Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Host With the Mostess On the Ball

Started the morning with a quick breakfast and Wonderland, a weird stage musical version of Alice In Wonderland from a decade ago that inspired my current Blank In Wonderland story. Here, Alice is an adult living in a grimy apartment building in New York, wondering why she can't sell her dark children's story. When her daughter vanishes into Wonderland, she goes after her, and learns a bit about herself and childhood from the strange people she meets there.

Hurried out even before the CD ended. I spent the first three hours of my shift sweeping and doing carts, thanks to the college-age bagger who works on the weekends being late. We were steady but not overwhelmingly busy and had plenty of help until around 2:30-3, when people started coming out of local events. At that point, the lines got longer, and we had to call for more help. Thank heavens everyone was in a good mood, and there were only a few fussy people. It slowed down enough by 4:30 for me to hurry out without a relief.

It was such a nice day, I took the long way home down Nicholson Road. The sun was out, the sky was a brilliant robin's egg blue, and the sun felt deliciously warm on my shoulders. It was about as perfect of a day in late September as one could wish. Gardens burst with marigolds, morning glories, azaleas, and late roses. 

When I got home, I thought I heard someone in the main house with Jodie. I made the bed, but they never came over here. Worked on writing for a while after I changed. The Red King presides next to King Allen and Queen Betty. He's obviously the real force behind Sir Richard's arrest for stealing the King's tarts. Orson the March Hare leads the others to prime seats up front, which Gary the Doormouse is saving for them...but sleeping on them. 

Broke for a quick leftovers dinner at 7. Finally put up the general fall decorations while listening to On the Flip Side. This bizarre TV musical from 1967 had Rick Nelson as a washed-up rock star who gets help from an angel (Joanie Summers) and her four friends The Celestials. Yeah, the plot is weird and kind of silly, but there's some decent music by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, including "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" in the opening, his quarrelsome duet with Summers "Try It My Way," and squeaky-voiced Donna Jean Young trying to make over Nelson with "They're Gonna Love It."

(Too bad research reveals the only place this can be found now is at the Paley Center in New York and the soundtrack on LP and a rare CD. I'd love to review this one.)

Finished the night on YouTube with further explorations of Gene Rayburn's early career. Make the Connection wasn't the only short-lived show Gene turned up on in the mid-50's. He was the game-but-unlikely predecessor to Marc Summers in Choose Up Sides in 1956, a show with kids on two teams doing wild stunts (without slime). Got a bit of a surprise to hear one of the kids choose a kid at home to play for from Wildwood Crest! I think I've only seen one or two other contestants on these shows from Cape May County.

Gene's best-known show, of course, is Match Game. Many people don't know it actually started in 1962 and was a far more staid affair. Gene would ask two teams featuring two contestants and a celebrity captain a simple question like "name a flavor of pudding." Those who matched answers won money. The game was as boring as it sounds, but even at this early date, the right panelists could really jazz up the proceedings. No less than blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield, complete with little dog in tow, appeared on a week in 1964. A very young Orson Bean made wisecracks alongside her (occasionally at her expense). 

Most of Gene's early output is gone forever, including the vast majority of the 60's Match Game. Several episodes of him hosting the 50's-60's nighttime To Tell the Truth do survive. The one I chose feature three women who claim to be bodybuilders and early health advocates, three former members of the Flying Tigers, and three men who raised geese. (Look for a cameo by Donald Duck's original voice artist Clarence "Ducky" Nash after the geese farm owners segment!)

Gene also hosted Tattletales a few times when regular host Burt Convy played with his lovely wife Ann. He actually hosted the show's pilot, but passed due to other commitments. He has a great time with his fellow hosts Bob Barker and Bobby Van and their wives Dorothy Jo Barker and Elaine Joyce in this episode from 1975. 

In 1973, Goodson-Todman revived Match Game in a totally revamped version. Now there were six celebrities matching two contestants. Winners made it to the Audience Match, where they tried to match an audience survey of a certain phrase. Once they won that, they'd choose a panelist to match with and win the amount from the Audience Match. 

The show started out as quieter affair...but as with the 60's version, Gene and his knack for comedy couldn't be contained for long. By late 1973, the writers started concocting longer and more complicated questions with an eye for salacious double-entendres, and the panelists were a who's-who of comedy, TV, and minor movie stars who knew how to put across a naughty joke. Gene reveled in the nuttiness, acting out characters like Old Man Periwinkle and interacting with the staff and audience. He climbed over the audience to get to the cameras at least three times, including the episode I chose from 1977. 

Though the network show ended in 1979, Match Game was revived again in syndication later that year. The syndicated version ran until 1982...and it could get even crazier, especially when McLean Stevenson joined the cast later in its run. Match Game-Hollywood Squares was a less-pleasant experience for Gene. He wasn't crazy about Jon Bauman as the host - he wanted original Squares host Peter Marshall - and he realized how cumbersome the format was. He still managed to have a lot of fun, as in this episode from early in 1984 spotlighting the now-little known sitcom We've Got It Made

Hope you enjoy this dive into the career of one of TV's most original and hilarious game show hosts! Look for a particularly touching introduction to the syndicated finale by Charles Nelson Reilly from when the episode ran as part of a New Year's marathon on Game Show Network in 1999. Gene died two months before the show aired - the episode is dedicated to him. 

Check out this marathon from last spring for even more classic moments from Gene on Match Game!


Linda said...

The revival MATCH GAME was doing quite poorly in the ratings when they just had the "tame" matches and the producers had to come up with something livelier and funnier. They hired Dick DeBartolo from "MAD" to do the questions. He's the one who came up with the "Dumb Dora" and "Dumb Donald" questions, among others.

Emma said...

Yep! That's exactly what happened...and the rest, as they say, is hilarious history. :)