They've got gleaming, flawless teeth, hair that could withstand hurricane-force winds and emotions that run high when giving away a case of Turtle Wax. But scratch just below the surface of a classic game show host, and you may be surprised at what you find.
When you think of "Regis Philbin" and "game show," the first thing that probably comes to mind is Who Wants to be a Millionaire. But Reeg's first venture into the world of consolation prizes was a short-lived 1975 show called The Neighbors. The premise was loosely based on The Newlywed Game; the panel consisted of five women (because females are the only ones who gossip, apparently) who lived in the same neighborhood. Two of the women were contestants and had to guess which one was the subject of the juicy secrets dished by the remaining three. The Neighbors lasted approximately as long as Regis' hepcat singing career, which his former boss, Joey Bishop, praised as "giving hope to lots of people who can't sing."
Wink Martindale's face is as memorable as his name; he's hosted some 19 different game shows over the years, including Gambit, Tic-Tac-Dough and Debt. Winston Martindale was only 17 years old when he got his first job "“ a disc jockey for WHBQ in Memphis, Tennessee. Wink was the morning man at the radio station, and the evening DJ had a program that featured what was then called "race music:" R&B and dance songs played by African-American artists. One day in 1956 Sam Phillips of Sun Records arrived at WHBQ with a single called "Heartbreak Hotel" by a white artist who sounded black, and after hearing it Wink invited the singer, Elvis Presley, to appear on his local TV show called Teenage Dance Party. That June 16, 1956, interview marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship between the King of Rock and Roll and the game show legend.
Bob Eubanks looks like he was born standing behind a podium, but he was so nervous while filming the premiere episode of The Newlywed Game in 1966 that he went 30 minutes without blinking (or so it seemed, according to producer Chuck Barris.) As a teen, Eubanks was an avid roller-skater and he won several National Championships in preparation for the rumored upcoming Olympic Trials. When roller skating wasn't added to the Olympic roster of sports after all, he and a friend formed a partnership and opened a small string of teenage dance clubs in the L.A. area. He also worked as a DJ, which is how he got interested in concert promotion. In 1964 the Beatles wanted to play the Hollywood Bowl, but the major local promoter was unwilling to pay the band's requested $25,000 fee. Eubanks borrowed the money against his house and presented the Fab Four live on August 23, 1964, in a show that would appear 13 years later as the number one album The Beatles Live at the Hollywood Bowl. (By the way, Bob denied it for years, but a Newlywed Game contestant really did give that notorious answer to the question "Where is the most unusual place you've ever made whoopee?")
Peter Tomarken hosted several short-lived game shows, but the one that had staying power was Press Your Luck. Game show enthusiasts may remember that Tomarken was the stunned man behind the podium when laid-off ice cream truck driver Michael Larson went on an unprecedented winning streak that required a two-part episode. Tomarken was also a licensed pilot and in his spare time used his own plane to volunteer for Angel Flight West, a non-profit organization that provided free non-emergency air transport for children and adults with serious medical needs or other compelling conditions. Sadly, on the morning of March 13, 2006, while en route to pick up a cancer patient in San Diego, Tomarken's Beechcraft Bonanza A36 crashed into the Santa Monica Bay, killing both him and his wife.
Jack Narz's hosting career almost ended as quickly as it began. Eight months after Dotto debuted in January 1958 it was revealed that the show was "fixed" and Narz became embroiled in the famous Quiz Show Scandal of 1959. Luckily, a polygraph test proved that Narz was innocent of all charges, and two years later he continued a career that included games shows such as Beat the Clock and Concentration. Narz, whose brother Tom Kennedy is also a veteran game show host, was a fighter pilot during World War II and won a Distinguished Flying Cross for missions in the China-Burma theater. After the war he enrolled in broadcasting school and landed several jobs doing voice work for radio commercials. One of his TV gigs was as the off-camera announcer in the two-part pilot episode of The Adventures of Superman. Narz was paid $150 for saying "Join us every week for the adventures of Superman!", and then received a royalty check for $1.98 for the rest of his life any time that episode was aired.
The smoochy host of Family Feud was named Colin Emm when he was born in Gosport, England. He left home at 14, lied about his age, and joined the Merchant Marines. He went onstage during an open mic night and discovered a love of performing. He adopted the stage name Richard Dawson and was hired to be the opening act for a stage show starring actress Diana Dors, who was known as the British Marilyn Monroe. The two fell in love, married in 1959 and eventually had two sons. The coupled moved to Hollywood in 1962 because Diana was interested in pursuing a film career. She quickly grew restless, however, and left Richard two years later to return to England and start a relationship with a younger man. She gave him full custody of the boys, Mark and Gary, whom he doted on, and he continued to send her flowers on her birthday every year for the rest of her life. In 1981 the Johnson family competed on an episode of Family Feud, and Dawson took an interest in 24-year-old Gretchen. They were married in 1991 and have a daughter, Shannon Nicole.