Dear Cecil: Has anyone ever bothered to seriously check the claims of TV producer Chuck Barris in his book Confessions of a Dangerous Mind to see if he’s a fraud or not? Also, could you personally investigate his claims? (I think he’s a fraud, but I don’t have the time to investigate myself.) Russell, Sacramento, CA
Ah, right, Chuck Barris. Barris is the showbiz entrepreneur who created The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and The Gong Show (the last of which he hosted), hits in the late 1960s and ’70s that were thought to represent the absolute low in schlock TV, at least until everybody got a load of Temptation Island. In 1982 he published an “unauthorized autobiography,” Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, which has recently been given a new lease on life as a movie. Central to the book is the claim that “Chuckie baby” (as Gong Show fans liked to call Barris), in addition to being a busy executive responsible at one point for 27 half hours of network TV a week, was a decorated CIA assassin. Barris writes that after chaperoning a winning couple from The Dating Game on their dream date in some foreign capital, he’d slip away, blow somebody’s brains out, and then head back to Los Angeles to contend with those A-holes at the network.
And you want to know if maybe he’s making some of this up. You want to know, to be precise, if I think Chuck Barris is a fraud for claiming, inter alia (I have always wanted to write inter alia), that his nom de guerre — the name he used to order airline tickets — was Sunny Sixkiller; that in 1953 he took his 75-year-old grandmother on a camping trip to the Poconos, where they spent a wonderful day, but unfortunately when he woke up the next morning she was dead, so he zipped her body into a sleeping bag, tied it to the roof of his Volkswagen, and drove to a police station, but even more unfortunately while he was inside making a report someone stole the car; that at 16 he persuaded a 13-year-old friend of his sister’s to lick his “wee-wee” by telling her it tasted like a strawberry lollipop; that having been hired by the CIA after answering a want ad, he aced his training and was soon infiltrating a civil rights march in Selma, Alabama; that when ABC decided to air The Dating Game, the CIA said, hey, no reason you can’t be a successful TV producer and a spy; that he kept dodging assignments until his CIA boss said, come with me to Mexico City, it’ll be fun, and during the plane ride casually told Chuck they were going to kill a communist revolutionary, which they did; that after he got back he had three ex-cons destroy the Cadillac of a jerk who was in the habit of pretending to be a Dating Game talent scout and raping would-be contestants; that the CIA then assigned him to meet a courier in London, where he exchanged an envelope of money for a roll of microfilm, then jammed his silencer-equipped automatic into the courier’s mouth and pulled the trigger three times, whereupon “the man’s eyes remained surprised while the back of his head splattered against the wall of the church”; that he then “greased the bullet-shaped vial [of microfilm] with [Vaseline], dropped my pants, and slid the vial up my ass”; that he then sold ABC The Newlywed Game; that he spent $20,000 on abortions for various girlfriends; that he killed a bunch of other people (the details blur); but then a lot of his friends started getting killed because there was a mole in the CIA, but Barris got the last laugh by killing the mole, who turned out to be none other than . . . sorry, I don’t want to ruin the suspense. Barris says he received an award from the CIA “for outstanding service,” which provoked him to muse about “the strange dichotomy of being crucified by my peers for attempting to entertain people and lauded by my peers for killing them.”
So, Russ, getting back to your question: Is Chuck Barris a fraud? Of course not, silly man. A fraud is somebody who expects people to believe his crazy bullshit. If doubts remain on this score, King Kaufman points out the following in an article posted to Salon.com (you’ll find it in the archive): (a) in 1993 Barris published another memoir, The Game Show King: A Confession, in which he says nothing about the CIA or, for that matter, his previous book, and (b) over the years Barris has given varying accounts concerning his age, the manner in which he proposed to one of his wives, and so on. Of the CIA yarn, Barris coyly says in interviews, “I can’t really confirm or deny it” — about as close as he’ll come to admitting he cooked the whole thing up as a rebuttal to critics who thought his shows were atrocities. If you want to take the story seriously, Barris is happy to let you. But come on. He made a career out of outrageousness, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind proves he never lost his touch.
Send questions to Cecil via email@example.com.