26 May 2010

RIP: Art Linkletter

Arthur Gordon Linkletter
17 Jul 1912 - 26 May 2010


ZUI this article from the New York Times:
Art Linkletter, the genial host who parlayed his talent for the ad-libbed interview into two of television’s longest-running shows, “People Are Funny” and “House Party,” in the 1950s and 1960s, died on Wednesday at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. He was 97.

The death was confirmed by Art Hershey, a son-in-law.

From his early days as an announcer on local radio and a roving broadcaster at state fairs, Mr. Linkletter showed a talent for ingratiating himself with his subjects and getting them to open up, often with hilarious results.

He was particularly adept at putting small children at ease, which he did every day on a special segment of “House Party,” a reliably amusing question-and-answer session that provided the material for his best-selling book, “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”

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Gordon Arthur Kelly was born on July 17, 1912, in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Before he was a month old, he was abandoned by his parents and adopted by Fulton John and Mary Metzler Linkletter, a middle-age couple whose two children had died.

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With John Guedel, who would go on to create the quiz show “You Bet Your Life” and the comedy “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” Mr. Linkletter made an audition tape for an audience-participation show, with contests and gags, that would rely on his ability to ad-lib and coax humorous material from virtually anyone. Mr. Guedel came up with the name “People Are Funny,” and NBC put it on the air in 1942. Enormously popular, it ran on radio until 1960. The television version, which made its debut in 1954, ran until 1961.

Working without a script, Mr. Linkletter sent audience volunteers on silly assignments outside the studio with instructions to report back on their experience. One man was handed a $1,000 bill and told to buy chewing gum. Another was given $15,000 to invest in the stock market. Mr. Linkletter mingled with the audience, asking questions, setting up gags and handing out prizes like a yard of hot dogs or five feet of dollar bills.

On one show, Mr. Linkletter spotted a woman’s enormous purse and began rummaging through it, announcing each item in turn: a can opener, a can of snuff, a losing racetrack ticket and a photograph of Herbert Hoover. The handbag bit became a staple of the show. More ingeniously, Mr. Linkletter set a dozen balls adrift in the Pacific, announcing a $1,000 prize for the first person to find one. Two years later, a resident of the Marshall Islands claimed the money.

“House Party,” which ran five days a week on radio from 1945 to 1967 and on television from 1952 to 1969, was a looser version of “People Are Funny,” with beauty tips and cooking demonstrations filling time between Mr. Linkletter’s audience-chatter sessions. The highlight of the show was a segment in which five schoolchildren between the ages of 5 and 10 sat down to be interviewed by Mr. Linkletter, who sat at eye level with his little subjects and, time and time again, made their parents wish television had never been invented.

Wow - hadn't realised he was still alive! I used to watch House Party whenever I got the chance, especially the bit with the kids. (He wrote a couple books based on those interviews - one actually seems to be back in print, and Amazon also carries a couple of DVDs from the shows.)

1 comment:

Brigid said...

I remember that show when I was a little kid. I hadn't even realized he was still alive. But he brought many a smile to my family over the years.