Peter Marshall: A Hollywood Square

Today is the birthday of Peter Marshall (Ralph Pierre LaCock, b. 1926). Most folks are apt to associate him exclusively with the game show he hosted from 1966 through 1981, Hollywood Squares, but in this, as in all things, most folks would be wrong.

Born in West Virginia, Marshall was the son of showfolk (his mother was a costume designer). His older sister was Broadway and Hollywood star Joanne Dru, undoubtedly an inspiration for his own future career. Marshall initially drew combat duty in Italy in World War II, but by war’s end he was working for the army as a DJ (the fact that his sister was on movie screens at the time might have had something to with it.)

In the late ’40s he formed a comedy act with Tommy Noonan, and the pair appeared in night clubs, on TV variety shows, and in films like The Rookie (1959) and Swingin’ Along (1962, their last appearance as a team). Marshall also took his own gigs. He starred in the West End production of Bye Bye Birdie (1962), and on Broadway in How to Make a Man (1961) and Skyscraper (1965-66). Then came his most famous job.

These cool pix from TV Guide are really what prompt this post. This photog knew what he was about — who wouldn’t want to see that enormous Hollywood Squares tic tac toe box as the stars saw it? As in just about all game shows the “stars” were not the top Hollywood movie stars, but faded ones, lesser lights, or more usually, stars of the TV sitcom and talk and variety show circuit. That said, it was highly entertaining. Basically, the schtick was, it was a tic tac toe game. To make your X or O, you selected a square and the celebrity would answer a factual question. Usually they would answer it twice — first with an ad libbed joke or routine; then with their stab at a real answer, and the square would be yours.

At any rate, this show was how I came to know the work of so many of the celebrities I’ve written about — and Marshall was always their straight man, and a superb one. Paul Lynde was the most popular star of the show; traditionally he occupied the center square. Other memorable regulars included Charley Weaver, Rose Marie, Rich Little, George Gobel, Wayland Flowers and Madam, Foster Brooks, Buddy Hackett, Joan Rivers, Jonathan Winters, and Marty Allen. John Davidson, who hosted later versions of the show, was a frequent guest. And look, here’s Richard Crenna, Charo, and Vincent Price!