By Ralph Hipp
There's a commercial for Direct TV on during the basketball tournament, featuring Alex Trebek on the old set of the 70s version of the "To Tell the Truth" game show. Have you seen it? Where the real guy and the two impostors are answering questions about Direct TV service? I had to smile because I saw that real game show set and heard that theme music, when I was in the audience of TTTT in March of 1976!
I was visiting New York City with a college friend of mine after graduation, and took the train into the city.. to the place everyone now knows as "30 Rock." I asked what TV shows were taping that day. I got a ticket to "To Tell the Truth" and was in for a real treat. Garry Moore got a rousing round of applause after his introduction. It was great seeing him in person. And a legendary game show host in his own right who is an idol of mine, Bill Cullen, came out too. The other panelists back then were of course, Kitty Carlisle and Peggy Cass.. along with Hugh Downs, who is still with us these days!
It was great fun watching them record two of their episodes. (They taped a week's worth of programs in one day, as most all shows do.) One of the cameras had failed, and I remember Garry immediately lighting up a cigarette, smoking it, then coming up to us. I had the chance to chat with Garry Moore for just a few minutes, and even remember telling Bill Cullen, "After watching you all these years, I can't believe you're really real!" He was happy to get a "shoutout," said hello and gave us a wave of his hand. Bill Cullen was continuously on television from the early 50s until the late 1980s, hosting his final game show, "The Joker's Wild" before he died of lung cancer in 1990. Garry Moore (whose real name was Thomas Morfit) died of emphysema three and a half years later.
Game shows are now hosted by veteran standup comedians, but back then, hosts were primarily radio announcers who moved to television. Cigarette sponsors would give most all of them free smokes, which the hosts appreciated because it made their voices huskier and deeper. But naturally, when it was all said and done years later, the smoking lifestyle caught up with them.
A lot of that day with Garry Moore and Bill Cullen rubbed off on me. A few months after that New York visit, I got my first television reporting job. Now, as an interviewer, I find myself emulating Bill Cullen as a role model, maybe looking a little bit like him these days.. and always enjoying talking with contestants (and for me, that would be local guests talking about their events in town.)
So when I saw that To Tell the Truth commercial the other day, I smiled. I think Garry and Bill would get a real kick out of knowing a little piece of their game show is still being shown off as a treasure all these years later! Ralph