Born 100 years Ago Today: Monty Hall, Host of “Let’s Make a Deal”

Born 100 years ago today: Monte Halparin, a.k.a. Monty Hall.

Hall is best known and loved as the longtime host and producer of the TV game show Let’s Make a Deal, which ran from 1963-1977, with later stints 1980-81, 1984-86, and 1990-91. It’ll seem quaint now perhaps, but at the time, much like such shows as Gilligan’s Island and Charlie’s Angels, and probably with more justice, Let’s Make a Deal was widely seen as a harbinger of the end of civilization. Here’s our slow reveal as to why.

As the title indicates, the premise of the show was trading. The contestant, chosen by Hall from the audience, would start out with an item of some sort. They would have the chance to keep it, or trade it in for mystery items which were behind three numbered doors. You could only pick one door, gambling that you would win an item of greater value (usually substantially greater value, say a car or a cruise to Hawaii) rather than a booby prize, known as a “zonk”, usually something pretty funny.

The doors were opened by a pretty model named Carol Merrill, whose name everyone loved to say because it rhymed like a clown name.

Should I pick you, blonde Indian girl? Or YOU, bunny man?

So far it sounds kind of fun, right? Why, it’s the very principle of capitalism, as old as the stone age, the bedrock of our society! The hitch is…who gets picked to participate? I don’t know if it was initially part of the premise, but certainly during my lifetime, it was the case that audience members dressed in SILLY HALLOWEEN COSTUMES in order to attract Hall’s attention, and this is where the downfall of civilization part comes in. Because it became an unseemly spectacle of greedy people clambering in front of each other, screaming “Pick me! Pick Me!”, relinquishing all dignity in pursuit of material things. It was a metaphor for everything bad about America: shameless exhibitionism + bald materialism. As a kid, it was my favorite game show to watch, because, hello, Halloween costumes! It’s fun, right? But even at the early age, it generated cynicism and scorn in me about the culture at large. It was tawdry. It was like some bar-room bully saying to a drunk: “Ya want dis five dollar bill? Yer gonna have to DANCE fer it! G’wan! Dance, rummy!”

If the show had had the usual kind of unctuous, smarmy game show host, a Bob Barker or Wink Martindale, it might have been unwatchable. Its saving grace, its tether to the world of dignity and class, was the personality of Hall, who as luck would have it, was CANADIAN. In the manner of his countrymen, Hall was likeable and witty, but in a subdued, understated, pleasant way. It is scientifically impossible for there to be such a thing as an obnoxious Canadian. Hall’s presence kept you from gagging in a flood of treacle. Originally from Winnipeg, Hall started out in radio, then came to the States in the mid-50s. In his decades in broadcasting he worked in both radio and television, at both the local and national network level. He hosted kids shows, worked on the hard news program Monitor, and announced hockey games, in addition to the many game shows he fronted besides Let’s Make a Deal. He guest hosted on Strike it Rich and Twenty-One, and emceeed in his own right on Video Village, Beat the Clock, and others. He was also executive producer of — wait for it — The McLean Stevenson Show.

Here’s a thing I didn’t know and was DELIGHTED to learn this morning! Actress Joanna Gleason is Hall’s daughter! I LOVE Joanna Gleason! Two of his other children, Richard Hall and Sharon Hall also work in television, behind the cameras. Monty Hall died in 2017 at age 96 — long enough to see all of America become Let’s Make a Deal. Apparently, he looked, saw who was President, and said, “My work here is done.”

For more on show biz history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.