Priceless memories / Bob Barker with Digby Diehl.
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- ISBN: 9781599951355
- ISBN: 1599951355
- Physical Description: 245 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
- Edition: 1st ed.
- Publisher: New York : Center Street, 2009.
|Formatted Contents Note:||
Phone call from Ralph Edwards -- Truth or consequences, my first national show -- I go to work for Mark Goodson, too -- Contestants and celebrities Ive met -- Dorothy Jo: wife and partner -- My years on the reservation -- Tilly--what a mom! -- Up, up, and away as a Naval Aviation Cadet -- Let me tell you of dogs, cats, rabbits, and ducks -- Whats right about The price is right -- Hurray for Hollywood! 1950-1981 -- Beauty pageants and the "fur flap" -- Touching bases from Happy Gilmore to the Rose Parade -- DJ&T Foundation -- Retirement can keep you busy.
Television icon Barker, beloved by millions for his charisma and charm, shares his life--both in front of the camera and behind the scenes.
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|Subject:||Barker, Bob, 1923-
Television game show hosts > United States > Biography.
By Barker, Bob
Center StreetCopyright © 2009 Barker, Bob
All right reserved.
A Phone Call from Ralph Edwards
If you are fifty years old or younger, I have been on national television your entire life, and I would like to begin this book by telling you how I got there. Hollywood mythology is full of overnight success stories. The urban legend of the discovery of Lana Turner in Schwab’s Drugstore is the best-known example, but the entertainment business doesn’t really work that way. Before producers are ready to risk a lot of money on you, they demand proof of your ability, your experience, and your professionalism.
In other words, it takes many years of hard work to become an overnight success. On the other hand, I received one unforgettable phone call from Ralph Edwards that truly made possible everything else that happened to me in a long and fortunate life.
My overnight success began in 1956, nearly seven years after my wife, Dorothy Jo, and I had moved to Hollywood in pursuit of “audience participation host” opportunities for me. At the time, I was doing a weekly radio program on the local CBS station for Southern California Edison. It was called The Bob Barker Show. I named it myself. Dorothy Jo produced the show. Southern California Edison was (and is) the electric power company for almost all of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. At the time, Edison maintained what they called Electric Living Centers all over their service area. Essentially, the centers were appliance store showrooms with theater seating—and a microphone.
On the stage were all sorts of ranges, refrigerators, freezers, washers, dryers—anything and everything that used electricity. These were the gleaming modern furnishings of the dream kitchen of the mid-1950s, and the Edison centers offered regular demos in the hope that people would go out and buy new electric appliances for their homes. Edison didn’t necessarily care whether you bought Westinghouse or Hotpoint or Maytag, as long as it plugged in. My show featured homemakers who attended these demonstrations and wanted to be on the radio. Dorothy Jo and I would visit two different cities a day, doing a show in each city. We logged a lot of miles traveling out to the rapidly growing suburbs of Los Angeles, including Pomona, San Bernardino, Oxnard, and Ventura—sometimes as far away as Lancaster—to visit these Edison Electric Living Centers and broadcast on KNX radio.
One day shortly after Thanksgiving in 1956, Ralph Edwards was driving his daughters—who were little girls in those days—to an ice-skating lesson. To say that it was my good fortune that he turned on his car radio, and tuned in to The Bob Barker Show, is an understatement.
Ralph Edwards was already a broadcasting legend. Beginning as a radio announcer, he went on to become the producer of This Is Your Life and a long list of other shows, including, of course, Truth or Consequences. Truth or Consequences was Ralph’s own creation and was based on a game he played on the family farm as a kid.
I had been a big fan of Ralph Edwards. I used to listen to him when he hosted Truth or Consequences on the radio, which he began doing in 1940. He painted such a vivid picture of what was happening that you didn’t have to see it, describing things with such flair and detail that you enjoyed every moment of it.
In 1950, they brought Truth or Consequences to television, and Ralph hosted that version as well until 1954, when Jack “Queen for a Day” Bailey took over. When we came to California, Dorothy Jo and I used to go to watch Truth or Consequences live. Ralph built and maintained a tremendous level of excitement. He was almost frenetic in the way he bounded around the stage on Truth—not at all as he appeared on This Is Your Life.
Occasionally, after playing a joke on a contestant, Ralph would look into the camera and say to the viewers: “Aren’t we devils?” People all over the country picked up on it and were saying, “Aren’t we devils?” It was the same thing that was to happen with “Come on down” a couple of decades later.
By late 1956, Dorothy Jo and I had a small advertising agency on the Sunset Strip from which we serviced advertisers for The Bob Barker Show. And when I say “small,” I really mean small. Dorothy Jo and I were it, which meant that when I was out meeting with a client, she was the only one in the office.
“Ralph Edwards called you,” she said casually as I walked in the door.
This was nothing to be casual about. “You mean the famous Ralph Edwards?” I asked.
“I guess so,” Dorothy Jo replied. “They said ‘Ralph Edwards Productions.’ ”
I started getting excited. “What did he want?” I asked.
“The lady who called said he wants to talk to you.”
“Give me that number!”
I sat down immediately and dialed the number.
Ralph came on the line quickly. He said, “I’m calling you because I have a show called Truth or Consequences that’s going back on TV as a daytime program. I’d like to talk with you about the possibility of you hosting it.”
I could hardly believe my ears, but I managed to say, “Yes, sir.”
“I was wondering when it would be convenient for you to see me,” Ralph said.
I knew that Ralph Edwards Productions was located on Hollywood Boulevard at the corner of Cherokee. I said, “I’ll be right over. I can be in your office in fifteen minutes.” Perhaps a bit too eager, I started to get up and head for the door—even before I hung up the phone. The cord pulled me up short.
With a smile in his voice, Ralph assured me that it wouldn’t be necessary to be there in fifteen minutes. “Bob,” he said, “how about tomorrow or the next day?”
I promptly said, “Let’s make it tomorrow.”
Ralph chuckled as we set up the time for our meeting.
Ralph Edwards Productions had what looked to me like a complete floor, offices in every direction. I told a young lady at a desk near the elevator that I was Bob Barker and that I had an appointment with Mr. Edwards. She asked me, “Ralph or Paul Edwards?”
“Ralph Edwards,” I answered.
She picked up a phone, spoke softly for a moment, and said, “Mr. Edwards is expecting you, Mr. Barker. His office is at the end of this hall.” She gestured down a long hall.
As I walked down the hall, it seemed as if there were one, two, or sometimes three people busily working away in offices on both sides of the hall.
I thought, “This is one busy place.” In the years to come, I learned how right I was.
When I reached Ralph’s office, the door was standing open and he was seated at his desk, writing. As I came through the door, he quickly rose and stepped around his huge desk, extending his hand. He said, “Young man, I like the way you do your radio show.” As we shook hands, he closed his office door behind me, indicated a chair for me near his desk, and sat down in his own chair.
Of course, Ralph’s opening remark that he liked my work on radio did wonders to put me at ease, which was probably exactly what it was intended to do.
Ralph looked even younger—he was forty-two—than he had looked when Dorothy Jo and I had attended his show.
He was wearing a light brown, perfectly fitted single-breasted suit; a white shirt; and a dark brown and yellow tie. I thought he looked every inch the television star and producer that, indeed, he was. His office was spacious and beautifully furnished in brown and beige.
It was just the two of us as Ralph and I sat and talked. He asked some questions about my background and about my experience doing audience participation shows. Apparently, my years of interviewing regular folks in the Edison Electric Living Centers struck him as good preparation for Truth or Consequences.
“What did you do before you came to California?” Ralph asked. I told him how I had gotten my start at KTTS in Springfield, Missouri, while I was in college.
“That’s exactly how I started in radio when I was at the University of California at Berkeley,” Ralph said, and I got the impression that he was pleased we had that in common.
Ralph wanted to know if I was married, and I told him that I had married my high school sweetheart and that my wife produced my radio shows.
“Splendid,” he said. “I think we may be onto something here. I’ll be in touch.”
Incidentally, Paul Edwards was Ralph’s older brother. I ended up doing Truth or Consequences for Ralph for eighteen years, and not once did Ralph and I argue about money. Paul always handled that.
A few days after my first meeting with Ralph, he called me and said, “I’d like to have you come in and meet some of the people you’d be working with if you did Truth or Consequences.” I went back and had a pleasant meeting with them. At the end of the meeting, Ralph said, “I’ll be in touch.”
When I left I had no idea whether they liked me or not, but shortly thereafter Ralph called and invited me to another meeting. He wanted me to meet some of his representatives and a few others. At that time, MCA had both a talent and a production arm, and they represented Ralph. This time when I got there, I was looking at a roomful of people. Long before the movie Men in Black, MCA agents were often described by journalists and industry pundits as “the men in the black suits.” When I arrived, I found that their nickname was richly deserved. All three of the men from MCA were clad in practically identical black suits. Also present were executives from NBC, as well as a couple of people from Ralph’s production company. And, of course, Ralph himself. We sat and talked some more. At the end of the meeting, Ralph gave me a cheery smile and, like the previous meetings, said, “I’ll be in touch.”
By this time I was beginning to think, “Barker, can you tolerate many more of these meetings? Can you last through this?” In reality, only a short time had passed since our initial conversation, but the days between meetings seemed to stretch on interminably. I never knew when I’d hear from him again, or if I would hear from him again.
It was right around my birthday, December 12, when he finally called once more. Although the show was to be televised on NBC, Ralph, who had connections with all of the networks, asked me to come down to what is still the oldest CBS television station in the country, on Sunset Boulevard in what is known as Gower Gulch. At the time, it was the nerve center for all of CBS—nationally, locally, and everything else, I guess.
Ralph wanted me to do an audition before a live studio audience. We went over the script, and he told me what he wanted me to do. The show was a segment of Truth or Consequences. “Would you like to have somebody do the warm-up for you?” he asked.
“No,” I said, “I want to do it myself.”
“Bob, would you like to have someone select your contestants?”
“Thanks, Ralph, but no,” I responded. “I want to do that, too.”
After a warm introduction by a CBS staff announcer, I went onstage. As I went out into the studio audience to select my contestants, I tried not to look at Dorothy Jo. She was seated in the audience and leading the applause, laughing at every word I said, and turning to others who had no idea she was my wife and saying, “Isn’t he wonderful?”
I chose my contestants, and we did the show just like a live radio show. As many of you will recall, the basic idea of Truth or Consequences was simple. A contestant was asked a less than erudite question, such as “In the days of the Old West, what did it mean when a gunfighter had notches in his gun handle?” The correct answer was “termites.” For having failed to answer the question, the contestant had to pay the consequences, which would be a (hopefully) hilarious stunt. The basic idea of the show was simple enough, but the consequences could get complicated, as I shall describe later.
After you have done this for a few years, you know when it’s going well, and I knew this afternoon had gone well. I got laughs, and the “consequences” worked.
When I came off the stage, Ralph was waiting in the wings, smiling. I could tell he was pleased. “That went nicely,” he said warmly. “If you don’t do Truth or Consequences for me, I’ll have other shows that you might do, but so far as Truth or Consequences is concerned… I’ll be in touch.”
This was not what I was hoping to hear. I didn’t want to do another show some time in the future. I wanted to do Truth or Consequences right now! Some time in the future might never come. I tried to smile my best smile as I said, “Thank you, Mr. Edwards.”
I went home worried and frustrated. There seemed to be no end to the number of hoops I would be asked to jump through. Worse yet, Ralph called a few days later and informed me that what we both thought was a successful audition was not really a “television audition” at all, since no one had actually seen me on camera. He asked if I would come down to the old El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, where they were producing The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, so they could check out my on-camera appearance during a break. I had no idea who they were, but they held my future in their hands.
Joe Landis was one of the pioneering directors of the early days of television, and he was doing Tennessee Ernie’s show. As soon as I arrived, they hustled me into makeup and put me in front of a camera to say a few lines with Joe during breaks in the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show rehearsal. Ralph was in the booth with a bunch of other people—and they were all looking intently at me. I was about to find out whether I had a face made for radio. Finally, Ralph came out of the booth and said the dreaded words: “I’ll be in touch.”
I went home despondent. Dorothy Jo commiserated and tried to console me. I began to wonder if “I’ll be in touch” was one of those Hollywood phrases that was a euphemism for something more ominous. Can’t these people make up their minds?
A few days later, I got the answer. On December 21, 1956, at exactly five minutes past noon, Ralph Edwards called me and told me I was to be the host of Truth or Consequences. That was and is and will always be the most important telephone call of my professional career. It changed my whole life. That first national show paved the way for the wonderful half century I have had on television.
At the time, I certainly did not feel like an overnight success, especially after the ordeal of the last few weeks, but that was the way many in the industry saw it. Moreover, when I tell that story, some people shrug and say, “If Ralph Edwards hadn’t called, someone else would have.”
Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe I would have spent my entire life going to Ventura and Oxnard doing the Southern California Edison shows. But Ralph did call, and I signed a contract shortly thereafter. Ralph made all the difference in my life.
Ten days later, we went on the air with our first show. It was New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1956. I will always be grateful to Ralph for his support and kind words on that show. After reminding the audience that Truth or Consequences was “the granddaddy of audience participation shows,” he graciously introduced me as “a young man… with one of the brightest futures in television,” and over the years he did his best to make that prediction come true.
As I look at it today, that first show is a sweet period piece, a slice of the 1950s right down to the Studebaker prize and the savings bond promotion. With Ralph’s glowing introduction of me and the excitement of our special guest, former heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey, we got the show off to a rousing start, and the contestants did the rest.
But that phone call was everything to me. It came after a long string of “I’ll be in touch” promises, but it was also the beginning of a bond with Ralph Edwards that lasted a lifetime. He became not only my champion but my mentor and my dear friend. He and his wife, Barbara, became close with Dorothy Jo and me, and really took us under their wing. Every year on December 21, Ralph and I had lunch together, and at five minutes after noon, we drank a toast to our long and enduring friendship. Ralph passed away in 2005, but on that date, at that time, I always pause to thank him.
Truth or Consequences, My First National Show
The Truth or Consequences job that Ralph Edwards gave me was definitely my big break, and it was the foundation of all the wonderful things that came later. Was I lucky? Yes. After all, I had been doing radio shows for years, but I had no television experience. Did I work hard to make the most of the opportunity that Ralph gave me? You bet I did. And I benefited a great deal from Ralph and the very talented staff involved with that show. I was confident that I could do the job. After all, I had done audience participation for so long I was comfortable with the show’s format. Also, I knew Ralph Edwards had confidence in me. I had respect for his judgment, so I thought to myself, “You can do this, Barker,” and I went out and did it.
However, I didn’t make Truth or Consequences. If anything, Truth or Consequences made Bob Barker. At least it made me nationally known and launched my career. It also made me some pretty good money. It’s important to remember that the show had already been around for sixteen years—ten on radio and six on television—prior to my arrival. Ralph Edwards was brilliant, a broadcasting legend, and he created the show. Jack Bailey, who was famous as host of Queen for a Day, had in fact hosted the show at night for two years just before I got the nod.
I was stepping into an ideal position in four ways. First, the show had a long, successful track record. Second, I was working with incredible talent. They included not only Ralph, but also producer Ed Bailey—who had worked with Ralph for years; announcer/associate producer Charlie Lyon, who left his job as NBC’s chief announcer in Chicago to join Ralph’s production company; and the unpredictable Milt Larsen, one of our writers, who later went on to start the Magic Castle club in Hollywood. Third, as I look back on this time period—1956 and into the ’60s—it was the absolute heyday of television. The advertising industry was booming. The country was prospering, and as the national television audience grew, the major networks were in a perfect position to ride the wave of prosperity and viewership. There was an excitement about television, about broadcasting, about advertising and new products and new technology. We were in Hollywood, the center of entertainment, and this was shaping up to be the golden age of television programming. Finally, Ralph thought that the show played to my strengths. He pointed out that I’d had years of experience ad-libbing and working with audiences. I could choose my own contestants. I could do my own warm-up. He told me that he was sure I would be completely comfortable doing Truth or Consequences. Ralph said, “T or C is a good fit for you and you are a good fit for the show.” All of this was music to my ears.
Make no mistake: it was a major break and an extraordinary opportunity for me. I did go on to have a fabulous eighteen-year run with Truth or Consequences. But when I started, I was hired on a four-week trial basis, and while Ralph was confidently in my corner, I had no guarantees that I would be retained beyond that initial probationary period.
I told you that Dorothy Jo was in the audience for my audition. Well, she was right there laughing it up for me at my early shows, too. I could always depend upon Dorothy Jo to help in every way possible.
As I have mentioned, my first show was December 31, 1956. We did the show live back in those days in the NBC studio at the corner of Sunset and Vine. The reason for that four-week clause in my contract, I learned later, was that out of eleven people voting in the original hiring meeting, I got only one vote. But I got the right one, Ralph Edwards. He told them, “This guy is your man. You give him four weeks and see if you don’t agree.”
During that first show, I said to Ralph on air, “Following you and Jack Bailey, I feel like I’m hitting after Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.” Ralph said, “Well, we’ve got to bring along the Mantles and the DiMaggios.” He was very kind. I’ll never forget that.
I was definitely nervous backstage before the show. My heart was beating so fast that I thought I might have a heart attack before I ever got out there. But on the show itself, I wasn’t nervous. The staff and crew did everything possible to make me feel at home, and the show went well.
We had Jack Dempsey, the former heavyweight boxing champion, on the first show. He was a real gentleman. Jack was much bigger than I had expected. I had read that he was a relatively small heavyweight. But small was not a word I would associate with him. His hands were huge. When I shook hands with him it seemed as if his hand covered mine all the way up to the elbow. We also gave away a Studebaker, a sporty five-seater called the Seahawk. That was a huge prize back then.
Years later, I remember we had another boxing champion, Joe Louis, on T or C. This was long after he had been champion and he was retired. He was a very nice fellow, soft-spoken but outgoing, and a good conversationalist. I interviewed him at some length, and I asked him, “Who was your toughest opponent?” When he answered, “The IRS,” everyone in the audience knew exactly what he meant. Poor old Joe, they knocked him around a bit.
The tremendous popularity of Truth or Consequences over the years was a result of the show’s humor, the games and practical jokes, and the audience participation. We also had many celebrity guests, but the prizes added to the excitement. Many of the products given away were new additions to the American home. We gave away refrigerators, washers, dryers, and other large home appliances. Even the small gifts, like coffee percolators, were new products that advertisers, sponsors, and consumers were all excited about.
During my first seven years on T or C, we would sometimes tape at the El Capitan Theatre. We were back and forth between there and the studio at Sunset and Vine. Talk about landmark locations: Sunset and Vine and the El Capitan Theatre! I’ll never forget doing the show live at the El Capitan Theatre at 8:00 a.m. Can you imagine coming to Truth or Consequences at 8:00 a.m.? Remarkably, we were packed every day. We filled the place. On the marquee it said, “Free donuts and Bob Barker.” When I finished my four-week probation and they hired me on long term, I had the sign changed to “Bob Barker and free donuts.” I told them, “I’m not going to be billed under the donuts any longer.”
Doing Truth or Consequences at the El Capitan Theatre was no problem whatsoever. As I wrote earlier, The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show was taping there regularly, so it was well lighted for television and the sound system was excellent. We just moved our regular set to the El Capitan stage, and with our regular technicians and crew, we were ready to get it on.
But we were happiest in Studio D at the NBC Studios at Sunset and Vine. At that time, I think Studio D was the best studio in Hollywood for audience participation. The seats were banked up from stage level so every person in the audience could see everything that happened on stage perfectly. Folks in the first few rows were at risk when we started throwing the lemon meringue pies for which T or C was famous. And access to the audience from the stage was completely unimpeded. There wasn’t even a step. The aisle began right at stage level, which was very convenient when we did a consequence that required me to go into the audience.
If I sound as if I was fond of Studio D, I assure you that I was. So much so, in fact, that when the old NBC studio was demolished, Charlie Lyon saved the Studio D flashing red ON THE AIR sign as a gift for me and I hung it over the bar in my home.
When we taped in Studio D, we could do things out on the street, too. We used hidden cameras to play jokes on people walking by the studio. We were surrounded by traffic and tourists. We had a big sign outside that said TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, and many tourists decided on the spot to come in and watch the show. But when the network decided that we were going to color from black and white, they moved us to the new studios in Burbank.
We really did have a lot of firsts on T or C. We were one of the first shows to broadcast in color—and we were one of the first shows to tape in Burbank. All shows would tape occasionally, but we were the first national television show to tape on a regular schedule. Later on, we were the first show to produce directly for syndication with the Metromedia television network. Before that time, all of the shows in syndication had been reruns.
Although it is difficult to imagine now, in 1964 the NBC studio in Burbank was literally in the middle of a field. We hated it. We lost all of the foot traffic we had in Hollywood, so there were no walk-ins. And worse yet, you couldn’t play jokes on people walking by—because nobody walked by. If you wanted to come to the show, you had to take the bus or drive to Burbank. Tourists had trouble even finding Burbank.
On a happier note, one of the best aspects of Truth or Consequences was that it was always fresh. We did three consequences a day, and each one was different and self-contained. We produced five shows a week. I’ve always said I was lucky to get the Truth or Consequences job early in my career because I learned so much doing it and it prepared me so well for other things I did in broadcasting. Each consequence was like a drama. You start with a question, reveal the consequence, carefully build toward the climax, and then pay it off with a hilarious finish. Every consequence was a learning experience, particularly during my first few years on the show.
I believe many people never get the opportunity to demonstrate their sense of humor. One of the great parts of my job as host was to bring out this humor in people and to enjoy it. That was one of the rewards of my work—seeing people having fun and laughing uproariously, not just at others, but at themselves.
Choosing contestants was like casting a play or a movie. I knew what the act or stunt required, and I tried to find the best person in the audience to play the role. I went through the audience and asked who wanted to play Truth or Consequences. Practically all of the people in the audience raised their hands. Then I picked one and asked him or her to stand up. When you stand up, you’re no longer part of the audience, you’re an individual now, and all eyes are on you. I wanted to see how potential contestants were going to react and how the audience was going to react to them. Some people have this wonderful thing: as soon as they stand up everybody loves them. I’d say, “What’s your name?” And he’d just say, “Fred Jones,” and right away people loved him. Audiences react that way to certain people. I selected contestants very carefully, based on the potential contestant’s reactions, the audience’s reactions, and my knowledge of what the consequence involved.
For example, I might choose a younger man rather than an older man because the consequence involved something physical. Many acts required couples, so I looked for married folks who were there together. Other times, I might look for older women or men or someone middle-aged. And, of course, we had children on from time to time. On T or C, I almost always worked with contestants who were not preselected or coached. Almost all of the contestants were picked by me right out of the studio audience, and I preferred it that way. I prefer to work with unrehearsed people right out of the audience because that spontaneity is so vital. I think that spontaneous reaction is a major part of the success of both Truth or Consequences and The Price Is Right. So many memorable comic moments are unscripted—in fact, those are the best kind.
The contestants didn’t have a week to worry about being on television. They hadn’t had their hair done or selected their best dress. They weren’t even made up. They had their normal street makeup on, if they were women, and there they were: suddenly on television—just like the people at home who were watching them and identifying with them.
Above, I noted that “I almost always worked with contestants who were not preselected” because at times we used what we called “set-up contestants.” These might be a husband who helped us to play a joke on his wife or a woman who would help us play a joke on her club—that sort of thing.
Back then, it was all about creating spontaneous entertainment with ordinary people. I listened to the successful hosts on radio. Tom Brenneman used to do a show called Breakfast in Hollywood on Vine Street in a little restaurant. He’d take a microphone and just go from table to table, talking with the people eating there. If one group of people was lively or entertaining, he’d stay with them; if not, he’d move on to the next table. It was fun and interesting. You could never sell a show like that today. It requires experience to do pure audience participation, and today there is almost no place where you can get that experience.
Years ago, almost every radio station—large or small—originated at least a few shows that required the host to talk with ordinary people. That is no longer true, so young people have no place to develop their skills. No matter how much natural talent you have for audience participation, there is no substitute for experience. Ralph and I grew up in a different world. Ralph was a master host, one of the very best, and he knew that imitation might be the highest form of flattery, but imitation was not the way to go if you were hosting a television show.
Before I did Truth or Consequences for the first time, Ralph told me, “Bob, you are the star of this show now. Go out there and do it your way. Don’t imitate me or anyone else. Do it Bob Barker’s way.”
I think Ralph’s advice to me was right on. I believe in it so much that I have repeated it to every young host who has ever asked me for advice: “Do it your way.” Don’t forget that Frank Sinatra even put it to music!
In the early days of Truth or Consequences, someone told me: “You’ve got to remember you’re playing to a lady who’s in front of an ironing board, somewhere in the room with her is a baby crying, with one hand she’s trying to iron and the other hand she has on the TV dial. You have to capture her attention and entertain her or she’s going to turn that dial!”
That’s what you always have to remember. When you are doing the show, you are talking to that person at home. If you ignore that fact, you’re in trouble. On Truth or Consequences we had a camera for me to speak directly to the home audience. Every once in a while, when I was talking to a contestant, I turned to look directly into that camera and spoke to the audience at home. That was important. Of course, you want the studio audience to be a part of it from the moment the show begins to the moment it ends. You want to keep them completely involved—just gather them in and cradle them—but you never want to forget the fact that the person at home is watching.
On Truth, I always made sure that nobody answered the question correctly. I had chosen the contestants because they were just right for the consequences, and I didn’t want to lose them. I made certain that the questions and answers were so comically crazy that there was almost no chance of a correct answer. For example:
Q: What did one eye say to the other eye? A: Just between us, something smells. Q: Which side of a duck has the most feathers? A: The outside. Q: What do snakes do after they have a fight? A: They hiss and make up.
If someone did answer a question, I would discover that it was a two-part question. Only once in all of the years that I hosted T or C did a contestant answer the second part of a question. Of course, I immediately made that one a three-part question. No one ever got away!
The production team on Truth or Consequences was like a well-oiled machine, and we had fun doing the show. The writers were fantastic. Some of the stunts and games they came up with were amazing. One of the most popular acts was the reunions. One moment the audience was howling at one of the consequences, and the next moment we had one of these reunions with a soldier and his mother, or long-lost brothers, or someone like that. Frequently, everyone, sometimes including the production staff, was in tears.
One reunion I will never forget. We had these two Italian sisters on the show who had not seen each other for thirty years. One lived in California, in the San Fernando Valley, and the other one still lived in Italy. We had the sister from Italy flown in, and we were going to surprise the sister who lived in the Valley. I got the sister who lived here in California on the stage, and when her Italian sister walked out from the wings, it was too much for her. Her mouth dropped open and she fainted dead away. Out cold.
It was toward the end of the show, and we couldn’t revive her. I had to sign off with two or three members of the staff still over her trying to wake her up. We decided to have the sisters back the next day so we could show our audience that the “victim” of the reunion had recovered. So the next day, I opened the show standing onstage with the sister from the Valley—the one who fainted—and I tell the audience: “You remember yesterday… Well, see, she’s okay, we revived her and everything is fine. Let’s bring out her sister again.” And when the sister from Italy walks onstage —boom— the Valley sister faints again. This time we just hauled her off. No more explanations!
The reunions were such a popular feature of the show that they spawned This Is Your Life, which ran on NBC for eight years. Charlie Lyon, an associate producer as well as our announcer, orchestrated all the reunions. His brother was a diplomat in the State Department, and I could see why. Charlie had the same genes. He was a perfect gentleman. We called him the Rembrandt of Reunions because he arranged so many of them so well.
My wife, Dorothy Jo, was a frequent and popular visitor to the show. Sometimes her appearance was my idea; more often the writers would suggest it. Whenever they were in a dry spell and it was getting down to the time they had to come up with something, they’d say, “Let’s do a Dorothy Jo act.” I’d say fine, and we’d bring her back to save the day.
I will never forget our first Dorothy Jo consequence. It set the pace for all of those that followed. I selected two ladies from the studio audience whose assignment would be to question three women and choose the one who was Mrs. Bob Barker.
After sending these two ladies backstage, I chose two more ladies from the studio audience who would join Dorothy Jo and claim to be my wife. For these roles, I selected two ladies who impressed me as being clever, witty, and able to think fast in an ad-lib situation. One of these phony wives from the audience proved to be fast on her feet beyond my wildest expectations. Responding to questions during the playing of the game, she accused me of continually complaining about her cooking, spending every free moment on the golf course, and drinking so many martinis that I couldn’t carry on a conversation after eight thirty in the evening.
Of course, the audience loved every word of it. The studio rocked with laughter. But, as usual, Dorothy Jo had the last laugh. She looked up at me and sweetly said, “Honey, this lady has you pegged right down the line.”
The two interrogators correctly chose Dorothy Jo as Mrs. Bob Barker.
My mother was on Truth or Consequences occasionally. In fact, the producers even played a prank on me with my mother. When my mother was still living in Missouri, they had her flown out here to surprise me. I had selected a lady from the audience and I expected her to be brought around on a turntable. But when the turntable came around, there was my own mother smiling at me! I was blown away. Totally surprised. I behaved like a typical contestant. I turned my back on the camera and did everything wrong. I’ll never forget it. They had really surprised me.
We even had my basset hound on the show. Early in my career, I had been mistakenly called Mr. Baker so many times that I named my pet basset hound Mr. Baker. He would come on the show just to say hello, and the audience loved him. Still to this day, I’ll be in a pet store or somewhere like that, and someone will say, “Oh, I used to watch you on Truth or Consequences, and I loved your dog.” That’s the lasting impression animals make.
We also did a lot of outdoor stunts and jokes on the show. There was an office building next to the NBC studio at Sunset and Vine. It was about three stories, I guess. One day we hung a piano up there, coming out of the third-floor window on a cable. Then we had one of our guys on the street, holding a rope. We fixed it so it appeared he was holding up the piano by holding the rope—but of course he wasn’t. A young man came walking down Vine, and our man called out to him, asking him to help him for just one minute. Our man says, “Please, sir, I’m holding that piano up there, and it’s very expensive. Would you please just hold it for one moment while I go into the building for my helper? But for goodness sake, don’t drop it. Don’t leave. Hold that piano.”
The pedestrian said, “Sure.” So he’s holding the rope, and then there’s a little jerk on the rope, and the piano kind of moves, and all of a sudden the whole thing breaks off and the piano comes crashing down to the street. The fellow dropped the rope and took off running up Vine Street as fast as he could go. I’m calling out on a speaker to him, “Hey, it’s Bob Barker. You’re on Truth or Consequences.” But he just kept running and running. We never caught him or located him later, so we couldn’t give him his prize. More’s the pity, but the audience loved it.
We did another stunt outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre that played splendidly. We had a small truck parked in front of the theater, in the back of which was a cage filled with straw and a sizable chimpanzee. Only it wasn’t a chimpanzee. It was actually a fellow named Janos Prohaska, and he could convince you that you were with a chimp when he was in costume. He was amazing. Anyway, he’s in the cage, and Milt Larsen, one of our writers, was up there on the back of the truck. He held the cage door closed and waited for the right-looking guy to come by, someone perfect for the joke. Here came a man, a big broad-shouldered fellow, who we found out later had played professional football for the Los Angeles Dons. Milt says to the guy, “Excuse me, sir, would you help me for a moment? I have my chimpanzee in here, and this lock isn’t working properly. I have to go into the theater to get my tools. Would you just hold the door shut for me for a couple of moments?”
The man says yes, he’d be happy to. So the former football player gets up there and holds the cage door, and Milt says thank you and goes into the theater. There used to be a restaurant next to Grauman’s, and that’s where I was lying down beside our hidden camera. The cameraman and I are watching this gag unfold. We had hidden microphones all over the place. The chimp appeared to be over in a corner, asleep, but after Milt goes into the theater, the chimp wakes up and starts throwing a little straw around the cage. Now this big virile man holding the cage door starts talking baby talk to the chimp. “That’s all right, baby. Daddy will be right back. Just relax, baby, it’s all right.”
And the chimp moves around a little more and moves toward the door.
The baby talk continues. “It’s all right, baby. Back up, baby. Get back, baby. Daddy will be right back.”
He’s still baby talking to the chimp when all of a sudden the chimp grabs the cage door and flings it open. Now the guy has dropped the baby talk, and he’s yelling, “Back, you son of a [bleep]. Back, you [bleep]! Down!” And the chimp keeps after him, and now the man runs into the theater with the chimp chasing him, and he’s yelling the whole time, “Leave me alone, you [bleep]. Down! Back, you son of a [bleep]! Don’t touch me!” Bleep this and bleep that, and you bleepedy bleep bleep!
I was laughing so hard I couldn’t even get up off the floor. We called it our bleep consequence. We played it on the air just like it happened—with all of the bleeps.
So Milt comes out and tells him it’s all right. It’s not really a chimp. It’s Janos Prohaska pretending to be a chimp. And I’m still laughing on the floor, but I finally crawl out of the hiding spot and go up to this fellow, who’s not in a good mood. I said, “I’m Bob Barker and you are on Truth or Consequences.”
He says, “Yes, I know who you are.”
And then I tell him what fun the stunt has been, and how we have a great prize for him. I tell him we have a fancy new billiards table for him.
He looks right at me and says, “What the [bleep] am I going to do with that?”
It was the perfect end to the bleep consequence.
On another show we invited a bunch of kids who played in Little League baseball to be in the audience. They were all nine- or ten-year-old boys. Then we got two girls; maybe they were fourteen or fifteen. One girl was a professional softball pitcher. She could throw a softball like lightning. And the other girl, her sister, who was also a professional, was her catcher. We planted these girls in the audience, but not together, and pretended to the boys that we just picked them out randomly from the audience. I said something like “How about you, young lady, would you like to play? Yes? Come on.” I picked a few of the boys from the Little League group and said, “Let’s have a game.”
I told them: “We’re going to play softball. You three guys are going to hit, and you, young lady, you be the catcher. And you, would you be the pitcher, please?”
She goes all the way across the stage. And the boys are licking their chops, saying, “Oh, this is going to be fun.” I put a particularly eager young fellow up to hit, and this professional pitcher throws that ball so fast past him, he doesn’t twitch a muscle.
“Why didn’t you swing at it?” I asked.
He says, “That’s a phony ball.”
The audience roared with laughter.
“That’s not a phony ball,” I said, and I took it from the catcher. “Look at this, that’s not a phony ball.”
“Well then, she’s got a phony arm,” he said, and the audience howled even louder.
Things didn’t always go as planned on Truth or Consequences. That was part of the fun of the show. We had all kinds of things go wrong, but I just made the best of it, and the show rolled on. We had props that didn’t work. We had camera or microphone malfunctions. Sometimes a guest would react unexpectedly. But even when acts didn’t come off smoothly, there was always humor in them, and the audience seemed to love it. We’d have things that would fail miserably, but when they did, frequently I could make it amusing. Besides, people loved to see me standing there with egg on my face.
There were so many details involved with reunions that they occasionally went awry. For one, we had a deserving young marine flown home from Korea to surprise his wife. One of his wife’s friends arranged to have her sitting on a bench in front of our studio at Sunset and Vine, and on cue from us, a city bus (which we rented for the day) was supposed to pull up in front of the bench and the marine was going to step off the bus and take his wife into his arms.
I described exactly what we had planned to our studio audience and viewers. I emphasized what a fine record the marine had and how courageous the young wife had been during the months that she and the children had anxiously awaited his return. I built to the boiling point the anticipation for that glorious moment when husband and wife would be reunited. And then I went into a commercial.
After the commercial, I did a quick review to make sure that every viewer realized how fortunate he or she was to share this moment with this loving husband and wife. Then, at the exact time, to the second, that we had agreed for the bus to arrive on the scene, I cut to our outside camera.
The marine and his wife were sitting on the bus stop bench chatting. The bus had arrived during the commercial. I looked into the camera and said, “It must have been a great reunion. I wish we could have seen it.”
Some time later, after many flawless successes, another reunion went sour. This one was to be more dramatic than even the soap opera fare. This time we were reuniting a fine young sailor and his dear old mother.
The sailor’s sister brought their mother to the NBC studio in Burbank. The mother thought that they were to be part of a group touring the facility. The sister knew that the group consisted of folks I took out of our T or C audience to help our little caper—for which, of course, each would receive a prize.
This was the plan: As the tour group arrived onstage, every light in the studio was to go out except for one powerful spotlight casting a pool of light directly on center stage. As you might have guessed, on cue, the sailor was to step into the pool of light, the mother would rush to her beloved son, the sister would join them, and familial happiness would reign. But all of this was not to be the case. We have all had really bad experiences with the best-laid plans, haven’t we?
As usual, I did my breathless buildup for the momentous moment. I would like to think that I had the folks in our studio on the edges of their seats—the folks at home, too, if they were seated when I received the signal that the tour group was stepping through the door. I asked the lighting man to douse the lights.
He more than cooperated. He shut down every light in the place, including the all-important spotlight. The entire studio was in total darkness, and it stayed that way for about two minutes, during which I had to keep talking in a desperate effort to keep viewers from thinking NBC had gone off the air—and to keep them from changing channels!
What did I say? I have no idea. But I did get a letter from a lady who wrote, “Bob, you do your best work in the dark.”
By the way, eventually we got the sailor and his mother together and everyone lived happily ever after.
There were many memorable moments on Truth or Consequences. I have a treasure chest of memories of all the fun we had doing that show. Of course, it was special to meet all the celebrity guests we had. But the average-person guests, the noncelebrities, were just as memorable.
Everyone knows I’m an animal lover, and I will tell you about another reunion featuring a boy and his dog that touched me as deeply as any reunion we ever did. We heard about a sailor who was stationed in Florida who had received orders to come out here to one of the naval bases around Los Angeles. He was married and had a little son, about nine or ten years old. The son had a basset hound, but he didn’t have the money to move the dog. So they left the dog with a friend in Florida, and they came out to California. The boy got a job delivering papers so he could save up enough money to get his dog out here. But it was going slowly. We heard about this and of course had the dog flown out here, and somehow we arranged to get the boy to the show and have him end up talking with me in the hallway, where we had a hidden camera and a hidden microphone. The boy didn’t know we were on the air. During our conversation he mentioned his dog. He said he was working to save money and bring him out here. I said, “You really love that dog, don’t you?”
And he said, “Oh, yes, I do.” The dog’s name was Bo.
At that moment, one of our people from the show comes down the hallway, and he’s leading Bo on a leash. The boy looks up at the dog, and says: “That looks like Bo!”
And I said, “That is Bo.”
And he just bolted for the dog. He hugged him and kissed him and hugged him some more. It was a precious moment. I was so touched I could hardly speak. I had tears in my eyes. And I wasn’t the only one. The cameramen were all crying, and later I mentioned it to the director, and he said, “Not only you, but the agency reps in the booth had tears in their eyes, and that doesn’t happen often.” That is one of the most touching moments we ever had.
I had thirty-five great years on The Price Is Right, but Truth or Consequences will always hold a special place in my heart for many reasons. It was my first national television job; I had the opportunity to work with one of my heroes, Ralph Edwards; and Dorothy Jo and I began to enjoy more financial security. We didn’t change our lifestyle much, but the opportunity to do the show was a fulfillment of a dream we had had. It was also a glorious pioneering time in television, and so much of the country was energized and united by television. The whole entertainment industry was thriving. We were living in Hollywood, working in Hollywood, and I was having fun doing what I loved to do. Truth or Consequences was a fun-filled, richly rewarding eighteen-year ride for me. I’ll always cherish those early years.
I was delighted to have Ralph’s son, Gary Edwards, who was a little boy when I went to work for his father, in the front row five decades later, cheering me on as I taped my last The Price Is Right on June 6, 2007.
Excerpted from Priceless Memories by Barker, Bob Copyright © 2009 by Barker, Bob. Excerpted by permission.
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