One of the shows that we always watched as a family was “You Bet Your Life” starring none other than Groucho Marx and his sidekick, George Fenneman. This little quiz showed debuted on radio in 1947 and transitioned to television in 1950 – running until 1960. (I only caught the later episodes if you’re wondering).
This quiz game which took a variety of incarnations during it’s 10 year television span allowed randomly selected members of the studio audience – normally one of each sex (in those days there were just two) – to compete by answering some questions of varying difficulty. The game itself was, however, secondary to the amusing repartée that Groucho had with his contestants.
At the beginning of the show, before bringing on the contestants, Groucho would show the studio and television audience the “secret word” – worth one hundred dollars if the contestants happened to use it while they were on the show.
After Fenneman brought them onstage, Groucho would chit chat with each of them to find out about their background. During this conversation, he held a large cigar in his right hand and waved it around. The cigar never went out – perhaps because it wasn’t lit – and was more of a prop than anything else. And at the conclusion of the interview, Groucho, before launching into the questions, would tell them, “Say the secret word, the duck will come down and you’ll win a hundred dollars.” He would give them a general hint as to what the word was such as, “It’s something you find around the house.”
Now I know that if there are any young readers out there, I’m sure that you’re not impressed with a one hundred dollar prize. In fact, the most a contestant could win was twelve hundred dollars plus the “secret word” bonus – and that was split two ways. But to put it in perspective, in the ‘50’s when the show was extremely popular, one hundred dollars would cover more than a month’s rent in a nice area in Manhattan.
The show was broadcast live, as most TV programs were in the early days of the medium. So what was said by the star was heard by the audience. And that resulted in the abrupt cancellation of the program in 1960. Like Paula Deen, Groucho said something that the TV station and the program’s sponsors considered “off color.” No, wait a minute, I stand corrected. Apparently Ms. Deen said something that was “on color.”
One of the guests on the final broadcast was a man (I honestly don’t recall his name so we’ll call him Tom Smith) who was from Canada. Groucho first interviewed the female contestant and then turned his attention to Mr. Smith, asking him what he did for a living, that sort of thing.
Then Groucho asked, “So tell me Mr. Smith, do you have any children?”
The man smiled and looked down at his feet and grinned.
He said, “Yes, Groucho. My wife and I have eleven children.”
Groucho paused for a moment, and then said, “Eleven children? That’s a lot of kids. Why do you have so many, Mr. Smith?”
The Canadian responded, “Well, Groucho – I guess it’s because I love my wife.”
The live audience laughed at this response.
Groucho took a dramatic pause, removed the cigar from his mouth and stared at it for a few seconds before responding, “Mr. Smith, I love my cigar too but I take it out sometimes.”
End of show – cancelled – final episode.
Last night I was, as usual, up late, trying to put some ideas together and they just weren’t co-operating. So I decided to stop trying to force it and take a break. And there’s nothing less challenging mentally than watching a little television.
So I turned on the set on my office desk and a show called, “The King of Queens” was being aired. Actually, I thought it was a new show and I wondered why they were showing it at midnight. Not much of an audience us night owls. So I googled it (I refuse to use a capital G for google – so I’ve had to add “small ‘g’ google” to my spell check’s vocabulary) and found the show had run for ten years – though from the ten minute snippet that I saw I couldn’t imagine why.
Well the point here is not the show – rather it was one of the ads. Here I am, trying to relax and what do they have on but a provocative ad (I could be wrong as I was in a mild state of shock) but I think the advertiser was Durex. Depicted in this ad was a mostly unclad couple, cavorting and rolling around in bed while the sexy female-voiced announcer touted the company’s “condoms, lubricants, massage gels and so much more – available everywhere.”
I turned off the TV, passing on watching the remaining portion of “The King of Queens” episode, and went to bed. And as I lay there getting ready to head off to slumber land I couldn’t help wondering, if he were alive and caught that ad, “What would Groucho say?”