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15 Facts About The Price is Right

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

The Price is Right has been around for so long that most of us grew up with it in some capacity. Originally a black-and-white show on NBC consisting of four people bidding auction-style on items, it began airing in 1956 with Bill Cullen as host. The show was canceled in 1965, but revived in 1972 at CBS, with the now-iconic Bob Barker as host. The game show benefited from its audience participation format, and having people perform the simple task of guessing prices of everything from cars to vacations.

In 2007 Barker retired, and a few months later Drew Carey took over as host. In 2014, the show celebrated its 8000th episode and 43 seasons, and in 2015 the show hit a milestone in becoming the longest-running game show of all time. About 2.4 million people have sat in the studio audience, and the show has given away more than a quarter of a billion dollars in cash and prizes. Here are 15 more Showcase Showdown-sized facts about the game show.

1. THE SHOW’S RATINGS IMPROVED WHEN BOB BARKER WENT GRAY.

In 1987, Barker had to get approval from the head of daytime programming to stop dyeing his hair, becoming one of the few TV hosts with gray hair. “I was prematurely gray,” Barkers told the Los Angeles Times. “I began to gray at my temples, and I guess it could be that technology at that time was not what it is today, but I didn’t look good. It looked like I had no hair at my temples, so they suggested I tint it.” Barker went on vacation and stopped tinting, and people complimented his gray locks so he decided to keep the look. “We taped ahead. So let’s say on the Wednesday show I had dark hair, but when we taped the next show I had gray hair, and that show aired on Thursday. I got a letter from a fellow who said, ‘Bob, you must have had one hell of a night.’”  

2. A MAN NAMED STAN BLITS SCREENS EVERY POTENTIAL AUDIENCE MEMBER.

Stan Blits’s job is to talk to every person in line who wants to join the studio audience. He told the New York Post what he looks for in a potential contestant: “I am looking for energy, sincerity, and potential humor. And if they can equal my energy or exceed it and maintain it, they are at the top of the list.” It takes Blits about two hours to screen everybody, and the more energy you exhibit, the better. Just don’t be too aggressive, he cautions—and don’t try to bribe him with gifts.

3. JESSE PINKMAN WAS A CONTESTANT ON THE PRICE IS RIGHT.

A few years ago, a video of a pre-Breaking Bad Aaron Paul’s 2000 appearance on The Price is Right surfaced. Paul lost the Showcase Showdown, but to this day he’s probably the most famous person to have ever been a contestant.

4. WINNERS HAVE TO PAY TAXES ON THEIR PRIZES.

Sure, it seems fun to win a new car on The Price is Right, but the truth is winners have to pay taxes upfront in order to even gain access to the prizes. When contestants win any prizes, they first must file a return in the state in which they won, which is usually California. The prizes are treated as income. Winners have to pay based on the full retail value of the prize, so a lot of winners decide not to accept the prizes.

ABC News interviewed a few contestants about how much they had to pay in taxes, with one guy saying he won $57,000 in prizes but had to pay close to $20,000 in taxes. Another contestant turned down his $10,000 cash, because he didn’t want to give half to his ex-wife. In 2016, The Price is Right executive producer Mike Richards told The New York Times that the show sends a tax letter to every winner telling him or her how much in taxes they need to pay before they can receive their prizes. He said since he took over as producer in 2008, all of the Showcase Showdown winners have paid the taxes and accepted their prizes. 

5. ONE TIME A CONTESTANT GOT SO EXCITED, HER TOP FELL OFF.

In 1977, long before the term “wardrobe malfunction” was coined, a female contestant on The Price is Right had just that happen to her in the middle of an episode. When Yolanda was told to “come on down,” she got so excited that her tube top slipped off and, for a brief second, revealed way more than is appropriate for a daytime game show. “She began jumping up and down and out they came,” Barker told Larry King of “the most talked about single incident in the history of the show.” When Yolanda finally got to her podium, Barker quipped, “I’ve never had a welcome like this.”

6. A CAMERA KNOCKED MODEL JANICE PENNINGTON OUT AND RUINED HER CAREER.

While Barker Beauty Janice Pennington was taping a show in 1988, a camera accidentally hit her and knocked her into “contestants’ row.” The unconscious model was taken to the hospital where she underwent two surgeries, one of which left one of her shoulders an inch shorter than the other. Because of her scars from the surgery, she wasn’t allowed to wear a swimsuit on the show anymore. Then in October 2000, after 29 years on the show, Pennington was let go. She told the Los Angeles Times she believed she was fired because she gave a deposition in a wrongful termination suit filed against Barker and the show by former “Beauty” Holly Hallstrom. 

7. TERRY KNIESS MADE HISTORY IN 2008 WHEN HE GUESSED THE EXACT VALUE OF THE SHOWCASE SHOWDOWN.

In an intriguing Esquire piece from 2010, contestant Terry Kniess explained how during the Showcase Showdown, he managed to guess the exact value of the package—something that hadn’t occurred in the show’s entire run. He had religiously watched the game show and memorized the values of the prizes, since the show had a tendency to repeat the same prizes. “Terry says he’d seen all three prizes before,” read the article. “The karaoke machine was $1000. The pool table, depending on the model, he says, went for between $2800 and $3200. Terry went with $3000.” To round out the bid, “he picked 743 because that was the number he and Linda [his wife] had used for their PINs.”

As the article explained, Kniess was too perfect. When host Drew Carey realized that he had chosen the exact bid, the show immediately stopped taping and took 45 minutes to figure out if Kniess was cheating. The taping restarted, and Carey unenthusiastically resumed his duties.

8. WHEN DREW CAREY FIRST STARTED AS HOST, THE SHOW’S PRODUCERS MADE SURE THE GAMES WERE EASY SO THAT MORE PEOPLE COULD WIN.

Roger Dobkowitz was a Price is Right producer for decades, but was fired soon after Carey took over hosting duties. “It was extremely important for the first couple of months of the show to have plenty of winners,” Dobkowitz wrote in a blog post. “Such a situation would maintain a real positive and upbeat feel to the show and help viewers, hopefully, to accept Drew as the new host.” In order to achieve this, he ignored the prize budget and scheduled easy games with easy combinations so more people would win. “However, my plan to give away plenty of prizes went a little too well,” Dobkowitz said. “By January 2008, I was about $700,000 over budget.”

9. CAREY WASN'T THE ONLY PERSON ANGLING FOR BARKER'S JOB.

Though Carey has been running the show on The Price is Right for 10 years now, he wasn't the only person being considered to replace Barker. Among the other possible contenders? George Hamilton, Mario Lopez, and John O’ Hurley.

10. IN AN UNINTENTIONAL GAFFE, A WOMAN WITH NO LEGS WON A TREADMILL.

In 2015, an awkward hush fell over the audience when contestant Danielle Perez—a comedian who lost her legs in an accident in 2004—won a treadmill on The Price is Right. “It’s funny though, they edited out a little bit,” Perez told People. “When they revealed the prizes, the audience hesitated. There was a feeling of, ‘Oh no, they’re not really serious. They’re not gonna do this, they’re not gonna put this woman through this.'” But Perez and the show handled the incident with aplomb.

11. IT ALL COMES DOWN TO STATS.

In a scientific paper called "To Spin or Not to Spin?," the Royal Economic Society studied The Wheel on the show. “We derive the unique subgame perfect Nash equilibrium (USPNE) for The Wheel and test its predictive ability using data from both the television show and the laboratory of this game. We find that contestants frequently deviate from the USPNE when the decisions are difficult.” The manuscript lists contestant-winning percentages on The Wheel and the types of calculated decisions contestants make while spinning it.

12. A WOMAN FROM TACOMA, WASHINGTON WON THE MOST EXPENSIVE CAR TO EVER APPEAR ON THE SHOW.

Occasionally The Price is Right offers incredible prizes, such as a Ferrari 458 Spider (priced at $285,716) or an Audi R8 V-8 Spyder (priced at $157,300). A woman lost the chance to win the Ferrari, but in 2013 Sheree Heil won the Audi, beating the previous daytime record of $147,517 won by a single contestant. Heil also won $10,000 in cash and a pair of Prada shoes worth $3045. Her winnings weren’t the all-time biggest; in 2008 a man won $1,153,908 during “The Price is Right Million Dollar Spectacular” nighttime special.

13. PETA NAMED A BUILDING AFTER BARKER.

In the 1980s, Barker started signing off with, “Have your pets spayed or neutered.” (New host Drew Carey continued the tradition.) In 1987, when Barker hosted the Miss USA pageant and the contestants were supposed to wear fur, he threatened to leave the production if they didn’t change the attire to fake fur, which they did. After he retired, he donated $2.5 million to renovate a Los Angeles building to become PETA’s west coast hub. Barker wanted to help the plight of animals and have people someday look back and say, “They were still cutting up animals in laboratories? They had animals doing tricks in circuses?” he told ABC. Barker also magnanimously donated $1 million to Columbia Law School to fund the study of animal rights. 

14. BARKER MADE A RARE APPEARANCE ON THE SHOW IN 2015.

Since retiring in 2007, Barker has kept a low profile. He didn’t even appear on a special celebrating the show’s 8000th episode, but he appeared alongside Carey on an April Fool’s Day taping of the show in 2015. At 91 years old, Barker seemed like his old self.

15. THE SHOW REMAINS POPULAR BECAUSE EVERYONE CAN RELATE TO PRICES.

“The reason it was so popular originally and why it is still popular is because of the powerful basic premise of the show—everything is based on prices,” Barker told the Los Angeles Times of the secret to the game show’s success. “Everyone identifies with prices. The minute we put something up for bid and the contestant makes a bid, the viewer is involved. Once you become involved, we have accomplished what the producer of every game show wants: viewer involvement. The Price is Right has that to the nth degree.”

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25 Wonderful Facts About It’s a Wonderful Life
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Mary Owen wasn’t welcomed into the world until more than a decade after Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life made its premiere in 1946. But she grew up cherishing the film and getting the inside scoop on its making from its star, Donna Reed—who just so happens to be her mom. Though Reed passed away in 1986, Owen has stood as one of the film’s most dedicated historians, regularly introducing screenings of the ultimate holiday classic, including during its annual run at New York City’s IFC Center. She shared some of her mom’s memories with us to help reveal 25 things you might not have known about It’s a Wonderful Life.

1. IT ALL BEGAN WITH A CHRISTMAS CARD.

After years of unsuccessfully trying to shop his short story, The Greatest Gift, to publishers, Philip Van Doren Stern decided to give the gift of words to his closest friends for the holidays when he printed up 200 copies of the story and sent them out as a 21-page Christmas card. David Hempstead, a producer at RKO Pictures, ended up getting a hold of it, and purchased the movie rights for $10,000.

2. CARY GRANT WAS SET TO STAR IN THE ADAPTATION.

When RKO purchased the rights, they did so with the plan of having Cary Grant in the lead. But, as happens so often in Hollywood, the project went through some ups and downs in the development process. In 1945, after a number of rewrites, RKO sold the movie rights to Frank Capra, who quickly recruited Jimmy Stewart to play George Bailey.

3. DOROTHY PARKER WORKED ON THE SCRIPT.


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By the time It’s a Wonderful Life made it into theaters, the story was much different from Stern’s original tale. That’s because more than a half-dozen people contributed to the screenplay, including some of the most acclaimed writers of the time—Dorothy Parker, Dalton Trumbo, Marc Connelly, and Clifford Odets among them.

4. SCREENWRITERS FRANCES GOODRICH AND ALBERT HACKETT WALKED OUT.

Though they’re credited as the film’s screenwriters with Capra, the husband and wife writing duo were not pleased with the treatment they received from Capra. “Frank Capra could be condescending,” Hackett said in an interview, “and you just didn't address Frances as ‘my dear woman.’ When we were pretty far along in the script but not done, our agent called and said, ‘Capra wants to know how soon you'll be finished.’ Frances said, ‘We're finished right now.’ We put our pens down and never went back to it.”

5. CAPRA DIDN’T DO THE BEST JOB OF SELLING THE FILM TO STEWART.

After laying out the plot line of the film for Stewart in a meeting, Capra realized that, “This really doesn’t sound so good, does it?” Stewart recalled in an interview. Stewart’s reply? “Frank: If you want me to be in a picture about a guy that wants to kill himself and an angel comes down named Clarence who can’t swim and I save him, when do we start?”

6. IT WAS DONNA REED’S FIRST STARRING ROLE.


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Though Donna Reed was hardly a newcomer when It’s a Wonderful Life rolled around, having appeared in nearly 20 projects previously, the film did mark her first starring role. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role today, but Reed had some serious competition from Jean Arthur. “[Frank Capra] had seen mom in They Were Expendable and liked her,” Mary Owen told Mental Floss. “When Capra met my mother at MGM, he knew she'd be just right for Mary Bailey.”

7. MARY OWEN IS NOT NAMED AFTER MARY BAILEY.

Before you ask whether Owen was named after her mom’s much beloved It’s a Wonderful Life character, “The answer is no,” says Owen. “I was named after my great grandmother, Mary Mullenger.”

8. BEULAH BONDI WAS A PRO AT PLAYING STEWART’S MOM.

Beulah Bondi, who plays Mrs. Bailey, didn’t need a lot of rehearsal to play Jimmy Stewart’s mom. She had done it three times previously—in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Human Hearts, and Vivacious Lady—and once later on The Jimmy Stewart Show: The Identity Crisis.

9. CAPRA, REED, AND STEWART HAVE ALL CALLED IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE THEIR FAVORITE MOVIE.


Liberty Films

Though their collective filmographies consist of a couple hundred movies, Capra, Reed, and Stewart have all cited It’s a Wonderful Life as their favorite movie. In his autobiography, The Name Above the Title, Capra took that praise even one step further, writing: “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made.”

10. THE MOVIE BOMBED AT THE BOX OFFICE.

Though it has become a quintessential American classic, It’s a Wonderful Life was not an immediate hit with audiences. In fact, it put Capra $525,000 in the hole, which left him scrambling to finance his production company’s next picture, State of the Union.

11. A COPYRIGHT LAPSE AIDED THE FILM’S POPULARITY.

Though it didn’t make much of a dent at the box office, It’s a Wonderful Life found a whole new life on television—particularly when its copyright lapsed in 1974, making it available royalty-free to anyone who wanted to show it for the next 20 years. (Which would explain why it was on television all the time during the holiday season.) The free-for-all ended in 1994.

12. THE ROCK THAT BROKE THE WINDOW OF THE GRANVILLE HOUSE WAS ALL REAL.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Though Capra had a stuntman at the ready in order to shoot out the window of the Granville House in a scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock through it, it was all a waste of money. “Mom threw the rock herself that broke the window in the Granville House,” Owen says. “On the first try.”

13. IT TOOK TWO MONTHS TO BUILD BEDFORD FALLS.

Shot on a budget of $3.7 million (which was a lot by mid-1940s standards), Bedford Falls—which covered a full four acres of RKO’s Encino Ranch—was one of the most elaborate movie sets ever built up to that time, with 75 stores and buildings, 20 fully-grown oak trees, factories, residential areas, and a 300-yard-long Main Street.

14. SENECA FALLS, NEW YORK IS “THE REAL BEDFORD FALLS.”

Though Bedford Falls is a fictitious place, the town of Seneca Falls, New York swears that it's the real-life inspiration for George Bailey’s charming hometown. And each year they program a full lineup of holiday-themed events to put locals (and yuletide visitors) into the holiday spirit.

15. THE GYM FLOOR-TURNED-SWIMMING POOL WAS REAL.

Though the bulk of the film was filmed on pre-built sets, the dance at the gym was filmed on location at Beverly Hills High School. And the retractable floor was no set piece. Better known as the Swim Gym, the school is currently in the process of restoring the landmark filming location.

16. ALFALFA IS THE TEENAGER BEHIND THAT SWIMMING POOL PRANK.

Though he’s uncredited in the part, if Freddie Othello—the little prankster who pushes the button that opens the pool that swallows George and Mary up—looks familiar, that’s because he is played by Carl Switzer, a.k.a. Alfalfa of The Little Rascals.

17. DONNA REED WON $50 FROM LIONEL BARRYMORE ... FOR MILKING A COW.

Though she was a Hollywood icon, Donna Reed—born Donnabelle Mullenger—was a farm girl at heart who came to Los Angeles by way of Denison, Iowa. Lionel Barrymore (a.k.a. Mr. Potter) didn’t believe it. “So he bet $50 that she couldn't milk a cow,” recalls Owen. “She said it was the easiest $50 she ever made.”

18. THE FILM WAS SHOT DURING A HEAT WAVE.

It may be an iconic Christmas movie, but It’s a Wonderful Life was actually shot in the summer of 1946—in the midst of a heat wave, no less. At one point, Capra had to shut filming down for a day because of the sky-high temperatures—which also explains why Stewart is clearly sweating in key moments of the film.

19. CAPRA ENGINEERED A NEW KIND OF MOVIE SNOW.

Capra—who trained as an engineer—and special effects supervisor Russell Shearman engineered a new type of artificial snow for the film. At the time, painted cornflakes were the most common form of fake snow, but they posed a bit of an audio problem for Capra. So he and Shearman opted to mix foamite (the stuff you find in fire extinguishers) with sugar and water to create a less noisy option.

20. THE MOVIE WASN’T REQUIRED VIEWING IN REED’S HOUSEHOLD.

Though It’s a Wonderful Life is a staple of many family holiday movie marathons, that wasn’t the case in Reed’s home. In fact, Owen herself didn’t see the film until three decades after its release. “I saw it in the late 1970s at the Nuart Theatre in L.A. and loved it,” she says.

21. ZUZU DIDN’T SEE THE FILM UNTIL 1980.

Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in the film, didn’t see the film until 1980. “I never took the time to see the movie,” she told Detroit’s WWJ in 2013. “I never just sat down and watched the film.”

22. THE FBI SAW THE FILM. THEY DIDN’T LIKE IT.

In 1947, the FBI issued a memo noting the film as a potential “Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry,” citing its “rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘Scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.”

23. THE MOVIE’S BERT AND ERNIE HAVE NO RELATION TO SESAME STREET.

Yes, the cop and cab driver in It’s a Wonderful Life are named Bert and Ernie, respectively. But Jim Henson’s longtime writing partner, Jerry Juhl, insists that it’s by coincidence only that they share their names with Sesame Street’s stripe-shirted buds. “I was the head writer for the Muppets for 36 years and one of the original writers on Sesame Street,” Juhl told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. “The rumor about It's a Wonderful Life has persisted over the years. I was not present at the naming, but I was always positive [the rumor] was incorrect. Despite his many talents, Jim had no memory for details like this. He knew the movie, of course, but would not have remembered the cop and the cab driver. I was not able to confirm this with Jim before he died, but shortly thereafter I spoke to Jon Stone, Sesame Street's first producer and head writer and a man largely responsible for the show's format … He assured me that Ernie and Bert were named one day when he and Jim were studying the prototype puppets. They decided that one of them looked like an Ernie, and the other one looked like a Bert. The movie character names are purely coincidental.”

24. SOME PEOPLE ARE ANXIOUS FOR A SEQUEL.

Well, two people: Producers Allen J. Schwalb and Bob Farnsworth, who announced in 2013 that they would be continuing the story with a sequel, It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story, which they planned for a 2015 release. It didn’t take long for Paramount, which owns the copyright, to step in and assure furious fans of the original film that “No project relating to It’s a Wonderful Life can proceed without a license from Paramount. To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights, and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights.”

25. THE FILM’S ENDURING LEGACY WAS SURPRISING TO CAPRA.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen," Capra said of the film’s classic status. "The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

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Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
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Listen to What Darth Vader Sounded Like On the Star Wars Set
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The voice of Darth Vader, provided by James Earl Jones, is one of the most iconic aspects of the original Star Wars movies. But James Earl Jones wasn't the actor wearing that outfit—it was British actor David Prowse, who was cast in part because he was huge (reportedly 6'5" and a former body-building champion).

George Lucas always intended to replace Prowse's voice, but it's still a bit of a shock to hear a muffled British voice coming out of Darth Vader's helmet. Here's video showing what Darth Vader sounded like on the set before James Earl Jones re-recorded the dialogue.

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