The Golden (Brown) Age of Game Show Hosts
The game show era of the 1970s and 1980s. A strange time. Refined, black-tie shows like What’s My Line and Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life gave way to wide lapels, sexual innuendoes and long-stemmed microphones.
Helming these shows was an interchangeable fleet of charmingly fake-tanned, bleach-toothed, dyed-haired pseudo sex symbols, the majority of whom had begun their careers as small-market disc jockeys. They were likably sleazy. Used car salesmen with a heart of gold. And following Johnny Carson’s lead, they pushed/shredded the envelope when it came to loud sport coats.
That’s not to say they weren’t good guys—Richard Dawson often made on-air, tearful pleas to help save the lives of needy children. Bob Barker certainly helped control the pet population. And Peter Tomarken died trying to transport a cancer patient in his Beechcraft Bonanza prop plane.
Today, we salute them. Our seven favorite game show hosts of the ’70s and ’80s.
Real Name: Richard Wagstaff
Born: November 30, 1929
First Job: Disc jockey
Primary Show: Pyramid (five versions, two networks)
Catchphrase: “For now, Dick Clark. So long.” (Salutes)
Notable: Pyramid’s bonus round has been called “the most dramatic in all of gamedome” thanks to Dick’s dramatic, even-tempered introduction and maniacal off-camera shouts of “Hurry!” with 10 seconds remaining.
Real Name: Winston Conrad Martindale
Born: December 4, 1934
First Job: Disc jockey
Primary Show: Tic Tac Dough. Has hosted 15 game shows, the second-most behind Bill Cullen (23).
Notable: Martindale’s rendition of the spoken-word song “The Deck of Cards” sold over a million copies and reached No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It remains the least hot song to ever hit that chart.
Real Name: Peter Tomarken
Born: December 7, 1942
First Job: Copywriter at Young & Rubicam
Primary Show: Press Your Luck
Catchphrase: “Stop! On a whammy.”
Why He Became Host: His agent said, “Because you work four days a month and get paid six figures.”
Notable: Tomarken and his wife were killed when his Beechcraft Bonanza crashed a few hundred feet offshore in Santa Monica Bay due to engine trouble. The Tomarkens were en route to San Diego to pick up a cancer patient who needed transportation to UCLA Medical Center for treatment.
Real Name: Robert Leland Eubanks
Born: January 8, 1938
First Job: Disc jockey
Other Job: Music producer. Responsible for bringing the Beatles to Los Angeles for their first West Coast performances in 1964 and 1965 (mortgaging his house to do so).
Primary Show: The Newlywed Game. (Only person to host the same game show in six different consecutive decades—1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.)
Notable: In Michael Moore’s 1989 documentary Roger and Me, Eubanks tells a joke that proved to be controversial: “You know why Jewish girls don’t get AIDS? They only marry assholes, they don’t screw ’em!”
Real Name: Robert William Barker
Born: December 12, 1923
First Job: Fighter pilot in the US Navy
Primary Show: The Price Is Right. (Ranked fifth among longest-continuing daytime television programs.)
Catchphrase: “Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered.”
Style Note: On October 15, 1987, Barker did what other game show hosts never did: renounced hair dye and allowed his hair to turn gray. Fellow hosts Monty Hall, Alex Trebeck and Richard Dawson followed suit soon thereafter.
Notable: Has been sued for sexual harassment by several “Barker’s Beauties” including Dian Parkinson, Holly Hallstrom, Janice Pennington, Kathleen Bradley, Sherrill Paris and Sharon Friem.
Real Name: Colin Lionel Emm
Born: November 20, 1932
First Job: Corporal Peter Newkirk on Hogan’s Heroes
Primary Show: Family Feud
Nickname: The Kissing Bandit
Notable: Married second wife Gretchen Johnson, a contestant on Family Feud, in 1981. He did not kiss the female contestants in his second run on Family Feud due to a commitment he made to his wife and daughter.
Real Name: Charles Herbert Woolery
Born: March 16, 1941
Earlier Jobs: US Navy, wine consultant, sales representative for Pillsbury, half of musical duo the Avante Garde (1968 top-40 hit “Naturally Stoned”), truck driver, costar on the hit children’s series New Zoo Revue
Catchphrase: “We’ll be back in two-and-two.”
Notable: A devout Born Again Christian, Woolery sells his own line of fishing products, including the MotoLure, a motorized lure that simulates the motions of a small fish.
- — C. Brian Smith