Dear Straight Dope:
I've been watching a bit of "The Gong Show" lately (it's currently running on the Game Show Network), and I was wondering about some of the celebrity judges. Jamie Farr and Allan Ludden I certainly know about (from "M*A*S*H" and "Password Plus," respectively), but what exactly did Jaye P. Morgan and (especially) Rip Taylor do to get (and in Rip's case, stay) famous?
Joel Eagelston, Springfield, Oregon
SDStaff Songbird replies:
Fame is indeed fleeting, Joel. But there’s no need to sound the gong.
Jaye P. Morgan (born Mary Margaret Morgan in 1932) performed with the Morgan Family Variety Troupe until her father’s death in 1945. Her voice matured to a husky contralto, and she was the featured singer first with Frank de Vol’s orchestra and then with Hank Penny’s. She received national radio exposure for two years on the weekly “Robert Q. Lewis Show” in New York and also on “Stop the Music!” In 1954, her “That’s All I Want From You” came close to topping the U.S. chart and she had several other big hits in subsequent years including “Danger! Heartbreak Ahead,” “Pepper-Hot Baby,” and “Chee Chee Oo Chee.” She even recorded a hit duet with Perry Como: “Two Lost Souls” from the Broadway musical “Damn Yankees.” After some bad years, she resurfaced in 1959 with “Are You Lonesome Tonight” and in 1960 with Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line.”
During the 1960s and 70s, Rip Taylor (born January 13, 1930) was a busy man, working on many comedy-variety series starring such greats as Jackie Gleason, Phyllis Diller and Bobby Darin. But all his work was done off-camera. If you’ve ever been to a television taping, you know that someone always comes out before the show starts (and sometimes even between tapings) to get the audience “warmed up.” That’s exactly what Rip Taylor did with his bewigged hair, enormous mustache and bags upon bags of confetti which he showered upon many an audience. His unique style and voice brought him to a new medium: children’s cartoon programming. He was the voice of the title character in “Here Comes the Grump” and did many other voices including some in “Popeye and Son” and “The Addams Family.” He was also the host of the (in)famous “The $1.98 Beauty Show” which lampooned the vapidity of beauty pageants. Taylor paraded a series of mock contestants through embarrassing routines, crowned a “winner,” crooned to her a la Bert Parks and finally presented her with the grand prize of (you guessed it) $1.98. Having established himself as a camp icon, he has since appeared in at least 10 feature motion pictures including “Wayne’s World 2” and “Amazon Women on the Moon.”
And you may think you know all about Allen Ludden and Jamie Farr, but you probably also think Elvis Presley was just a bloated man in a white-sequined jumpsuit.
Jamie Farr is certainly best-known for the cross-dressing Corporal Max Klinger on “M*A*S*H” (CBS, 1973-1983). But he made his motion picture debut as one of the delinquents in Richard Brooks’ “Blackboard Jungle” in 1955, using the name Jameel Farah. He adopted his new stage name when he appeared as Thaddeus in George Stevens’ star-studded “The Greatest Story Ever Told” in 1965. And don’t forget other “classic” Farr movie roles: Jacob Marley in Richard Donner’s “Scrooged” (1988) and the Sheik in both “The Canonball Run” (1980) and its 1983 sequel.
Allen Ludden made major contributions to broadcasting, both as a producer and an emcee, dating back to a long-forgotten half-hour show called “Mind Your Manners” on NBC in 1952. He reveled in the quick recall of young minds on “College Bowl” and won both a Peabody award and Emmy for his work. He hosted other game shows including “Stumpers” and “The Liar’s Club” and was a genuine role model of sophistication and kindness.
And the mind that brought these folks together to gong others?
Chuck Barris, born June 2, 1929, created many successful game shows including “The Dating Game,” “The Newlywed Game,” “The $1.98 Beauty Show,” “Three’s A Crowd,” and, of course, “The Gong Show.” He even wrote some of the game show theme songs (which you can purchase on a disc compiled by the Game Show Network entitled “Classic TV Game Show Themes.”). Barris even had a music career of sorts with such songs as “Baja California”/”Donnie” and “Too Rich”/”I Know A Child” (with the Chuck Barris Syndicate, 1968).
Believe it or not, Barris is in negotiations to bring his autobiography “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” to the big screen with Australian director P.J. Hogan (“My Best Friend’s Wedding”). In the autobiography, Barris describes a “stranger-than-fiction” secret life as a CIA operative and claims to have been an assassin who eliminated Soviet KGB agents while outwardly traveling as a chaperone for Dating Game winners.
No word yet on whether there will be gongs available at the movie theatre.
SDStaff Songbird, Straight Dope Science Advisory Board
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