While the average home viewer gravitated to winning cash and fabulous prizes, I liked the emcees. So much so, that by the time I was ten, I was fantasizing about being a genial host like Hugh Downs, Tom Kennedy, Bill Cullen, Allen Ludden or Wink Martindale.
My attraction had something to do with the perceived easiness of being in charge, the confidence of knowing all the answers, the security of having everyone respect you and of course, the excitement of being a TV personality. In retrospect, I'm certain Freud or even a novice shrink would see how my current phobias and emotional shortcomings originated from these childhood delusions of grandeur.
By my later teens, I convinced myself that Jack Barry the host of, "THE JOKER'S WILD," could and should be replaced... by me. Because, in addition to being an older dullard, his only credentials I knew of was that he had hosted the kids show, "WINKY DINK."
"WINKY DINK" WAS A KIDDIE SHOW FROM 1953-1957. WHEN IT WAS REVIVED IN 1969, BARRY WAS SELECTED AS THE HOST. LITTLE DID I KNOW THAT IT WAS REJUVENATING HIS BROKEN CAREER.
Unbeknownst to me, Jack Barry had a checkered past.
Jack Barry was blackballed. He tried to develop his own shows but had little success. He didn't return as an on-air personality until, "WINKY DINK," was remade.
Some of my friends watched the revamped Winky Dink but I was fourteen and it was too babyish. Still, it was ahead of its time because authorized Winky Dink products like a "magic drawing screen" that covered your TV and special crayons could be bought. With these materials and Jack Barry's suggestions, kids at home could draw on their TV's, a solution to Winky Dink's problems, solve codes, etc. Computer mogul Bill Gates praised the program as; "The first interactive TV show."
Jack Barry's success on Winky Dink lasted 65 episodes until 1973. During that time he was hired as the host of the "JOKERS WILD." He established the catchphrase, "JOKER, JOKER, JOKER!" when the best situation came up, (all three question reels were wild cards). Barry maintained that position until 1984. It was his influence during that time that really made me want to be a game show host. Unfortunately, I was forced to suppress that desire for a long time...until my son Andrew entered grade school.
Andrew's first grade teacher and I had a friendly relationship. When she learned that I had a sparse knowledge of Spanish, she asked me to come in during their term-ending party and give a simple demonstration of the language. That demonstration developed into, "SPANISH BINGO." Due to its success and my subsequent rapport with his other teachers, my inventing and hosting game shows became a Reeds Road School tradition. The fun continued each year until Andrew "outgrew" the concept after fifth grade.
"SPANISH BINGO" DID NOT USE NUMBERS. MY BINGO BOARDS HAD 1st GRADE VOCABULARY WORDS ALONG SIDE THEIR SPANISH COUNTERPART....SO INSTEAD OF CALLING G-57, I CALLED, G-HAT/SOMBRERO. THEN THE STUDENTS WOULD MARK THEIR CARDS AND TRY TO MAKE A BINGO.
In second grade I came up with, "THE GREAT AMERICAN CLAM RACE." This quiz show split the class into two teams, the Fuchsia Crustaceans and the Orange Mollusks. I built a punch board with a hundred questions based on the year's curriculum. A game board was drawn on the blackboard and magnetized clam shell game pieces advanced to the finish line.
The "GAME OF THE STATES," inspired the third grade edition. The next year's installment involved all four fourth grade classes. We went outside and combined questions and answers with physical challenges. Some of those events were; racing with a ping pong ball on a spoon, the game telephone and a running backwards relay.
These shows had satisfied my urge to be the master of ceremony. I proved to myself that it was easy, fun to be in charge, cool to know all the answers and respected by so many. That's when I realized that I should share that joy with Andrew. When I asked if he wanted to be the moderator in fifth grade; he was thrilled.
We began sketching out concepts during the winter break. I gave him some simple tasks to prepare over the next few months but because video games and various other levels of entertainment dominated his private time, these goals weren't fully reached.
Andrew was still helpful but my vision of this being HIS show evaporated. In a bit of a rush job, "CLUELESS...THE SEARCH FOR BUBBA'S GOLDEN COLLAR," was born.
BUBBA THE BULLDOG, IS THE SCHOOL MASCOT. ON A COUPLE OF OCCASIONS, I WORE THE COSTUME WHEN THE REGULAR GUY COULDN'T MAKE IT.
"CLUELESS, THE SEARCH FOR BUBBA'S GOLDEN COLLAR," was based on the board game, "CLUE." The show featured four teams trying to figure out which imaginary Reeds Road School employee stole Bubba's golden collar, how it was taken and where they were hiding it.
ADVERTISEMENTS FOR "CLUELESS," WERE PLASTERED ALL OVER THE SCHOOL.
Andrew was the emcee. The teams received clues to the crime by answering questions about the term's work. Then they were awarded points for figuring out the; who, how and where of the stolen collar. Then with the help of the teachers, Bubba's collar (a Dollar Store item spray painted gold) , was hidden the classroom. To show my cleverness, I told Andrew that it would be better if he didn't know where it was hidden so he wouldn't be tempted to tell anyone. Ergo, without him realizing it, he would eventually be a contestant too.
Weeks earlier, I conspired with one of the teachers to have the class name her new, rhinestone encrusted paper clip box which was proudly displayed in plain sight, on her desk.
This paved the way to Clueless's double-climax. Number one was the hilarity of us adults and Andrew watching the kids' three-minute ( fruit-less) search of the entire school. Number two was when they came back, Andrew told them that without finding the collar, the score was too close to have a clear winner. Then as a tie-breaker, I wrote these letters on the chalkboard; X-B-K-S-E-O-A-C-O-H-T-T-T-H-R and told the class to unscramble them and fit then into this sequence: --- --- ---- -----.
The class was told to not only solve the puzzle but to go to that spot and retrieve the collar. Everyone was encouraged to do their own work because their team would be declared the winner but that individual would be awarded an actual prize, a gold bubloon, (Andrew coined the phrase bubloon, by combining Bubba and doubloon). To his surprise, my boy was invited to participate.TO RE-CREATE A DOUBLOON, I USED A SILVER DOLLAR-SIZED LEAD, NON-VALUE LAS VEGAS PROMOTIONAL SLOT MACHINE TOKEN. I ROUGHED IT UP BY PLACING PEBBLES UNDERNEATH AND DRIVING OVER IT A GAZILLION TIMES WITH MY CAR. THEN, I SPRAY PAINTED IT GOLD AND PLACED IT IN A PLASTIC, COIN COLLECTOR'S CASE.
A girl edged out Andrew and figured out that the anagram. It was the name of the teachers rhinestone encrusted box that the students named a few weeks earlier, THE BOX THAT ROCKS. She was thrilled to open the box and win the prize. And I appreciated that another kid asked to keep Bubba's collar as a souvenir.
I bet Jack Barry was never that ingenious. And I bet that when Andrew has a more defined goal in life, he won't be relying on three reels coming up, JOKER, JOKER, JOKER !