Anyone who knows me knows I’ve always been a big game show fan. But here’s a look at my picks for favorite game show hosts.
1. Bob Barker
Barker, who just turned 93 on December 12, was my all-time favorite host. His 35-year run on The Price is Right and 18 years on Truth or Consequences before and during that serve as testaments to his title, given him by an audience member, of “World’s Greatest Emcee.” Barker was raised during the era of “audience participation shows” in which hosts learned to work in live situations to build spontaneous entertainment by working with whatever the contestants presented.
2. Bill Cullen
Cullen was known as the “Dean of Game Show Hosts” because he hosted so many shows in his career and because he moved effortlessly from one format to another, able to memorize rules from game after game. He was friendly, affable, and self-deprecating. Cullen was rarely shown walking on camera because childhood polio left him with a noticeable limp. But he didn’t let his disability stop him from being one of the most popular television game show hosts of all time, beginning with Winner Take All in 1952. Prior to that, his first foray into game shows came in 1945 when he became an announcer for radio’s Give and Take. It was Cullen’s limp that wound up causing what Mel Brooks described as one of his most embarrassing moments:
3. Gene Rayburn
Rayburn is another example of the marriage of a host and a show. Though Rayburn hosted the original version of The Match Game in the 1960s, it was the more madcap 1970s version that fit his madcap, zany personality. Rayburn said he felt Match Game was a weak format that needed to be “goosed up.” His method of goosing things up, he said, was comedy, a decision owner Mark Goodson reportedly balked at. But combined with the goofy double entendre questions, it worked. To Rayburn’s credit, it takes a great talent to wrangle your own personality with the personalities of six celebrities who are each looking for their share of the spotlight while keeping a game running. But he was a master at it on this show, as well as a master of the unexpected, as in this clip:
4. Dick Clark
“America’s Oldest Teenager” was the ultimate host for the various versions of The $25,000 Pyramid over the years it aired. Though Clark was probably as well known for leading us into each new year on ABC or introducing the week’s most popular music on American Bandstand, the long-running Pyramid game show on ABC, CBS and in syndication proved he was a master emcee as well.
5. Bert Convy
Bert Convy was probably best known for two game shows he hosted over his long career: Tattletales, which featured three celebrity couples who had to correctly predict what their spouses would say, and Super Password, a reboot of the classic Password game. Convy was a great host, but on Super Password, he was known for getting a little too involved in the game, which resulted in him inadvertently blowing the puzzle:
6. John Daly
Daly’s game show career is largely associated with one show: What’s My Line?, the simple panel show that launched in 1950 as a simple parlor game in which celebrities tried to guess the occupations of contestants. But this simple game managed to last almost 18 years on prime time television, a feat that has not yet been surpassed. Daly’s debonair wit gives the game for today’s audience the appearance of being a time capsule into a more “refined” era, and makes some of us wish things were still that way. One of the beloved features of What’s My Line? was the appearance of its mystery guest, usually a celebrity. For the final episode of the original run, Daly himself appeared as the mystery guest then explains why it was a trick they were never able to use up until that particular episode:
7. Allen Ludden
Nicknamed “Mr. Password” for his long association with the word game, Ludden presided over several incarnations of Password. In fact, he died during the run of Password Plus, a 1979 remake. He was also known as the love of Betty White’s life, and she talked about their relationship in this clip:
8. Richard Dawson
He came to fame in Hogan’s Heroes and got the attention of game show fans as being one of the anchors of the 1970s Match Game. But as the emcee of Family Feud, Dawson proved his hosting chops. He was controversial in that he kissed all of his female contestants, even if they were of different races, something some audience members balked at. But he explained in a speech at the end of his last show that it was a simple gesture for luck that he learned from his own mother. But given a goofy answer, he could burst into fits of laughter, as in this clip in which he asked a contestant to name the month in which a pregnant woman actually begins to look pregnant:
9. Steve Harvey
Steve Harvey is the best thing that happened to Family Feud since its original host, Richard Dawson. He’s funny and says what most people are thinking in response to the wildest of answers on the show. But he’s one of the rare comedians who manages to let his guests shine instead of trying to take the spotlight for themselves. Here’s a great example of Harvey working with an unusual situation but still trying desperately to keep the game on track. Note: this show took a lot of editing to stay on time, but here’s an extended clip of him entertaining the crowd while all is going haywire around him:
10. Peter Marshall
When Peter Marshall, the first “Master of the Hollywood Squares,” began hosting the show, it was clear that he was also a master at keeping nine celebrities in check without the zany persona Rayburn had. But he had the discipline to keep nine personalities in check without being intimidated by them. He called The Hollywood Squares the “easiest” thing he ever did in television, and he made it look easy. Marshall remembers in this clip my all-time favorite Paul Lynde zinger:
There are plenty of honorable mentions I could name, from Tom Kennedy, a host whose work remains far too underrated, to Wink Martindale, a man who earns an honorable mention for the color palette of his wardrobe alone, to Pat Sajak and Alex Trebeck, hosts of two of the most successful and longest-running syndicated game shows currently on the air. Even though they didn’t make my list, they may well make yours.