Allen Ludden: Poobah of “Password”

It has been 40 years now since the world lost Allen Ludden (1917-1981), so long that the weird cult of young Betty White fans that sprang up since her first 2010 Saturday Night Live appearance undoubtedly has no idea that he existed (come to think of it, maybe Golden Girls fans don’t know about him either!) The pair were a famous show biz couple. They’d married in 1963, two years after Ludden had begun hosting the popular game show Password. The two were about equally well known and would sometimes be featured as a pair on game shows like Tattletales and It Takes Two, or in roles on shows like The Love Boat.

Password was a genuinely fun game show to watch. Celebrity contestants were matched with civilians from the audience. The object was to give one word clues so that one’s partner could guess the secret “Password”. But whatever the show’s virtues as a game, there is another reason it was on the air so long (20 years) with Ludden as emcee. He was an extremely appealing host: dashing, charming, funny. I conspicuously did not list him among the “game show phonies” in this earlier post because he was not that. He was a talented entertainer. He acted in summer stock (sometimes with White), he played Perry White in the 1975 tv production of It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman!, and he acted (though sometimes as himself) on such shows as Batman, The Odd Couple, Banacek, and Fantasy Island, as well as the film Futureworld (1976). he appeared on the talk and variety shows of Milton Berle, Jack Paar, Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, Merv, Mike Douglas, Dinah, and Carol Burnett, among others. In 1969 he hosted his own short-lived talk and variety show Allan Ludden’s Gallery.

Interestingly, Ludden had originally been known for creating content for the youth market. He hosted an advice show for teens on radio called Mind Your Manners in the late ’40s and ’50s, and wrote newspaper columns and books for young people. His first TV show On the Carousel (1955) was aimed at kids. Other shows he was associated with over the years included The Joker’s Wild (he hosted the pilot), Stumpers, and Liar’s Club. Cancer killed him in 1981, otherwise he would have kept on rollin’.

In 1971 Ludden produced The Pet Set, a show hosted by Betty, in which celebrities brought their pets with them and talked about them. Of course I’ll do a post on Betty. I’ve only been putting it off because we are so closer to her 100th birthday, which at this writing is just three months away. That will be something to celebrate.

For more on variety arts history, including tv variety, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.