Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Late, Great Art Linkletter

Legendary host of the long running shows People are Funny and Art Linkletter's House Party, Art Linkletter, passed today at the age of 97.

Art Linkletter was born Gordon Arthur Kelly on July 16, 1912 in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He was less than a month old when his parents abandoned him at the door of a local church. He was adopted by Fulton John and Mary Linkletter, a preacher and his wife. He not know he was adopted until he was twelve, when one day he was rummaging through his father's desk. It was around the time that Mr. Linkletter was five years old that the family moved to San Diego, California.

During his childhood, Art Linkletter took  a diverse number of jobs. Graduating from high school at age 16, Mr. Linkletter decided he wanted to see the world. Starting out with only $10 to his name, he travelled the United States by hitch hiking and hopping aboard freight trains. He worked a number of different jobs, from busboy to meatpacker to working in a bank. Upon his return to California, Mr. Linkletter attended San Diego State College, intending to become an English teacher. He participated in a number of different extracurricular activities, including playing on the basketball team and handball team, and swimming on the college's swim team. His life would be forever changed when during his junior year he was hired as announcer on local San Diego station  KGB. When he graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1934, he no longer wanted to be a teacher. Instead, Art Linkletter stayed at KGB, where he eventually became the station's chief announcer.

Art Linkletter went onto work at a San Francisco station, and then in 1942 to Hollywood to seek opportunities there. Initially he met with little of the success he had known earlier in his career. This would change when he met John Guedal, who would go onto create the game show You Bet Your Life. Together they made an audition tape for an audience participation show which would use Mr. Linkletter's ability to elicit humour from almost anyone to good use. Entitled People Are Funny, the show would debut on April 10, 1942 on NBC Radio. Oddly enough, Art Linkletter was the original host--Art Baker was. It was on October 1, 1943 that Mr. Linklletter replaced Mr. Baker. The series proved so successful that it was the basis of a 1946 movie musical of the same name. It would run on radio until 1960.

People are Funny would not be Mr. Linkletter's only hit show. In 1944 General Electric decided it wanted to sponsor its own, daily audience participation show. John Geuedal contacted GE and pitched the idea of a show with the ever popular Art. Linkletter. Art Linkletter's House Party debuted on CBS radio on January 15, 1945. Unlike People are Funny, the emphasis on House Party was less on stunts and more on chatting with the audience, cooking segments, and celebrity interviews. Its most famous segment was "Kids Say the Darnedest Things," in which Mr. Linkletter would interview children in hope of humorous responses. It ran on radio until 1967.

Both People are Funny and Art Linkletter's House Party moved to television. House Party made its television debut in 1952, and ran until 1970. People are Funny made its television debut in1954. It ran until 1960, although episodes were reran until 1961. From 1950 to 1952 he was the host of Life with Linkletter. From  1965 to 1966 he was the host of Hollywood Talent Scouts. In 1998 he was co-host of Kids Say he Darnedest Things, based on the famous House Party segment. Throughout the years Art Linkletter appeared on many others shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Jack Benny Programme, The Steven Allen Show, The Bob Cummings Show, You Bet Your Life, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, I've Got a Secret, What's My Line, The Lucy Show, Hollywood Squares, The Dean Martin Show, Batman, and Larry King Live. In 2005, when he was 93 years old, he opened Disney Land's 50th anniversary celebration.

Art Linkletter dabbled in acting over the years. He guest starred on such shows as Zane Grey Theatre, General Electric Theatre, Wagon Train, and The Red Skelton Show He also appeared in a few films including, People are Funny and  Champagne for Caesar. His last appearance on film was in the documentary When the World Breaks, which centres on the outburst of creativity during the Great Depression. It made its debut in February of this year at the Sedona International Film Festival.

 Over the years Art Linkletter wrote a number of books, including Kids Say the Darnedest Things (based on the House Party segment), Confessions of a Happy Man (his autobiography), Women are My Favourite People, I Didn't Do It Alone (another autobiography), and Old Age Is Not for Sissies, among others.

When Art Linkletter was in his heyday, critics were mystified by his appeal, believing he was bland and not pariticularly appealing.  Audiences disagreed, so that his shows were on for literally years. What the critics missed was Mr. Linkletter's  uncanny ability to put anyone at ease, thus getting them to open up about their thoughts or even perform the most outrageous stunts. In many ways he was the world's greatest straight man, asking adults and children alike questions that would lead to a punch line even Mr. Linkletter did not know ahead of time. Indeed, it must be pointed out that in many ways Art Linkletter was a pioneer of reality shows. The focus of both People are Funny and House Party was in getting people to be themselves in front of a camera. That having been said, while Mr. Linkletter was a pioneer in reality television, none of his shows were exploitative in the way that modern reality shows were. Instead, they were wholesome, funny, and even touching. Unlike many of today's reality show producers, Mr. Linkletter saw the good in people and sought to bring that out, not bring out the worst in humanity.


J. Marquis said...

The last time I saw him interviewed he seemed like kind of a greedy, pompous old right-winger. I liked him a lot when I was a kid...

Mark said...

Great blog, I just discovered it thanks to the LAMB. Looking forward to following and enjoying future (and past!) posts. Bravo.

Mercurie said...

I have to admit I didn't know what his political beliefs were. I do I liked him as a kid and still find him very funny as an entertainer!

Thanks, Mark! I do hope you enjoy going through the blog.