For some of us of a certain age, the 1970s were a fantastic time to enjoy the genre helmed by these famous game show hosts.
To be considered for this list, emcees must have hosted a game show prior to 1980.
1. Bob Barker
Barker, my favorite on the list, turns 96 in December. He spent 50 years as an emcee on national television, beginning with his debut on Truth or Consequences on December 31, 1956. But he’s certainly better known as the host of The Price is Right, a job he held for 35 years before retiring in 2007.
The show hasn’t been the same — or as good — since.
Barker was a master of bringing out the humor with contestants who were unrehearsed because that’s how things were done when he started in the business.
It’s a talent that is far too undervalued, but more contemporary hosts have proven it’s also a talent that these days is far too rare.
2. Peter Marshall
Marshall, who just turned 93 in March, was the original emcee of Hollywood Squares. Marshall was a broadway actor, singer and comedian and expected the game show to be an easy, but likely short-lived job. It lasted 15 years.
Hosting a show with that many celebrities takes someone who knows when to allow the personalities to run wild and when to rein them in, and Marshall was a master at both.
The Hollywood Squares, of course, was the giant tic-tac-toe game in which Marshall would ask celebrities to answer questions and contestants would have to correctly agree or disagree to win that square.
My favorite exchange from the series was between Marshall and the most famous center square, Paul Lynde. Marshall asked the flamboyant Lynde why Hell’s Angels wore leather. Lynde responded, “Because chiffon wrinkles.”
3. Alex Trebek
Trebek, who shocked fans back in March with news he had been diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer, turns 79 in July. He will forever be identified with the syndicated Jeopardy, which he has hosted for 35 years.
But my first exposure to Trebek came in the 1970s when he was paired with actress Ruta Lee on NBC’s High Rollers.
Trebek is one of those fortunate hosts to find a perfect match in terms of the show he hosts. That’s why it’s difficult to think of anyone who could replace him on the popular answer-and-question game.
4. Wink Martindale
Winston “Wink” Martindale, now 85, is probably best known as the host of the long-running Tic Tac Dough, but he has also hosted High Rollers and Debt. He even hosted a game show version of the popular board game Trivial Pursuit.
Here’s a funny moment from Tic Tac Dough:
Martindale maintains an active following on Facebook where he posts clips, outtakes and episodes of classic game shows.
5. Bob Eubanks
The show he’s most famous for, The Newlywed Game, was never a show I was a big fan of, but his performance was fantastic nonetheless. With good looks and a great voice, Eubanks, who’s now 81, hosted several iterations of the series along with an 80s remake of Card Sharks.
The most famous moment from Chuck Barris’s Newlywed Game came when Eubanks asked a contestant for the weirdest place she had ever gotten the urge to make whoopie. The answer became an urban legend. Over the years, people talked about it, but even Eubanks himself didn’t remember it and swore it never happened.
And then someone found the tape:
6. Tom Kennedy
Tom Kennedy’s real name is James Narz and he’s the younger brother of game show host Jack Narz. As the story goes, the two brothers didn’t want confusion over two announcers with the same last name potentially endorsing competing products. So the name Tom Kennedy was the solution.
In January, Kennedy celebrated his 92nd birthday.
One of the first shows I remember Kennedy hosting was a short-lived NBC game called To Say the Least, in which contestants eliminated words from clues to a person, place or thing hoping the right answer could still be deduced. Towards the end of the 1970s, he hosted a CBS show called Whew! whose endgame was very exciting and offered a $25,000 cash prize. Here’s one clip of the “Gauntlet of Villains” final round:
Kennedy is perhaps best known for the games You Don’t Say, Split Second and Name That Tune. In 1980, he took over hosting duties on Password Plus for the ailing Allen Ludden. And in 1985, he hosted the syndicated Nighttime Price is Right. As host of the latter program, he was far too underrated.
7. Adam Wade
Wade, now 84, is a singer, musician and actor. But in 1975, he became the first black game show host on a little-known and probably easily-forgotten CBS show called Musical Chairs. I actually remembered this show — even though I was only 5 when it aired — mostly because of the sliding set pieces that pulled losing contestants into oblivion.
8. & 9. Sarah Purcell & Bill Anderson
Sarah Purcell, now 70, would later gain fame as one of the hosts of a show touted as one of the first “reality” shows, NBC’s Real People, which told stories of everyday folks across the country. But before that, she co-hosted The Better Sex, a 1977 ABC game show with country music singer “Whisperin’” Bill Anderson, now 81.
The show pitted a team of male contestants against a team of female contestants to determine, at least when it came to playing that specific game, which was the better sex.
It’s also notable for having what may be the most annoying theme music in game show history:
10. Jim Peck
Jim Peck hosted several game shows over the years, including ABC’s The Big Showdown. You may not have heard much about that particular show, but you might recall having seen this famous blooper:
Peck, now 75, was assumed to heir apparent for Jack Barry when Barry would retire from The Joker’s Wild. Peck was a frequent substitute host for Barry when Barry took time off. But in 1984, Barry died suddenly of a heart attack and threw a wrench in those plans. The “Dean of Game Show Hosts,” Bill Cullen, hosted the show’s final season.
Later, Peck would host Second Chance, which would eventually be reworked into Press Your Luck.
11. Chuck Woolery
Though Pat Sajak is known as the host of Merv Griffin’s Wheel of Fortune, he was not the original host. That distinction goes to Woolery, who just turned 78 last month. Woolery left the show, apparently in a salary dispute, in 1981, paving the way for Sajak to begin his long association with the show.
But it was Woolery who I think was the more entertaining host of the word game. Woolery went on to host Love Connection and Scrabble, among other game shows.
12. Jim McKrell
I remember Jim McKrell from his hosting duties on NBC’s Celebrity Sweepstakes in the mid-1970s.
But McKrell, now 81, has also been an actor, having amassed an impressive list of guest appearances on shows like Dallas, Moonlighting and The Golden Girls. On that last program, he portrayed a game show host!
13. Regis Philbin
When you think of Regis Philbin, who turns 88 in August, as a game show host, you surely recall his work on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? But Philbin’s first game show was an ABC show called The Neighbors in the mid-1970s. Shortly after that, he appeared as a correspondent in a game show called Almost Anything Goes.
Philbin holds a Guinness Book World Record for the most time spent in front of a television camera, more than 16,000 as of 2009.
I have to give an honorable mention to Hugh Downs who almost made the list. Downs, now 98, is certainly best known as co-anchor of ABC’s 20/20 or even for his work on NBC’s Today in the 1960s. But from 1958 until 1969, he hosted the game show Concentration. His hosting duties ended just before the 1970s, or else we’d had 14 on the list.