars shown here are all named at the bottom of their pictures except for Sean Connery and cute little Rick Nelson.

As overseen by legitimate news man John Daly, What's My Line? was a fun, but elegant and very tasteful sort of game show. The panelists were dressed to the hilt and the mystery guests also took pains to make a glamorous impression. If you enjoy stars of the '50s and '60s, you owe it to yourself to go to youtube.com and search for What's My Line? mystery guests and enjoy the parade of personalities that have been placed there for your entertainment.
The second classic and classy game show that evaded me until I was an adult is Password. I did a mini-tribute to the show in the earliest days of The Underworld . Again, this show brought out some of Hollywood's heavy hitters and afforded viewers the opportunity to see them as themselves, but also under pressure as they tried to win money for their contestant partners.

Perry Mason fans got to see Raymond Burr cutting up and sitting behind something other than a court room desk, comic legend Jack Benny was pressed into trying to score some points for his teammate, Lauren Bacall had fun with some of the clues and can you even imagine sitting down to play a game with Joan Crawford as your partner?!  (Joan, by the way, was surprisingly meek and rather petrified through much of the show.)

Host Allen Ludden always made sure that the program ran smoothly and tastefully. I've thrown around the word tasteful, which sounds a little snooty. It's really not. It's just amusement minus a lot of the outrageousness and noise we've (sort of) become used to. You'd be surprised how funny and engrossing an old show like the ones I'm describing here can be without a lot of screaming, whooping and whatever other antics can be found on what passes for a game show today.

This photo features two of my very favorite Password celebs, Betty White (who was simply in a class by herself when it came to game-playing) and Frank Giffored (who was just the most handsome, well-mannered, yet adept, player imaginable.)  On this given day, White was playing with three pro-football players while Gifford had as his partners three female ice-skating performers.  It was all for charity, of course.  I have a tribute to the wonders of Frank Gifford right here.

Password went through several permutations, often coming back to the airwaves a year or two after cancellations in a revamped format. Ludden was the host for three versions, but died during the run of Password Plus (in 1981.) Half the fun of Password and Password Plus was seeing which celebrities were being put together on a given episode.

Even though Robert Foxworth and Elizabeth Montgomery were romantically involved ever since they worked on the 1974 TV-movie Mrs. Sundance (after which he divorced his then-wife), they didn't act together on-screen again until the early 1990s prior to her death, so it was interesting to see them together as a couple on Password Plus. Incidentally, no matter whether she appeared with Foxworth or someone else (Wesley Eure, for example), Miss Montgomery was always reluctant to bow upon entering to throes of applause. Her male counterpart would bow and then she'd skip it and race to the podium to play.

Betty White never guest-starred on Mission: Impossible, but she got to work with that series' costar Greg Morris on Password Plus. Longstanding couple Bill and Susan Seaforth Hayes (of Days of Our Lives) showed up, with he in a quasi-western get-up!

In what was a remarkable moment (that I'm surprised went on the air!), guest star Debralee Scott got so excited as the game progressed that she proceeded to burst the snap-buttons on her blouse, with each gyration showing more and more of her braless cleavage. Hilarious!

By the time of Super Password in 1984, Bert Convy was the host and the game only resembled its original format in the most basic way. It had been souped up considerably from the days when players strove to win between $350 and $500 (depending on whether it was the daytime or nighttime version!) Now, players did a bonus round that was at least $5,000 and, depending on the accumulation of un-won rounds, could reach over $50,000! A belated 2008-2009 version called Million Dollar Password gave players a shot at winning $1 million, but no one took home more than $100,000 (which is certainly nothing to sneeze at!) The indefatigable Betty White, then in her late-eighties, turned up twice on this rendition, having appeared on every prior version of the show.

You know, most, if not all, of the five day per week games shows were filmed in one day. So celebrity guests and the contestants would have to pretend that each new half hour of filming was actually a day past the episode they'd just filmed! So the host might say that it was the fourth day of the week, but it was actually just the fourth half-hour taping out of one long day! Savvy guest actresses would make changes to their hair along with the obligatory clothing changes so that the whole thing wouldn't be so obvious. For example, for a 1985 run on Super Password, Leann Hunley showed up on “Monday” with her long hair free, then as the week went on added barrettes, then ended up with it in a French twist!
Hunley was a wonderful Password player, capable of some amazing clues and, thus, wins for her contestant. At this point in her career, she was working on Days of Our Lives (a part which won her an Emmy in 1986.) Little did she know when playing Super Password that one of the answers in the game would be Alexis. Ironically, she would later join the cast of Dynasty from 1986 to 1988 and be pitted head to head against the character, played by Joan Collins! Hunley returned to Super Password a couple of times after she'd been cast in Dynasty as well.

Appres po of nothing, I recall the day I found out she was to join the cast of Dynasty and how thrilled I was because I always liked her and she reminded me of my best friend (who remains such to this day.) Her character Dana became part of a major storyline through her involvement with Carrington son Adam (played by Gordon Thomson) and as a result she received lots of publicity. Sadly, she departed after two seasons. Following a wealth of subsequent TV appearances, she returned to Days of Our Lives again, where she recurrently portrayed her earlier character from about 2007 to 2010.

In that post on game shows I did back in 2010, I referred to the amusing program Now You See It (1974-1975), which settled on parading five contestants out onto a set of rust-orange, shag-covered steps, their eye-scorching get-ups instantly bringing a grin to the face of anyone who happens upon it now. The brief window of time that the show was on happened to fall within that “perfect storm” time period of immense fugliness in dress and, often, hair. The fun, swingy theme song which plays as the people awkwardly trundle out from the wings and down the stairs only adds to the hilarity. I could sit and watch a continuous loop of these people trotting out upon the inordinately complicated set, dress in their polyester finery.

Game shows of yore can really cough up some amusingly strange birds; people who make for arresting personalities on a half-hour broadcast, but who might be annoying or wearing in real life. The clothes and hair of anything from, say, twenty years or more – give or take- past also provides a decent chuckle.

No matter how many stars appear on a game show, its ultimate success often winds up relying on the caliber of its contestants. The spontaneous answers, reactions and expressions of everyday folks can also provide some terrific entertainment. The best hosts were the ones who could build upon and exploit the instances of amusing humanity that came along through the course of the games. They don't build them anymore like Allen Ludden, Bob Barker, Bill Cullen, Bob Eubanks and others I've failed to mention. It's all I can do to endure ten minutes of Drew Carey (who I have nothing against personally) stumblefucking his way through The Price is Right. It's an art and, despite moderate improvement, he doesn't have the tools for it.

I really didn't mean to do a post about game shows and all the celebs that show up on them directly on the heels of a post on TV guest stars, but that's just the way it panned out. I still wish to dig further into Match Game and The Price is Right and so will probably revisit this arena at least once more still.

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