Today is indeed a day of sadness for fans of old-time radio and classic television—broadcast pioneer Art Linkletter, at one time called “America’s top master of ceremonies,” has passed away at age 97.
During Radio’s Golden Age, Linkletter was the announcer/host of two immensely popular programs—the daytime House Party (1945-67) and the nighttime “stunt show” People are Funny. The latter series, which debuted over NBC Radio in 1942 (though Linkletter didn’t become host until a year later), was so popular that it was loosely turned into a motion picture in 1946 starring Linkletter and radio favorites Jack Haley, Ozzie Nelson, Rudy Vallee, and Francis Langford. People are Funny was later a top-rated radio-to-TV transplant, debuting on NBC in the fall of 1954 and lasting until 1961 (the radio version ran until 1960). House Party also made the transition to boob tube, beginning in 1952 and becoming must-see daytime television until its departure in 1969.
Linkletter’s innate talent for being able to think fast and on his feet made him an ideal candidate as an M.C.; among his other television assignments were a stint as host of Hollywood Talent Scouts (1965-66), Disneyland (1986), and Kids Say the Darndest Things, a 1998-2000 revival of his famous House Party feature hosted by actor/comedian Bill Cosby (Linkletter was seen on occasion as a co-host).Most of the time on the tube, Linkletter was content to play himself—with guest appearances on shows like The Bob Cummings Show, Batman, and Here’s Lucy. But ever so often, he would exercise his acting chops with dramatic parts on series like Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater, General Electric Theater, and Wagon Train.
If anything, the man who helped America laugh for nearly half a decade in show business—be it at people who performed crazy stunts for fabulous prizes or adorable moppets saying naughty things beyond their parents’ control—could laugh at himself, as witnessed by his tongue-in-cheek performance as quiz show host Happy Hogan in Champagne for Caesar (1950), a riotous spoof of giveaway programs starring the incomparable Ronald Colman as a genius whose expertise at answering questions threatens to bankrupt neurotic soap company sponsor Vincent Price.
R.I.P, Art. You were a giant in your chosen profession and a credit to emcees and hosts everywhere. Truly a devastating loss.