Saturday, September 30, 2017

Remembering Monty Hall, and the Good ol’ Days of “Let’s Make a Deal”

Learning tonight that another cherished childhood icon, TV Game Show Host Monty Hall, had died today, my first words were, “Oh Monty, Monty, Monty.” What untold hours of joy and laughter and good, clean fun we enjoyed together throughout my childhood. The daytime afternoon TV show would come on my little black and white TV in my San Antonio living room and summertime was fun time whenever Monty was on the air, teaching me the true, unexpurgated “art of the deal.” Monty’s real name was Maurice Halperin when he was born in Canada, but he made a wise decision in changing it to Monty Hall.

I was not even a teenager when I started watching this NBC show, which debuted in 1963 and lasted all the way through 1977, pretty remarkable for a game show. I don’t consider myself a material person but I did learn early in life what things cost, what they were worth, and how much the possible acquisition of some of the “finer” things in life would cost me, should I one day be able to make enough money to afford them.

Each day, I looked forward to joining my friend Monty, and two new friends, one off-camera and one on-, (Jay Stewart and Carol Merrill, respectively), whenever the charming game show music began. Jay would say:

“These people dressed as they are come from all over the United States to make deals here in the marketplace of America, “Let’s Make a Deal!” And now here’s America’s top trader, TV’s big dealer, Monty Hall!”

And then I’d smile.

Onto the trading floor, the cameras would pan the festive and zany costumes with which individuals and couples would be all dressed up in hopes that their crazy wardrobe would attract Monty’s eyes. They’d scream, “Monty, Monty, pick me, pick me!” unabashedly and when Monty picked them, it was full joy mode with people jumping up and down like there was no tomorrow. They brought the strangest stuff you could ever think of to trade with Monty for a chance to play the game.

Now, you had to make choices as a contestant. You started with smaller first deals of the day, and then if you won enough in cash and prizes, Monty would invite you to keep what you had won or “to go for the big deal of the day,” hidden behind one of three curtain doors. Two finalists were selected to compete for the big deal and whoever won the most money and prizes that show got to pick their choice of number for the first curtain.

I learned that beautiful dress furs came from Dicker and Dicker of Beverly Hills. To a young girl in San Antonio, I could only dream of visiting Beverly Hills, or NBC Burbank studios, one day if I was very lucky, but I knew I’d want to have enough to visit Dicker and Dicker, ha. Then there was beautiful sterling silver from the Michael C. Fina Company.

If anyone ever doubts the value of branding, think again. Say you want to make your product a brand, a household name. Repetition works, and works, and works. Every time Jay Stewart said Michael C. Fina, I not only remembered the name, what it belonged to and Mr. Fina’s middle initial…and still do 54 years later. It’s either embarrassing or refreshing to admit what I can and cannot recall from childhood. The rivers in Texas were not half as fascinating as the possibility of winning Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat, as a potential contestant who walked away with a bad deal, aka, a “zonk.”

How many catch phrases did this show add to our lexicon? Seriously? Let’s think

What’s inside the box?

“Do you want to keep what you have or go for what’s behind the curtain?”
“I’ll go for what’s behind the curtain!” “It’s the big deal of the day!” “Oh no, I was zonked!” “Monty, Monty, Monty!”

Jay Stewart still made it sound not too bad if we saw someone get zonked, and Carol Merrill showed us all sorts of appliances in the most graceful and beautiful fashion with her model-like hands and gracious ways of drawing attention to the true beauty of kitchen appliances. Now you are envisioning Carol’s hand and arm movements right now? Aren’t you? You know you are!

One of the most refreshing things about the show is that there was never cause to be embarrassed in watching because it was all good, clean fun. It wasn’t until Chuck Barris entered the game show circuit that the double entendre came into fluid use on game shows.

No, Monty was fun and he was G-rated and he was so kind, so very kind, when people lost and he would always spend time in the gallery above the trading floor at the end of the show. “I’ll give you $100 if anyone brought a paperclip, eyebrow tweezers, or a thermometer….”

I'm purposely avoiding the statistical discussion and math references to "The Monty Hall Problem" because it involves three unopened doors and gives me a headache to contemplate when I'd much rather just think about the game show. But yes, we're aware of it, haha!

People showed up with satchels and purses full of obscure “stuff” just in case Monty offered $100 to anyone who brought him something he called for. The first to have it and produce it went home a winner. Everyone won by watching “Let’s Make a Deal,” and it was a pillar of my early love of competitive games. I thought I had very keen intuitive powers as a kid, especially if you’d seen my track record of knowing what curtain the big deal was behind every day. But, you couldn’t be a contestant when you were 8, or 11, or 14. And so I had to wait.

As a joke for years as a kid, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d say “a professional game show contestant,” and I was only half-kidding. I loved the excitement of the unknown, the chase for the prize, and the thrill of victory and skillfully avoiding defeat. So, I became a chemist instead. Yes, the two fields are so close. If anyone every had to take organic chemistry, you know what a zonk is, and if you’ve ever passed physical chemistry, you know what survival is. Pretty much life is a game show and we’re all the happy contestants at different times of our lives or that’s how I rationalized it when I didn’t get to Television City for my chance at the bigtime.

(Above: Wayne Brady, Jonathan Mangum, Monty Hall; Below: Tiffany Coyne and Carol Merrill)

Today the show goes on, thanks to Wayne Brady and Jonathan Mangum. Now Wayne is one truly gifted comedian and singer, and a skilled, award-winning talk show host, and I know Jonathan from a few episodes of “NCIS” where he played a “replacement” special agent when Tony, Ziva, and McGee all turned in their badges, but frankly, it’s not the same. Wayne does his very best to continue the show into this generation and is convincing, kind, sings great with the contestants and gives away a lot of stuff.

But, there’s never going to be anything quite as perfect as the original, and the man in the sports jackets who hailed from Canada and was our faithful friend every day for many of his 96 years.

He is survived by his daughter, actress Joanna Gleason, and daughter, TV executive and producer Sharon Hall, and son, writer/director and reality show producer Richard Hall. Monty’s wife, Marilyn, passed away just three months ago in June, 2017. Marilyn was a TV producer (TV movie “A Woman Called Golda”) as well as a writer (one episode of “Love, American Style”), which rounded out the true Hollywood family, if one can verify all the IMDB information posted. The couple was married for 64 years, another part of the happily ever after story.

Thank you for adding to my childhood, Monty Hall (and co-creator Stefan Hatos) and for creating “Let’s Make a Deal.” You were such a fun part of the growing-up years of all Baby Boomers. I’m guessing that you chose curtain number one, and you’re very happy right now. "Jay, why don't you tell him what he's won!"

RIP Monty, Monty, Monty.

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