ALL IN THE GAME
THE Gentleman Emcee
The news on September 9, 1969, in my local newspaper was almost surreal.
I had just seen Bud Collyer on television the day before doing an equivalent of today's infomercials. The half-hour show was for a collection of Christian music.
The Waycross Journal-Herald bore the headline: TV'S TRUTH HOST DIES SUDDENLY on page one.
Only one year and two days from the Friday when CBS and Fred Silverman had declared To Tell the Truth expendable, Bud Collyer was gone. At 61, he still looked terrific. Only a few months earlier, he had made an enthusiastic and warmly-received appearance as the mystery guest on the new version of What's My Line? Based on the success of the syndicated Line, Bud was targeted with most of the 1960s panel, to crank up a new version of Truth.
The summer of '69 brought a sudden turn in the life of Bud Collyer. He contracted a sudden circulatory ailment. Attempts to treat the illness with medication failed. Bud died September 8.
Bud left a legacy as one of the few game show hosts to ever helm two long-running shows, both of which enjoyed major success in prime time. Ironically, a portion of that success overlapped on CBS.
Mark Goodson was quoted as saying Beat the Clock was one his least-favorite shows; yet, the enthusiasm of Bud Collyer made Goodson-Todman tons of money on Clock. Whether through the popping of balloons with needles in football helmets, or the breaking of cups and saucers against a ticking clock, Bud made Saturday and Sunday nights fun on CBS for eight years.
In December 1956, after several struggles with the format, the title, and the choice of emcee, CBS and Goodson-Todman chose Collyer for double duty with the Tuesday night premiere of To Tell the Truth. Bud was not the first choice. He had been so identified with Clock, which arguably television's most frenetic show, while Truth was a more intelligent, cerebral show. CBS' first choice had been Walter Cronkite, who had excelled on It's News to Me the summer before. CBS News nixed that one. John Cameron Swayze and Mike Wallace both did run-throughs of the originally-named Nothing but the Truth. In the end, Bud got the job and yet another hit for CBS.
During the years of Truth, America experienced the true gentlemanly nature of Bud Collyer. He had already placed a legendary tag line into American conversation with, "Maybe next time will be your time to Beat the Clock." On Truth, Bud defined the phrases, "Will the real ___________ please stand up?" and "don't you forget To Tell the Truth." Yet, the fondest remembrance for me was his goodbye greeting to all of his Truth contestants, "Goodbye...and God bless you." He genuinely meant the latter three words.
Bud Collyer was a devout Christian and his beliefs were as sincere as those of Jeopardy!'s Art Fleming, who was a deacon in Marble Collegiate Church in New York. Away from the studio, Bud taught a Sunday School class at his Presbyterian church where he attended in New Jersey for more than 20 years. His faith was the center of a poignant profile of Bud in the cover story of a 1962 edition of TV Guide. A story recently related to me by one who knew Bud was of a blustery wintry day when this man, who was a favorite of millions, was spending his day alone overseeing his church property. The telephone rang. Bud answered and, in answer to a question, responded: "There's no one here but God and me."
Another game show legend, Jack Narz, relates a story about the kind of man Bud Collyer was. Jack had boarded a plane in 1969, likely only weeks before Bud's untimely death, from Los Angeles to New York to begin the first tapings of Goodson-Todman's revival of Beat the Clock. To Jack's surprise, his seatmate was the man who had put Beat the Clock on the map. "What a genuinely nice man. He had heard I was doing the show. He wished me well," remembers Narz. "He even wrote personal notes of good wishes to the production crew."
As a kid, I loved hearing Bud re-create the voice he made a legend in radio. In 1965, when Filmation Associates revived Superman as a CBS Saturday morning cartoon, Bud was tapped again to be the voice of Man of Steel and his Lois Lane from radio, '50s game show panel legend Joan Alexander, rejoined him. He made Clark Kent come alive in a more thoughtful manner than George Reeves' live-action portrayal.
Bud wrote three books, one autobiographical and all based on his Christian faith, two of which were best-sellers during the latter years of To Tell the Truth. In one of them, he wrote of a time when the network wanted Alexander replaced as Lois Lane on radio, simply because a producer felt another actress would bring more depth to the role. Bud stood firm against it----and won. "Joanie was doing a fine job," he wrote. "There was one reason for standing up for her and one reason alone----it was the right thing to do."
A story which never gained substance (but persists in some accounts today), except in scattered supermarket fan magazines in the 1950s was of Bud allegedly forcing Dolores Rosedale, the popular Roxanne of Beat the Clock fame, off the show. Says one who knew the principals, "Those stories were all planted by Roxanne. It's true she received a lot of fan mail. The Roxanne dolls were big sellers. But it was Roxanne who asked for a salary increase Mark Goodson and Bill Todman weren't willing to pay. She forced the issue, not Bud."
So fatherly was he, Bud Collyer was chosen as the first emcee of The Miss Teenage America Pageant in 1963 and kept the role for its first four years. Allen Ludden and Betty White came along each year to help with improvisations and onstage numbers with the contestants. After Truth fell from CBS prime time, the network dropped Bud from the pageant and handed the emcee chores to Dean Jones. Bud, as was his style, sent Jones a note of congratulations and wished him the best.
The final CBS daytime season of Truth had to be difficult for Bud in 1967-68. Fred Silverman, then head of CBS daytime programming, ordered drastic tampering with the classic. The set was painted such a shocking white and yellow, even the psychedelic backdrop of the early syndicated version appeared serene. Silverman ordered more celebrity games of Truth and more "couples" games, which threatened to take the show more in the direction of The Newlywed Game. Most controversial was the decision to drop Tom Poston from the panel after nine years in favor of Bert Convy, in a failed attempt to draw a younger female audience. Bud liked Convy but Collyer and Poston had been long-time friends and Bud knew the chemistry of the Poston-Cass-Bean-Carlisle quartet would be disrupted---and it was, though not the fault of Convy. Yet, Collyer carried it off as the professional he was. His carefully-measured words at the end of that September 6, 1968, final network episode were directed sincerely to the viewers, whose loyalty had made Truth a television icon.
In relating to a few friends about my plans to do this column, almost no one could believe Bud has been gone for 30 years. He still seems, particularly with those who have those weekend Game Show Network reruns, a part of our lives.
When I picked up that paper Sept. 9, 1969, and was stunned to read of Bud's death the previous day, I was in for another shock. Later that afternoon, I learned the news the next-door neighbor I had grown up with for seven years, had been killed in Vietnam. Al Sirmans was too young to die. Bud Collyer was never supposed to die. That just didn't happen to game show hosts. He was always supposed to remind me "to tell the truth."
Bud Collyer would be an anachronism by today's standards of game show hosts, save for 68-year-old Regis Philbin. Bud wasn't a standup comic. Bud was never interested in trying to "top" his contestants. He didn't use profanity. He wasn't interested in one-joke sexual humor. His wavy hair and bowtie were a time warp in the late 1960s.
Bud Collyer just liked people. Liked his panelists. Enjoyed his contestants. Relished life. Lived it as the One around whom his faith was based would have directed. For those whose lives were touched by him, he was indeed a gentleman, a category so few could place themselves in today. I only wish I'd had one opportunity to hold up a card and say, "Well, Bud, I voted for number three."
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