In Which I Rank the Top Nine Game Show Phonies of My Youth

Apropos of nothing but badly needed escapism: we herewith rank the top game show phonies of my youth (the 1970s), from most to least nauseating. Categories include: Most Oleaginous, Most Lecherous, Most Disingenuous, Worst Spray Tan, Creepiest Leer, and Most Offensive Man-Mane. Millions of hours of my childhood were wasted watching these loathsome shows, mostly because my mother controlled the television set. To me they have always embodied the worst of America, and its untrammeled, shameless greed. “Money and Prizes” will be written on America’s tombstone. Click links below for more on some of these emcees.

1) Wink Martindale

Among other things, Martindale was the host of the revived Tic-Tac-Dough from 1978 through 1985. In addition to the usual game show host offenses, he appeared to have a brain about the size of a walnut. I imagine a substantive conversation with him going some like this: YOU: “Tens of millions of people died in the Second World War.” MARTINDALE (brays cheerfully): “Hey, isn’t that the worst? Tens of millions who never got to play the big bonus round for cash prizes and fun!” You got the feeling that if you could surgically remove his entire brain, he would just keep talking and grinning.

2) Bert Parks

Those of us of a certain age remember Parks as the host of the annual Miss America pageant. In the ’50s he’d also hosted tons of game shows such as Break the Bank and Double or Nothing. As a pageant host he always seemed to drag the contestants down to his level of stupidity. If the enterprise wasn’t about pure objectification and infantilizing of women, he sure made it seem like it was.  And if you’ve ever seen his version of Paul McCartney’s “Let ’em In”, you’re sure to agree that it’s a firing squad level offense.

3) Bob Barker

I was charitable in choosing this photo. Barker hosted The Price is Right until that coif turned shock white and there was little more than a skeleton underneath it — yet he was still demanding kisses from the female contestants, who must have been throwing up in their mouths. “Aren’t you a pretty little thing? Come give me some sugar!” The long thin shot-gun mic always creeped me out as well.

4) Bob Eubanks

Years ago, I’m not sure I would even have put Eubanks on this list, but context damns him retrospectively. The Newlywed Game was one of the more entertaining game shows. It was much more like a reality show in many ways, and was frequently funny, embarrassing, and so forth. Eubanks seemed sort of funny and winning, and much younger than the other game show hosts. But there’s a hypocrisy to the whole thing — all this sex stuff and innuendo delivered with a wink by this wholesome All American “Gee Whiz” guy. Later we saw the true color of Eubanks’ money in Michael Moore‘s Roger and Me (1989) when he poo-pooed the economic troubles in his hometown of Flint, Michigan and told a joke that hit the trifecta by being simultaneously homophobic, anti-semitic, and not remotely funny. You can tell he thinks he’s being “edgy and hip” but you just want to tell him. “No. That’s not what we do. You’re missing the point. You’re missing ALL the points.”

5) John Davidson

A bubble-headed pretty boy with dimples, one also saw Davidson sing on variety shows and occasionally act (he even had Broadway credits). By the ’80s and ’90s he found his level by hosting several game shows. I’m not quite certain what I find so offensive about manufactured cheer and forced smiles when there is no comedy within a hundred miles, but let’s just say I don’t trust it. It’s the quality I dislike most about Ronald Reagan. Also, Davidson had enough hair for ten hippies, but somehow when you wear it on top and shampoo it you’re wholesome enough for Opreyland.

6) Chuck Woolery

Woolery was the host of Wheel of Fortune prior to Pat Sajak. He bore a certain resemblance to Elvis Presley.  I didn’t much hate him at the time, but his stock has sunk considerably in recent years since he has proven to be an actual, literal Nazi.

7) Richard Dawson

Family Feud‘s Richard Dawson is a complicated one — charming, funny and talented enough for me to like despite the fact that he was pretty disgusting. As I wrote in my earlier piece, he was definitely of the Oily Man type, always slobbering over and macking on the women. But he was a talented actor, a gifted comedian, and every so often he threw in a W.C. Fields impression. He hosted with the studied manner of the show biz pro — that stance and expression above remind me of Bob Hope — and the carnation in the lapel is straight up showmanship. But I wouldn’t want to be a woman catching his boozy Scotch-breath all in my face.

8) Bert Convy

Bert Convy was actually a half-way decent actor and performer, and could even be funny and honestly charming. I rate him here mostly for his garish sense of style — he rocked those crazy, velvety tuxedoes with the ruffled shirts, and the enormous bow ties and that crazy tangle of curls. And black marks for his dimples.

9) Jack Barry

I list Jack Barry here purely for his ethical lapses. As a host I didn’t mind him at all — he did not pretend to be funnier than he was (or that contestants were funnier than they were), and he possessed a becoming restraint, if anything. When I was a kid, I had no knowledge of the quiz show scandal I wrote about here.  As I wrote in that post, I still think that “scandal” was small beer, but you must admit it wasn’t on the level, and that rates as phony.

Sorry…I said this was escapism, but you can draw a straight line from manufactured game shows…to manufactured reality TV…to the reality TV show host who now governs America and attempts to manufacture reality. And I couldn’t restrain myself from referencing Nazis, Fascism, hypocrisy, and World War Two in almost every item. Even Richard Dawson takes us right back to Hogan’s Heroes and World War Two! I’m not obsessed, it’s latently — and often overtly — there in our culture.

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Honorable Mention: Guys who didn’t make the list because they were only occasionally or very rarely nauseating:  Gene Rayburn, Peter Marshall, Garry Moore, Monty Hall, Geoff Edwards, Alex Trebek, and Allen LuddenNever nauseating: Pat Sajak.