Monday, June 4, 2012

Rant #749: "Survey Says ... "

Funny how things work out.

I just finished a Rant about perpetual game show player Ruta Lee, when one of the all-time game show personalities passes away.

Richard Dawson, the amiable--and very kissy kissy--host of "Family Feud," died on Saturday at age 79 from complications of espohageal cancer.

Although best known for hosting the long-running ABC daytime game show (1976-1985 during his tenure on the show), Dawson had a long career as a comedian, actor and game show guest prior to his hosting duties on Family Feud.

The British-born Dawson--whose father was American--was a presence on television years before he became something of a household name. He guested on numerous sitcoms in the early 1960s, including "The Dick Van Dyke Show," but a controversial show first put him in the limelight.

"Hogan's Heroes," about prisoners of war in a Nazi-run prisoner of war camp, wouldn't be anyone's guess for a sitcom, but when it was proposed in the early 1960s, Dawson went for the role of Col. Hogan, the leader of the troop of street-smart POWs. Dawson went out for the top role, disguising his British accent for an American one.

Legend has it that as the show was sharpened into what it finally became, the role of Col. Hogan was developed for an American, and Bob Crane, a West Coast disk jockey who had some acting credits as the neighbor of the Stone family on "The Donna Reed Show," was pegged for the part.

The producers felt that Dawson sounded too British--even with his American accent--to pull of the Hogan role.

Reports are that Dawson was somewhat devastated by this turn of events, but his consolation prize was the role of the smart Britisher Newkirk, the smart-alecky, pick-pocket, magician and jack of all trades. And he put on a strong, British accent for that role to accentuate the fact that Newkirk was British.

Although the role was a step down from that of the suave Col. Hogan, Dawson lasted the entire run of the show, which was a surprise hit for CBS from 1965-1971.

When the show went off the air, Dawson and another Hogan alumni, Larry Hovis, segued over to "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In," where they stayed for a short time as part of the cast of one of the top shows of its time.

Dawson continued to appear on TV when he left that show, and was an occasional guest on the revamped "Match Game," which began its saucy run with Gene Rayburn as its host during the early 1970s.

Dawson became so popular on the show that he became the most popular of the guest stars, and soon became a regular on the show.

But he itched for more, and asked the producers to create a game show around him.

And in 1976, "Family Feud" was created for him, a game show that used surveys to obtain answers about a variety of subjects. Contestants had to guess what the top answers were to win cash and prizes.

It was a simple show, and attracted an incredible following. It has been on the air in various incarnations to this day, but the glory years of the show was when Dawson was the host.

His British sense of humor was shown off the hilt on this show, and his reaction to some of the players' answers were legendary.

And he also became the most popular game show host perhaps of all-time during this period, winning an Emmy for his performance.

But what most people remember is his kissy-kissy attitude with the female contestants. He kissed, with a peck on the lips, thousands of women on the show, and while this turned off a lot of people, it endeared him to many more.

In fact, he met his second wife, who was a contestant on the show, and she went through the kissy-kissy routine like just about every female did on the show.

But behind the scenes, legend has it that Dawson was difficult, had a large ego, threatened to walk off the show several times, and finally called it a day in 1985.

He had kept something of a low profile since leaving the show. He married for a second time, had a child (along with children from his first marriage), and later became a grandfather. He also was a heavy smoker, which may have led to him getting, and finally succumbing to, cancer.

Reruns of classic "Family Feud" still can be seen on TV, along with the newer versions of the show.

Personally, although I watched "Family Feud" in its earliest incarnation during its first year or two, I will always remember Dawson from one of the favorite shows of my youth, "Hogan's Heroes." As probably the cleverest show of its time--it had to be with a premise like it had--Dawson fit into the show perfectly. He was a major part of the strong ensemble cast, and he played his role as the wily Englishman with a lot of aplomb.

I will miss Richard Dawson. He was one of TV's biggest stars from the mid-1960s through the mid-1980s, and he will forever live in rerun heaven.

R.I.P. Richard Dawson. You did really good.

"The answer is ... !"

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