Thursday, May 27, 2010

Rant #264: An Icon Passes

I seriously doubt that anybody under the age of 50 knows the name of Art Linkletter. But for anyone who is a baby boomer or who knows television history, Linkletter was an icon we all grew up with, all knew, and even when he wasn't much in the public eye anymore, when we did see him we had to smile.

Linkletter died yesterday at the age of 97, and I must say that his passing stopped me in my tracks for a moment.

This guy had the most astounding life that anyone could lead.

Born in Canada to an unwed mother who put him up for adoption, he was taken in by a family which eventually moved to California. His preacher father was a bit hard on him, and Linkletter worked from an early age to help support his family. Later, he literally rode the rails as a hobo, learning about people and life on the way.

He finally entered college looking to be a journalist, but one thing led to another, and he made his way onto radio.

He became a top network radio host in the 1940's. While he emceed the long-running radio (and later TV) series "People Are Funny" (NBC Radio 1942-58, NBC-TV 1954-61), and a short-lived prime-time game show ("The Art Linkletter Show" for NBC), Linkletter will best be known for hosting "Art Linkletter's House Party" (CBS Radio 1945-67; CBS-TV 1952-69), on which the final segment of each day's show, "Kids Say The Darndest Things" (where Linkletter's interviews with children resulted in embarassingly hilarious responses by the youngsters), became a true piece of broadcasting Americana.

Linkletter would ask kids direct questions, and the responses he received were very, very funny. Several best-selling books came about from the interviews with kids on this show, and even today, years later, many of the responses are hilarious.

Linkletter was one of the first, if not the first, pop journalist. He played to his audience, was never sour in front of them, and he was keenly aware of what they liked. He was less a host and more of a people surveyor. He didn't cover the news like other journalists, but he covered people's foibles, and made us laugh at them.

I watched "House Party" as a kid, a very young kid, and I loved the show. He played practical jokes on the audience, but they were so mild, that everyone had a good laugh when the recipient understood what had happened. The show was sort of a milder "Truth or Consequences," which was the first "in your face" game show and was hosted by the then very brash Bob Barker. Linkletter and his show were milder, kinder and for this kid, a lot of fun.

He was married to his wife for 75 years when he died--75 years! Incredible.

But his personal life as an adult was not without tragedy. He outlived three of his children. One died in a car accident, one (his TV personality son Jack, a success in his own right) died of lymphoma a few years ago, and his daughter, Diane, committed suicide in 1969. Diane fell in with a bad crowd during the late 1960s, and her dad claimed that the use of LSD--linked to Dr. Timothy Leary--led to her death. Even though toxicology reports found her to be clean when she died, Linkletter claimed that the after-effects of drug use killed her, and he became an outspoken anti-drug crusader for the remainder of his life.

His recording, "We Love You, Call Home," which he recorded with daughter Diane prior to her death, won a spoken word Grammy. He also recorded a number of record albums, some of which were directed at the same youthful audience that loved him.

Even as an elderly man, Linkletter was tireless. He owned real estate, a natural energy company, and several other concerns.

I saw him on Larry King about a year ago, and this guy was more effervescent than someone half his age. And for a man in his 90s, he looked incredibly well.

Evidently, he was not well for the last six months of his life, finally succumbing to old age.

His kind will never be seen again.


  1. Thanks for the walk down memory lane. Loved it.

  2. You are welcome. This guy was really something. I remember him vividly from my childhood.



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