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5 Interesting Stories That Involve Pat Sajak

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Arthur Chu captured national attention for becoming an 11-time Jeopardy! champion in March 2014 and is now shamelessly extending his presence in the national spotlight by all available means.

The most common question people ask me when they learn that I was on Jeopardy! for twelve episodes is, “What is Alex Trebek really like?”

They’re usually disappointed that I’m unable to give much insight into the man’s character, since I only interacted with him for a total of 240 minutes. Besides, I spent most of that time thinking about how much money I could win (while enraging some fans in the process).

As fascinating and enigmatic a mystery as Alex Trebek is—Why did he shave off his iconic mustache in 2001? What’s the deal with all those little hints he drops to his badass hockey-playing past? Is he officially the world’s most successful Canadian?—I must say that, for drama and excitement, you should be looking to Jeopardy!’s companion show, Wheel of Fortune.

Yes, Wheel of Fortune is looked down upon by the brainiac set, but the show has an anarchic, free-wheeling style that Jeopardy! can't match. Jeopardy! looks the same from week to week, whereas Wheel of Fortune keeps you on your toes (you'll never see "Cincinnati Week" or a Wild Card wedge on Jeopardy!).

But most interesting of all is the man behind the Wheel, Mr. Patrick Leonard “Pat” Sajak. Most of America knows him as the blandly genial guy who congratulates you for winning a car. But he’s had a long and colorful life in showbiz, one that rivals the legends people tell about Alex Trebek. I’m here to give you just a few of the highlights.

1. Pat Sajak Once Cut Off President Nixon’s Radio Broadcast to the Troops in Vietnam

As you may know if you’ve ever watched one of Wheel’s “Honoring Our Veterans” weeks, Pat Sajak is a Vietnam War veteran. Not just that—Pat Sajak got an early start to his broadcasting career as a DJ for Armed Forces Radio in 1968, much like Robin Williams’ character in Good Morning, Vietnam. (He describes his experience in an interview here.)

While his experience wasn't quite as exciting as what happened to Adrian Cronauer, the real-life military DJ whose experiences inspired the film, Sajak did, in fact, get to yell the famous phrase, “Goooood morning, Vietnam!” while hosting the “Dawnbusters” early-AM show.

In 1969, when President Richard Nixon was giving his Christmas address to the nation, Pat Sajak thought he heard him finish the speech and flipped the switch to start playing “1, 2, 3, Red Light” by The 1910 Fruitgum Company. As the music played, Sajak belatedly realized that Nixon hadn't finished his speech, but was actually at the portion of the address where he was giving his Christmas greetings directly to the troops.

Faced with the dilemma of whether to admit he messed up or ignore it, Sajak took the latter option. President Nixon unknowingly delivered Christmas greetings to only one of the troops in Vietnam: Sajak himself—a fact for which Sajak later apologized.

2. Pat Sajak Once Switched Roles (But Not Outfits) With Vanna White

Pat Sajak has never been seen onscreen in one of Vanna White’s signature evening gowns, but he has actually switched places with her. In 1989, Vanna hosted the show while Pat turned the letters, a last-minute decision made because of his growing case of laryngitis. He tells the story to Good Morning America here.

3. Pat Sajak Was Once a Contestant on Wheel of Fortune—Which Was Hosted By Alex Trebek

Wheel of Fortune


If you haven’t seen them yet, hie thee posthaste to view these legendary April 1, 1997 episodes of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!. Pat Sajak and Vanna White appear as celebrities playing for charity in an April Fool’s Wheel of Fortune (which is hosted by Trebek), and Sajak hosts an episode of Jeopardy! featuring a trio of adorably confused contestants. (Yes, this means that Alex Trebek has never, ever played Jeopardy! on camera. Start working on that petition now, America.)

Trebek had previously hosted Wheel of Fortune for a one-week stint as a replacement for Chuck Woolery in 1980 and as a one-episode fill-in for Pat Sajak in 1985. However, these April Fool's episodes were the only time since the syndicated revival of Jeopardy! in 1984 that anyone other than Alex Trebek has hosted the show. (Although, the show pulled a similar April Fool’s gag in 2010 with Will Ferrell in his SNL “Celebrity Jeopardy!” get-up “hosting” the show using pre-taped, spliced-in footage.)

Notable moments from these April Fool’s episodes include the incredible meta-ness of Pat Sajak solving a puzzle that reads “PAT, I’D LIKE TO SOLVE THE PUZZLE,” and the introduction of “Before and After” to Jeopardy!, which Pat says is “something we took from another show, you’ll figure it out.” 

The woman clapping and turning letters in the April Fool’s Wheel of Fortune is Pat Sajak’s little-seen wife Lesly Sajak, making Pat Sajak the only Wheel of Fortune contestant to have ever purchased a vowel from his own spouse.

4. Pat Sajak Was Once Replaced By A Former NFL Player

Part of the convoluted history of Wheel of Fortune includes the fact that from 1983 to 1991 there were actually two versions of the series—a daytime show on NBC and a nighttime show on syndication. From 1983 to 1989, Pat Sajak hosted both versions, but Sajak retired from the daytime show to host The Pat Sajak Show, a late night talk show conceived as CBS’s response to Johnny Carson.

During the widely publicized search for Sajak’s replacement, Merv Griffin saw former San Diego Chargers placekicker Rolf Benirschke discussing “healthy habits” in an interview on an L.A. morning show and decided that he liked the young man so that he invited him in for an audition, despite his lack of broadcasting experience.

Benirschke was not a very good host—he frequently forgot the rules to the game and it got to the point where contestants would have to correct him. He was fired after six months and NBC dropped the daytime Wheel of Fortune in 1991.

Lest we think unkindly of Merv Griffin’s taste, the host of Wheel of Fortune had traditionally gone to people with little game show experience. Griffin originally cast Chuck Woolery to host Wheel of Fortune after seeing him perform as a country singer on The Tonight Show in 1975.

Sajak was also an unlikely choice—he was the weatherman for KNBC-LA when Griffin tapped him as Woolery’s replacement. Fred Silverman, the president of NBC at the time, was so opposed to putting Sajak in Woolery’s seat that the standoff between Griffin and Silverman put a halt to all tapings of Wheel of Fortune until Griffin finally won and Silverman was forced out of his position.

5. Rush Limbaugh Had A Huge Meltdown on Pat Sajak’s Talk Show

In case you were wondering, the effort to make Pat Sajak the new Johnny Carson didn’t go that well—The Pat Sajak Show was canceled after one season. (I invite aspiring science-fiction writers out there to imagine the ramifications of a timeline where Pat Sajak has Jay Leno’s career, however.)

The strangest and most notable thing about the waning days of The Pat Sajak Show was CBS cycling through guest hosts as stealth auditions for his replacement. This culminated in the March 30, 1990 incident where Rush Limbaugh hosted the show in Sajak’s stead.

The situation deteriorated almost instantly, with Limbaugh apparently being in front of a non-specifically-prescreened-for-Limbaugh audience for the first time in his career, and a few of his multitudinous haters seized the opportunity to fill up slots in the audience. Whatever the actual initial plan for this episode was, it quickly turned into a raucous back-and-forth shouting match between Limbaugh and an army of hecklers, including a whole group who somehow got through pre-screening wearing ACT UP! T-shirts.

Limbaugh later accused the studio of intentionally letting an audience of detractors through in order to boost ratings which, if it is true, is one of the most awesome things to ever happen on TV.

5 Film Transitions Worth Knowing

You see them every day, on TV shows, the news, and in movies, but how well do you know the most oft-used film transitions? Here are the big five:


The dissolve is an editing technique where one clip seems to fade—or dissolve—into the next. As the first clip is fading out, getting lighter and lighter, the second clip starts fading in, becoming more and more prominent. The process usually happens so subtly and so quickly, the viewer isn't even aware of the transition. The above video offers a great overview of the cut, with examples.


This transition is the opposite of the dissolve in that it draws attention to itself. The best example of the wipe is what's known as the Iris Wipe, which you usually find in silent films, like Buster Keaton's or the Merrie Melodies cartoons—the circle getting smaller and smaller. Other wipe shapes include stars, diamonds, and the old turning clock.

The Star Wars films are chock-full of attention-grabbing wipes. Here are two good examples from The Empire Strikes Back. The first shows the clock wipe; the second, the diagonal wipe (pay no attention to the broken blocks at the start of the second clip—that's a technical glitch, not part of the film).


As the name implies, in the basic cutaway, the filmmaker is moving from the action to something else, and then coming back to the action. Cutaways are used to edit out boring shots (like people driving to their destination—why not see what the character is seeing or even thinking sometimes?) or add action to a sequence by changing the pace of the footage. My favorite use of the cutaway is in Family Guy, where the technique is used to insert throwaway gags. Here's a great example:


The L Cut, also called a split edit, is a very cool technique whose name dates back to the old analog film days.

The audio track on a strip of celluloid film runs along the side, near the sprocket holes. In the L Cut transition, the editor traditionally cut the picture frames out of the strip, but left the narrow audio track intact, thus creating an L-shape out of the film. A different camera angle, or scene was then spliced into the spot where the old picture was, so the audio from the old footage was now cut over the new footage.

Of course, with digital editing, one doesn't need to physically cut anything anymore, but the transition is still widely used, and the name has remained the same.

Split edits like these are especially effective in portraying conversations. Imagine how a simple conversation between two people might look if all we ever got was a ping-pong edit back and forth between the two people talking. The L cut allows the viewer to read the emotion on the listener's face, as the dialogue continues over, as we see in this clip from Ferris Bueller's Day Off:


The fade in and fade out usually signal the beginning or end of a scene, especially if the filmmaker is fading to/from black. This is the most common, of course, but fading to white has become trendy, too. The opening title sequence from the HBO series Six Feet Under featured many fades to black and a couple brief fades to white. The very last bit in the sequence fades slowly to white, and is my all-time favorite example of the transition:

King Features Syndicate
11 Things You Might Not Know About Blondie
King Features Syndicate
King Features Syndicate

For close to 90 years, Chic Young’s comic strip Blondie has been a constant in newspapers around the world, reaching an estimated 280 million readers in 55 countries. Despite its title, most readers are probably more familiar with Blondie’s husband, the sandwich-consuming Dagwood. Check out some facts about the comic’s origins, its feature film franchise, and a very unfortunate incident involving a dirty word that rocked Blondie's readership to its core.


An illustration of Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead of 'Blondie' comics fame
IDW/King Features Syndicate

Before Blondie debuted in 1930, cartoonist Chic Young had attempted to create a female-driven strip without a lot of success. Titles like Beautiful Bab and Dumb Dora were some of the more unfortunate ideas, with Young preoccupied by the notion of having a vapid leading lady. For Blondie, Young initially pursued the “dumb blonde” stereotype before dialing down the chauvinism and allowing the single, mingling Blondie Boopadoop to appear at least as intelligent as the succession of boyfriends courting her in the strip. Later, Blondie would become the voice of reason [PDF] to fiance Dagwood Bumstead’s bumbling presence, inverting the gender roles of Young’s previous strips.


For the debut of Blondie, Young’s syndicate, King Features, launched an aggressive mailing campaign in an effort to entice newspaper editors to pick up the strip. Editors first received a letter “announcing” the engagement of Blondie and Dagwood, which was followed by protestations from the Bumstead family and eventually a cardboard suitcase that cautioned them not to peek inside. Naturally, everyone did. Inside was a paper doll cutout of Blondie wearing lingerie, with her “wardrobe” (more paper doll clothing) included.


He might strike you as incapable of tying his own shoes, but there was a time when Dagwood Bumstead carried real potential. Instead of his current working-stiff incarnation, Dagwood was originally heir to his billionaire father’s railroad fortune. But when he married Blondie in 1933, the Bumstead family effectively disowned him, fearing Blondie was only out for his money. The couple’s move to the middle class was Young’s way of acknowledging the fallout of the Great Depression.


With the Bumstead family highly skeptical of Dagwood’s plans to marry Blondie, the would-be groom decided to earn their blessing by going on a hunger strike that played out in real time. For 28 days, Dagwood refused to eat and grew frail until his family finally consented to the marriage. The narrative stunt drew the attention of new readers, raising Blondie’s profile on the comic pages.


A 'Blondie' comic strip with Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead in bed together
King Features Syndicate

For a good portion of the 20th century, it was seen as proper to depict married couples on television or in comics as sleeping in twin beds, eliminating any hint of carnal activities happening off-screen. (Or in this case, off-panel.) But Young thought this was juvenile and insisted that Blondie and Dagwood appear sleeping in the same double bed. Perhaps not coincidentally, the two had their first child, Alexander, in 1934.


While Blondie and Dagwood got along without incident, the same couldn’t be said for another couple featured in the strip’s early years. One of Blondie’s earlier suitors, Hiho, married girlfriend Betty and the two became supporting characters in the strip. Hiho and Betty had what could be considered a tumultuous relationship, with each threatening to punch out the other on a regular basis [PDF]. Young eventually phased the two out, replacing them with far less volatile Bumstead neighbors Herb and Tootsie Woodley.


After the atomic bomb was dropped twice to bring an end to World War II, American citizens understandably grew skittish about the ramifications of wielding such power. To ease their minds, the U.S. military partnered with Young to produce 1949’s Dagwood Splits the Atom, a “fun” booklet that sees the character shrunk down in size to help readers understand atomic power and nuclear fission. Although other comic characters like Popeye appear, it’s Dagwood who has the honors of blowing a neutron into a uranium atom in order to split it.


Although Young’s son Dean had been working on Blondie and was prepared to take over writing duties when his father passed away in 1973, newspapers weren’t so sure. According to Young, more than 600 papers canceled the strip when his father died, fearing it would suffer a drop in quality. Young persevered and eventually won over the naysayers, reclaiming space in the papers and adding several hundred more. (Currently, Young writes the strip and artist John Marshall illustrates.)


In 1938, with Blondie firmly entrenched on the comics pages, King Features and Young agreed to license the strip to Columbia Pictures for a series of live-action feature films. The movies were shot quickly and economically with stars Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake portraying Blondie and Dagwood, respectively. The studio produced 28 features between 1938 and 1950. Attempts to adapt the comic to television were less successful. A 1954 pilot was unaired, while a 1957 series lasted just one season. Another 13-episode iteration was produced in 1968-69, with Bruce Lee appearing as a karate instructor in the last episode.


With their relatively trivial subject matter, comic strips rarely have the potential to offend. A 2004 Blondie entry proved to be an exception. In the strip, a character uses the word “scumbag” to describe a baseball umpire. Readers wrote in to Dean Young to lodge complaints, with Mr. Young and his proofreaders apparently unaware that “scumbag” is a euphemism for a used prophylactic.


A 2005 'Blondie' comic strip featuring a number of other comic characters
King Features Syndicate

Before shared universes were a thing, Blondie’s 75th anniversary strip published September 4, 2005 had a cameo from virtually every notable comic strip character past and present. As Dagwood and Blondie hold up a cake—shaped like a sandwich, naturally—they’re surrounded by Ziggy, Garfield, Beetle Bailey, Hagar the Horrible, Dilbert, and dozens of others. In the weeks leading up to the strip, the comics pages were full of Blondie references and sight gags.


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