Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Summer Games

On my recent trip to New York, I found a brand, spanking new cable network on my system there.   Some oddity called Buzzr...or Buzzer.   Sadly, it's not on my Direct TV in Los Angeles.   Hell, I miss it already.

Why?  Because it brought me right back to my youth.  Summer days in front of the tube.   

All about those wonderful TV game shows.  Reruns of the best of the best from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and...gasp...the 50s.

I remember it all vividly.   Those summer years between the ages of 11-15.  The purgatory of childhood.   Too old to pass the time playing with toys and too young to get a summer job.   What's a kid to do?

On those days when it was super hot outside, my pals "up the block" chilled it inside during the daytime hours.   Letting a living room AC or a kitchen window fan cool you down.   You sat in front of the television.   Oh, I got sucked into a soap opera or two with my grandmother.   But, the real gold back then was with TV game shows.   They filled your idle hours perfectly.
Let's start with this relic.  The original Match Game which I watched early on with my grandmother.   Half of the show was spent introducing the contestant teams and the celebrity guest.   When they finally got right down to play, it was grossly dull.   But I tuned in mainly to see which of my favorite TV stars was on so I could root for them.
Years later, the concept got rebooted in color and played for laughs.  Now you had six celebrities and not two.   There were some regulars, most notably Brett Somers and the hilarious Charles Nelson Reilly.  Comedy was integral here and some of the match questions were based on sexual innuendos.  

Better still, you know they taped five shows in the space of one night.   There was allegedly a dinner break in the middle and, from what I have been told, liquor was served.  So, the Thursday and Friday shows were always...well...a lot lot livelier.   And hilarious as this classic clip shows.

You don't get spontaneity on television like this any more.
Here's another one I watched with my grandmother because she would watch anything that involved Bill Cullen.   I remember very little about this show, but I do recall her fondness for the host.  Even though she never got his name right.

"Bill Collins is a very nice man."

It's Cullen.  Whatever.   

At one point, I must have read a TV Guide story that talked about Bill's polio and the fact that he walked with a metal brace.  Then I became consumed with seeing if I could ever spot that on the air.   But the cameras were wise and it rarely showed up.   I told my grandmother that Collins...I mean, Cullen...had polio.

"Oh, go on.  He's perfectly fine."

I countered that he wasn't.

"You talk crazy.  Now that stupid Roosevelt.  He was crippled."
Password intrigued my neighborhood because I had the proverbial home game. We'd watch our favorite celebrities play it on television during the afternoon and then sit on somebody's front stoop that night.  We'd fight over who got to be Garry Moore or Carol Burnett.  Usually, the one in our crowd with the deepest voice got to play the announcer.  Of course, the game always got a little silly.

"The password is...testicle."
While I was not a big fan of the Newlywed Game, I would like to watch celebrity married couples mix it up on Tattletales.  All of the sexual tongue-in-cheek stuff, however, was beyond my grandmother's comprehension.

"They talk so silly.  If I can't be any smarter than that, I'd stay home."

Okay, then...
I've Got a Secret.   This game show was not a summer treat, because it was on prime time television.  And it was admittedly a simple concept.  Somebody whispers a secret to host Garry Moore who was busy puffing away on his Winston cigarette.  The secret was usually something stupid and you wondered how this stayed on the air.  

"I just drove to the studio in a go-kart."

Yeah, sort of like that.   Another favorite of my grandmother's because it involved Bill Collins.   And her new best friend.

"That Bess Myerson is a nice lady."
Ah, now we're talking.   One of my summer favorites.

"The Hollywood Squares" would provide me and my grandmother with a super-extended family. And we had our favorite "relatives" on that big tic-tac-toe board. My grandmother loved Charlie Weaver, Wally Cox, and Rose Marie. I totally got into Suzanne Pleshette and the sorely missed Karen Valentine who I fantasized over privately. 

And then there was the ultimate center square. Paul Lynde. 

Say what you want about whether all his "zingers" were written for him in advance. There were no funnier two or three moments a day than when Paul Lynde got called on every day. And that lasted for about ten years. But, during those pre-teen years, I didn't know anything more about Paul Lynde than what I saw on the screen. And, for me, that was damn funny and more than enough. 

I was so Paul-manic in those days that I took to perfecting an imitation of him. And I would do it at the drop of a hat. Regardless of where I was or who I was with. I even remember answering questions in class as if I was the secret square of the day. 

Teacher: Can you tell me who shot Abraham Lincoln? 

Me (a la Paul Lynde): Eve Arden. 

Years later in college, I got to interview Paul and, at the end, I dropped my journalistic hat and did Paul for Paul. Perhaps a highlight of my life. And a lowlight at the very same time. But, I digress... 

The family my grandmother and I formed with "The Hollywood Squares" also mirrored life in some ways. We mourned the deaths of Charlie Weaver and Wally Cox. We went on with our existence. And so did the Squares. Long after I was no longer free for the summer, any days home from school or work would still find me in front of the set with my grandmother waiting for a Paul Lynde block.

Priceless.  Scripted or not.
Summer meant more than watching game shows during the day.  I got to stay up late and watch one of my favorite TV games at 10:30PM on Sunday nights.

"What's My Line?" was like a big party game at somebody's house.  The panelists could have been some configuration of my parents, aunts, and uncles who used to attack some kind of board game after one too many Schaefer beers.  Except the WML panelists were usually in formal attire with gowns by Bonwit Teller, while my family was decked out in EJ Korvette's finest.  

The TV folks looked like they were having such fun guessing the occupation of a couple of nobodys.  So were the folks at home.  In what was perhaps the simplest form of TV games, we watched this as a family unit.  My parents and grandparents gearing up for a week of work.  I was prepping for another summer week of horseplay.  And "What's My Line?" provided the best way to get that all started.

Beyond the odd occupations which frequently ranged from lady umpire to a false teeth polisher, the best part of the show for me was when they would truck out a mystery guest for which the panel was blindfolded.  Whoever was in NY showed up live on Sunday night to stump the panel.  They were usually in town to promote some movie or their week-long upcoming engagement at the Copacabana.  

Buzzr is running these things all over again and, oddly enough, I watched the whole series right through about a decade ago on the Game Show Network.   Still, the stuff never gets old for me.  Watch this wonderful clip where Groucho Marx demolishes the show.  Speaking of lady wrestlers...

It's amazing the flood of memories that can come back just because you channel flipped past a new cable network.

"And the password is...enjoyment."

Dinner last night:  Wonderful barbecue chicken and grilled veggies at the home of good friends Connie and Leo.

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