Saturday, October 18, 2008

I got kicked off THE DATING GAME

It was in the late 60’s, I was in high school, and someone recommended I try out for THE DATING GAME. This was a popular game show on ABC at the time. Three bachelors would be asked inane questions by a girl who couldn't see them and based on the answers she'd select one for her "date".

I was a wise-ass even then (as opposed to say... now). So I called the show, was given an appointment to audition. The first thing I said when I got there was that my father worked for ABC radio and if that was a conflict let me know now and save us all a lot of time and trouble. They assured me that was no problem. In fact, they said members of their own staff have had to go on in emergency cases.

So I went through the audition process. They put 40 of us in a room and asked us random DATING GAME-type questions.

A week later they called and invited me to be on the show. Everyone wonders if bachelors are given a preview of the questions or get to see the girl in advance. The answer is no. They filmed three episodes at a time so nine of us reported to an assigned room. We were briefed, then ushered to the stage for a rehearsal. They walked us through it, where we sat, what to do after the girl made her selection, etc. Then it was back to this waiting room until we were called for the show.

I didn’t give a shit about winning the date. I just wanted to get big laughs. And I was lucky. Got some good questions, had some funny answers, called one of the other bachelors a blimp, just wreaked as much comic havoc as I could. Big surprise, I wasn’t selected. As a result I missed getting to go on a little cruise boat around the Newport Beach harbor with the Turtles. (I’ve since become friends with Howard Kaylan and he can’t even remember that event).

Two days after the show aired I got invited to go on again for their alumni show. Again I was apparently funny. I just remember doing an Elvis impression and trashing the institution of marriage. This girl didn’t pick me either. Instead I went home with 50 pairs of Ray-Ban sunglasses or something useless like that. I think the date I missed was to the Lancaster Date Festival. I’ve since gotten over my disappointment.

After that show aired they invited me to be on the night-time version. Now that was big stuff. Winners got trips to Europe and Hawaii, not Orange County. Oh yeah, and you’d be on national primetime television… but it was really the prizes.

Unfortunately, there was an engineers’ strike at ABC at the time and management had to man the cameras. During the rehearsal, one of the cameramen recognized me and mentioned casually that my father worked for ABC radio. Chuck Barris went ballistic. I was immediately thrown off the show. I said, “But what about when your own staff has to sub…?” Their answer was, “Get out!” So that was that. I was bumped from the show, they grabbed a guy in the audience who was wearing a suit, and he went on in my place. The selected bachelor got a trip to Paris. I got a roast beef sandwich at Arby’s.

A few years later when I was working as an intern at KMPC radio in Los Angeles. Jim Lange was hired as a disc jockey. He spotted me down the hall and amazingly, remembered me. Even rattled off my blimp quip. Two days later at the station I get a call from THE DATING GAME. All was forgiven. They’d love to have me on again. I said, “Is this the night-time version?” They said no, I’d have to go back to daytime. So I told them to stick it. And thus ended my storied DATING GAME career.

Do I have regrets? Yes. I wish I had some of those sunglasses today. I could get a FORTUNE for that crap on ebay.


Anonymous said...

I believe I commented, but for those who missed it....since Ken originally posted this, I acquired a DVD featuring an episode of THE DATING GAME, circa 1968. It shows a picture of a lucky couple enjoying the Healdsburg Prune Festival (it's north of San Francisco, up the 101 past Santa Rosa). It looks like they were judging the pie-baking contest.

And don't get too upset at Chuck Barris' reaction. As he wrote in "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" (the original hardcover--it's been deleted from later versions, including one I have that was put out as a tie in to the movie), he had been blacklisted from NBC (by the woman executive considered to be the model for Faye Dunaway's character in "Network"). They were planning to pick up a show, and as part of their process they had a private eye do some research. He gave them a report saying Barris rigged his shows. Barris wrote that this was a false claim, disseminated by a man with a personal vendetta--the PI had, in fact, been previously rejected for a DATING GAME appearance.

Anonymous said...

I thought this sounded like a rerun. Already with the reruns, and it's only October.

Mary Stella said...

Ken, did you do the gracious thing and go out and kiss the woman after she picked someone else?

I always waited to see if the woman picked the guy with the great answers over two guys who were super-hot and better looking than the one she selected. Some of those women were not very good at masking their facial expressions which often conveyed the thought, "Oh Lord. I picked this geek over those guys?"

Anonymous said...

Well my comment may be a bit of a repeat also, but I'm not trolling through the archives for whatever I wrote last time.

I was also a contestant on THE DATING GAME in 1968. My memory (40 years! My God!) is that you had to be 18 to do the show, so on my 18th birthday, in May 1968, I called the show.

I got selected to do the nighttime network version. I'd been writing for Sweet Dick Whittington for a year at the time (Later, as Dick's producer, I booked Chuck Barris on the show, and sat and chatted with him in my office.), which was a pretty good credit for a kid still a few weeks from graduating high school, which may be why I got put directly on the network edition.

I got solid laughs with simple double entendres. At one point, the girl said she hated guys who wore flowered shirts. The camera was on a close up of me, in the flowered shirt I was wearing. Big laugh. I suspect they gave her the comment (Later on, after extensive conversations with her, I became sure they scripted her every word, as she was dumber than a log.) after seeing me in my shirt in the waiting room, as the camera was ALREADY on me alone when she said it.

I won. We were awarded a premiere at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood (ISADORA with Vanessa Redgrave) and a buffet post-premiere party at Universal studios afterwards.

The other couple on our show won a trip to Belgium. Hello? We got dinner and a movie in Hollywood (My typical Friday night) and they got a trip to Europe? Did they win better than we did?

When I bitched about it, I was told that they had "Trip dates" and "Meet celebrities" dates, and we had the latter.

So we were sent to the theater with a photographer, who shot pictures of us with Carol Burnett (I gushed my worship), Peter Lupis ("Stars" they said, when telling me why I wasn't going to Europe.), and Army Archard. I found Archard such an absurd figure at that time, that I could not stop laughing, and they couldn't get a usable picture. (BTW, we were NOT given copies of these pictures. They were shown on the air, but not given to us. Somewhere, there's a shot of me sneaking a glance at Peter Lupis's famously large crotch.)

But the buffet turned out to be a real treat for me. It was held on the set of Lon Chaney's PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. To an old horror movie buff like me, this was Holy Ground.

The highlight of the evening (In fact, the highlight of 1968 for me) was standing in the buffet line with Elsa Lanchester, and her telling me that they had shot some of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN in the very stage we were on. BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is my all-time favorite movie, and here I was, chatting with the Bride herself on the very spot where the Bride had been brought to life. That was worth far more to me than any trip to Belgium. Europe would wait for me, but Elsa Lanchester was ephemeral.

The low point came when we were introduced to Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero (Whose beauty in person was so intense, that I was erect just being in his vicinity) as "The winners of THE DATING GAME," like that was a big deal. Be impressed, Vanessa.

Vanessa said just what I would expect her to say, "What is 'The Dating Game'?"

I had been knocked out by her magnificent performance in the film, and wanted only to worship this goddess, but before I could inhale to say, "Never mind. It's crap. You're a goddess. I worship you." my date nasally whined "You've never heard of THE DATING GAME?" in a tone of voice that clearly implied, Have you been living in a cave?"

She then preceded to spend our few precious moments with these gods telling Vanessa, in excruciating detail, just exactly what THE DATING GAME was. Vanessa wore a polite smile, but her eyes were screaming, "Please get me away from this mad woman before she kills me."

Needless to say, I never saw this idiot again, despite the enthusiastic hand job she gave me during the limo ride home.

I did THE DATING GAME again, 12 years later. At that time, I was working full time at The Comedy Store. Barris by then was routinely booking AFTRA talent on the show, and paying AFTRA minimum, because the show depended on the contestants being funny, and he'd realized that you get what you pay for, and professionals are funnier than amateurs. They were recruiting talent at The Comedy Store regularly, and nearly every single person I knew at work did the show. Wildly flamboyant Taylor Negron must have done it 7 times. I did it that time for the money.

The girl that time was future one-season SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE regular Gail Mathius, who was a friend of mine. In fact, we had been onstage together the day before it shot, and hadn't mentioned to each other that we were doing the show the next day. That's how "Just a job" it had become.

I lost that time, and it was so obvious, when I was brought around to "meet" Gail, that we knew each other, that Jim Lange commented on it on the air. A week later, when emceeing a show at The Comedy Store, I brought Gail onstage to explain to the audience why she hadn't picked me. The reason she gave was "I hate you."

I saw a LOT of guys on THE DATING GAME like Taylor, whom I knew were gay, including some gay porn performers, but nothing for me topped seeing a guy I had had an affair with on THE NEWLYWED GAME with his new wife. I ran into him a year later at a gay bar, and asked him about it. He said, "The marriage didn't last long." 30 minutes perhaps?

I never did THE DATING GAME again, but my performing partners and I did THE GONG SHOW with Barris himself, and a short time later did the same piece for THE GONG SHOW MOVIE, again with Barris. Fortunately, our segment didn't make the final cut of that legendarily terrible movie.

For me the treat of doing THE GONG SHOW was that it was shot at the same studio where Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff had shot their Roger Corman movies, and where Bette Davis had shot WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE.

There was nothing like 1970s Chuck Barris TV cheese.

Anonymous said...

When I watch reruns of "Let's Make a Deal", I think about all those 1968 Opels and Dodges that are now in junkyards or pieces of something else made from scrap metal. Maybe part of that year's supply of Turtle Wax is still sitting in someone's garage.

I've heard some shows pay you about 10 cents on the dollar cash at the end (in lieu of prizes)so you don't have to report all your winnings into a higher tax bracket.

Anonymous said...

Ken, try to find Harlan Ellison's book of TV essays, _The Glass Teat_ or _The Other Glass Teat_. He tells the story of when he was Bachelor Number Three on the show, and how the incident ended with Chuck Barris screaming to burn the tape.

Anonymous said...

d. - I loved Gail Matthius, despite the generally low opinion of that 80-81 season. I even remember her on Laugh Trax, that syndicated attempt at an American SCTV type show from the early '80s. Jim Staahl, Frank Welker, Lucy Webb, Howie Mandel, I think. Haven't thought of it in years.

I see Matthius' subsequent credits are mostly cartoon voiceovers, and not too recently. Hope she's happy, whatever she's doing.

Anonymous said...

Gail was a sweetie. (I haven't seen her in years.) I was with her about ten minutes after she got the news that she was definitely cast on SNL. You never saw such joy. Good thing she couldn't see the future, and know what Jean Dumanian would soon do to her dream.

Jim Staahl's ex-wife Meg was my boss for two years, and I once accidentally miss-jusdged a swing and hit Jim in the nose onstage. I must have apologised for DAYS. Jim is an enormous talent.

I knew Lucy Webb in those days as well, very nice girl, and very talented. Howie Mandell was also among my associates in those dim dead days. Ironically, "Dim and dead" pretty much describes my respect for Howie's talents these days.

Ah, my checkered past.

Dating said...

I acquired a DVD featuring an episode of THE DATING GAME, circa 1968. It looks like they were judging the pie-baking contest.

Johnny Walker said...

Currently reading The Me Generation, and found this post. Oh to be able to watch the shows mentioned above!!!