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11 Whammy-Free Facts About Press Your Luck

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The 1980s were the heyday of daytime game shows, and CBS’ Press Your Luck was a proto-game, ahead of its time—even being compared to the Titanic. From 1983 to 1986 (758 episodes), Peter Tomarken hosted the show, which featured three contestants who earned spins if they answered trivia questions correctly. If they did, they got to play the Big Board, which shuffled cash, trips, cars, jewelry, and other fine commodities. But if a contestant landed on a Whammy, the animated cartoon character appeared on screen and erased all of their money. At the time, Press Your Luck offered its contestants more cash than other game shows. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of its final original episode, here are 11 facts about one of the most exciting game shows of all time—no Whammies!

1. PRESS YOUR LUCK IS BASED ON A 1970S GAME SHOW CALLED SECOND CHANCE.

Bill Carruthers produced the show Second Chance, which ran from March to July of 1977. Hosted by Jim Peck, it aired on ABC, not CBS. The show was a precursor to Press Your Luck in that it had a board with monetary values and prizes, a devil-like mascot, and three contestants answering trivia questions. But the board wasn’t technologically advanced, and during the taping of the pilot episode, $5000 was the highest amount a contestant could win. After airing for 95 episodes, the show was canceled, but Carruthers found a way to retool the show into the more successful Press Your Luck. 

2. THE BIG BOARD WAS MADE UP OF SLIDES.

PressYourLuck.com explained that in order to get the dollar values to change, each square contained three different slides. With 18 squares total, that tallies 54 slides. “However, on the pilot episode, there were more than three slides because on some of the squares, there was more than one Whammy,” explains the article. “The reason slides were used was because when they changed, it had a morphing look.” The slides weren’t as big as they looked on TV—they were the size of a typical photo slide.

3. BETTER OFF DEAD WRITER-DIRECTOR SAVAGE STEVE HOLLAND ANIMATED THE WHAMMIES.

One of the best parts of watching Press Your Luck was seeing what kind of Whammy would appear when a contestant lost his or her loot. This website chronicles 79 different Whammies used on the show, including a Whammy on a flying carpet and a Whammy dressed as Ben Franklin. Before he became a filmmaker, Better Off Dead creator Savage Steve Holland dabbled in animation, and he’s the one who drew the aforementioned Whammies.

“I was asked by the producer Bill Carruthers to invent a bad creature that stole people’s money,” Holland told Collider. “I drew something on a napkin and the producer said, ‘That’s it!’ He did the voice, not me. I animated that little fella on the most primitive computer animation system on Earth. It was steam-powered. But I love my terribly animated Whammies!"

4. A CONTESTANT CAUSED ONE OF THE BIGGEST SCANDALS IN GAME SHOW HISTORY.

During the June 8 and June 11, 1984 episodes, a contestant named Michael Larson cheated the Press Your Luck system. He won $110,237 in cash and prizes, which remains one of the largest payouts from any game show. According to the 2003 Game Show Network (GSN) documentary Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal, the unemployed ice cream truck driver from Ohio spent months studying the light patterns of the Big Board and discovered a couple of squares always offered extra spins and no Whammies (he needed the bonus spins to continue his massive quest).

On the first spin of the first round, Larson did hit a Whammy, but he recovered. He ended up taking 46 Whammy-free spins, racking up a lot of dough and alarming producers. The documentary also revealed how Larson would celebrate victory as soon as he hit the button, before the value sign was revealed. Though the producers knew Larson had participated in foul play, they allowed him to keep his winnings. With those 47 spins, the episode became so long it had to be split into two episodes.

5. A WHAMMY ONCE STOLE $31,408 FROM A CONTESTANT.

Press Your Luck once had a winning cap of $25,000, but sometimes contestants—including Michael Larson—topped that. During the August 10, 1984  show, contestants Lori and Cathy spent several minutes passing each other spins—Lori passed to Cathy, she took her turns; she passed the remaining ones to Lori, Lori used them and passed them back to Cathy; and so on and so forth. At one point it got so intense that Peter Tomarken joked, “Somebody alert Cedars-Sinai [Hospital].” Both of them kept winning, almost $50,000 between them, until Cathy finally hit a Whammy and lost her entire accumulation of $31,408. The third contestant, Randy, ended up Whamming out, thus Lori became the big winner with $24,685.

6. TWICE, ALL THREE CONTESTANTS ENDED THE SHOW WITH NO MONEY.

The first time this happened was on November 26, 1984. Contestant Diane and returning champ Chris Whammied out, and Chris passed one spin to Dom, who had no choice but to take it. If he hadn’t hit a Whammy he would’ve gone home with $13,250. But since he lost, everybody returned the next day. Chris proved to be victorious and won the next three shows.  

The next time this happened wasn’t until a year and half later. The February 4, 1986 episode concluded with a three-way tie, but the contestants ended up with $0. Contestant Wayne hit a Whammy and lost $15,898. Dorothy took the lead with $10,366, and passed four spins to Joe. He lost his $6347 and passed two spins to Dorothy. If she didn’t hit a Whammy, she’d win; if she did, all three of them would get to come back the next day. As she said “No Whammies” in the split screen, Joe mouthed “Whammy,” hoping she would lose, which is exactly what happened. She was upset about her loss, but Joe and Wayne excitedly high-fived each other, as they knew they’d be back. For the first time in Press Your Luck history, all three players came back the next day (where Wayne won).

7. WINNING CONTESTANT MAGGIE SCHPAK DESIGNED JEWELRY FOR MOVIES.

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Maggie Schpak appeared on the March 9 and March 12, 1984 episodes, and an unaired pilot from 1983. In the pilot she goes by the name Maggie Brown, but on the other shows she’s Schpak. In her first aired appearance, she said she was the owner of “a metal shop in Hollywood. We make anything for space movies.” According to a DVD commentary for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, she designed the Vulcan jewelry, and according to another article, she designed Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews’ tiaras for The Princess Diaries. Schpak’s wild hair made her stand out to contestant Michael McSweeney, who proclaimed, “Everything about her was weird … Her hair looked like a rat’s nest.” Still, Schpak managed to beat McSweeney and become the champ with $12,932.

8. THE SHOW WAS BRIEFLY REVIVED AND REBRANDED IN 2002.

Coming back as Whammy! The All-New Press Your Luck, former E! Network correspondent Todd Newton took over hosting duties, and the graphics of the board and Whammies changed drastically from the 1980s, from drawn Whammies to 3-D generated Whammies (the former looked better than the latter). Tomarken was actually considered for host—two pilots were taped in 2002, one with Tomarken and one with Newton—but producers opted to go with a fresh face for the new series. Whammy!, which wasn’t a huge hit like its predecessor, aired on the Game Show Network from April 2002 to December 2003.

9. PETER TOMARKEN DIED IN A PLANE CRASH IN 2006.

On March 13, 2006, Tomarken was piloting his plane, a Bonanza A36, from Santa Monica to San Diego with his wife, when engine trouble caused it to crash into the Santa Monica Bay. The couple was volunteering for the charity Angel Flight West, which offered free flights for needy patients; the Tomarkens were on their way to San Diego to transport an ill patient to UCLA Medical Center.

10. FUTURE TALK SHOW HOST JENNY JONES APPEARED ON THREE EPISODES.

Before The Jenny Jones Show debuted in 1991, Jenny Jones was a game show contestant on Press Your Luck, The Price Is Right, and Match Game. On the January 28, 1985 episode of Press Your Luck, she told Tomarken she had just moved from Canada and become a U.S. citizen. (Notice her name tag is spelled “Jennie,” not “Jenny.”) She won the episode, taking home $10,622, only because the leader hit a Whammy. She won $8084 in the next episode (January 29, 1985), but lost the third time around.

11. BILL MURRAY ALMOST PLAYED MICHAEL LARSON IN A MOVIE.

In 2000 it was reported that Bill Murray would play Michael Larson in a film based on the infamous contestant. Howard Franklin, who worked with Murray on The Man Who Knew Too Little and Quick Change, was tapped to write and direct the movie, and Nicolas Cage was going to produce. Oddly enough, Murray was a trivia question on one of Jenny Jones' episodes.

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14 Deep Facts About Valley of the Dolls
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The Criterion Collection

Based on Jacqueline Susann's best-selling 1966 novel (which sold more than 30 million copies), Valley of the Dolls was a critically maligned film that somehow managed to gross $50 million when it was released 50 years ago, on December 15, 1967. Both the film and the novel focus on three young women—Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke), Jennifer North (Sharon Tate), and Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins)—who navigate the entertainment industry in both New York City and L.A., but end up getting addicted to barbiturates, a.k.a. “dolls.”

Years after its original release, the film became a so-bad-it’s-good classic about the perils of fame. John Williams received his first of 50 Oscar nominations for composing the score. Mark Robson directed it, and he notoriously fired the booze- and drug-addled Judy Garland, who was cast to play aging actress Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward took over), who was supposedly based on Garland. (Garland died on June 22, 1969 from a barbituate overdose.) Two months after Garland’s sudden demise, the Manson Family murdered the very pregnant Tate in August 1969.

Despite all of the glamour depicted in the movie and novel, Susann said, “Valley of the Dolls showed that a woman in a ranch house with three kids had a better life than what happened up there at the top.” A loose sequel, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls—which was written by Roger Ebert—was released in 1970, but it had little to do with the original. In 1981, a TV movie updated the Dolls. Here are 14 deep facts about the iconic guilty pleasure.

1. JACQUELINE SUSANN DIDN'T LIKE THE MOVIE.

To promote the film, the studio hosted a month-long premiere party on a luxury liner. At a screening in Venice, Susann said the film “appalled” her, according to Parkins. She also thought Hollywood “had ruined her book,” and Susann asked to be taken off the boat. At one point she reportedly told Robson directly that she thought the film was “a piece of sh*t.”

2. BARBARA PARKINS WAS “NERVOUS” TO WORK WITH JUDY GARLAND.

Barbara Parkins had only been working with Judy Garland for two days when the legendary actress was fired for not coming out of her dressing room (and possibly being drunk). “I called up Jackie Susann, who I had become close to—I didn’t call up the director strangely enough—and I said, ‘What do I do? I’m nervous about going on the set with Judy Garland and I might get lost in this scene because she knows how to chew up the screen,’” Parkins told Windy City Times. “She said, ‘Honey, just go in there and enjoy her.’ So I went onto the set and Judy came up to me and wrapped her arms around me and said, ‘Oh, baby, let’s just do this scene,’ and she was wonderful.”

3. WILLIAM TRAVILLA BASED THE FILM'S COSTUMES ON THE WOMEN’S LIKES.

Costume designer William Travilla had to assemble 134 outfits for the four leading actresses. “I didn't have a script so I read the book and then the script once I got one,” he explained of his approach to the film. “I met with the director and producer and asked how they felt about each character and then I met with the girls and asked them what they liked and didn’t like and how they were feeling. Then I sat down with my feelings and captured their feelings, too.”

4. SUSANN THOUGHT GARLAND “GOT RATTLED.”

In an interview with Roger Ebert, Susann offered her thoughts on why Garland was let go. “Everybody keeps asking me why she was fired from the movie, as if it was my fault or something,” she said. “You know what I think went wrong? Here she was, raised in the great tradition of the studio stars, where they make 30 takes of every scene to get it right, and the other girls in the picture were all raised as television actresses. So they’re used to doing it right the first time. Judy just got rattled, that’s all.”

5. PATTY DUKE PARTIALLY BLAMES THE DIRECTOR’S BEHAVIOR FOR GARLAND’S EXIT.

During an event at the Castro Theatre, Duke discussed working with Garland. “The director, who was the meanest son of a bitch I ever met in my life ... the director, he kept this icon, this sparrow, waiting and waiting,” Duke said. “She had to come in at 6:30 in the morning and he wouldn’t even plan to get to her until four in the afternoon. She was very down to earth, so she didn’t mind waiting. The director decided that some guy from some delicatessen on 33rd Street should talk to her, and she crumbled. And she was fired. She shouldn’t have been hired in the first place, in my opinion.”

6. DUKE DIDN’T SING NEELY’S SONGS.

All of Neely’s songs in the movie were dubbed, which disappointed Duke. “I knew I couldn’t sing like a trained singer,” she said. “But I thought it was important for Neely maybe to be pretty good in the beginning but the deterioration should be that raw, nerve-ending kind of the thing. And I couldn’t convince the director. They wanted to do a blanket dubbing. It just doesn’t have the passion I wanted it to have.”

7. GARLAND STOLE ONE OF THE MOVIE'S COSTUMES.

Garland got revenge in “taking” the beaded pantsuit she was supposed to wear in the movie, and she was unabashed about it. “Well, about six months later, Judy’s going to open at the Palace,” Duke said. “I went to opening night at the Palace and out she came in her suit from Valley of the Dolls.”

8. A SNEAK PREVIEW OF THE FILM HID THE TITLE.

Fox held a preview screening of the film at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre, but the marquee only read “The Biggest Book of the Year.” “And the film was so campy, everyone roared with laughter,” producer David Brown told Vanity Fair. “One patron was so irate he poured his Coke all over Fox president Dick Zanuck in the lobby. And we knew we had a hit. Why? Because of the size of the audience—the book would bring them in.”

9. IT MARKED RICHARD DREYFUSS'S FILM DEBUT.


Twentieth Century Fox

Richard Dreyfuss made his big-screen debut near the end of Valley of the Dolls, playing an assistant stage manager who knocks on Neely’s door to find her intoxicated. After appearing on several TV shows, this was his first role in a movie, but it was uncredited. That same year, he also had a small role in The Graduate. Dreyfuss told The A.V. Club he was in the best film of 1967 (The Graduate) and the worst (Valley of the Dolls). “But then one day I realized that I had never actually seen Valley of the Dolls all the way through, so I finally did it,” he said. “And I realized that I was in the last 45 seconds of the worst film ever made. And I watched from the beginning with a growing sense of horror. And then I finally heard my line. And I thought, ‘I’ll never work again.’ But I used to make money by betting people about being in the best and worst films of 1967: No one would ever come up with the answer, so I’d make 20 bucks!”

10. THE DIRECTOR DIDN’T DIG TOO DEEP.

In the 2006 documentary Gotta Get Off This Merry Go Round: Sex, Dolls & Showtunes, Barbara Parkins scolded the director for keeping the film’s pill addiction on the surface. “The director never took us aside and said, look this is the effect,” she said. “We didn’t go into depth about it. Now, if you would’ve had a Martin Scorsese come in and direct this film, he would’ve sat you down, he would’ve put you through the whole emotional, physical, mental feeling of what that drug was doing to you. This would’ve been a whole different film. He took us to one, maybe two levels of what it’s like to take pills. The whole thing was to show the bottle and to show the jelly beans kinda going back. That was the important thing for him, not the emotional part.”

11. A STAGE ADAPTATION MADE IT TO OFF-BROADWAY.

In 1995, Los Angeles theater troupe Theatre-A-Go-Go! adapted the movie into a stage play. Kate Flannery, who’d go on to play Meredith Palmer on The Office, portrayed Neely. “Best thing about Valley of the Dolls to make fun of it is to actually just do it,” Flannery said in the Dolls doc. “You don’t need to change anything.” Parkins came to a production and approved of it. Eventually, the play headed to New York in an Off-Broadway version, with Illeana Douglas playing the Jackie Susann reporter role.

12. JACKIE SUSANN BARELY ESCAPED THE MANSON FAMILY.


By 20th Century-Fox - eBayfrontback, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The night the Manson Family murdered Tate, the actress had invited Susann to her home for a dinner party. According to Vanity Fair, Rex Reed came by The Beverly Hills Hotel, where Susann was staying, and they decided to stay in instead of going to Tate’s. The next day Susann heard about the murder, and cried by the pool. A few years later, when Susann was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, she joked her death would’ve been quicker if she had gone to Tate’s that night.

13. PATTY DUKE LEARNED TO EMBRACE THE FILM.

Of all of the characters in the movie, Duke’s Neely is the most over-the-top. “I used to be embarrassed by it," Duke said in a 2003 interview. "I used to say very unkind things about it, and through the years there are so many people who have come to me, or written me, or emailed who love it so, that I figured they all can’t be wrong." She eventually appreciated the camp factor. “I can have fun with that,” she said. “And sometimes when I’m on location, there will be a few people who bring it up, and then we order pizza and rent a VCR and have a Valley night, and it is fabulous.”

14. LEE GRANT DOESN’T THINK IT’S THE WORST MOVIE EVER MADE.

In 2000, Grant, Duke, and Parkins reunited on The View. “It’s the best, funniest, worst movie ever made,” Grant stated. She then mentioned how she and Duke made a movie about killer bees called The Swarm. “Valley of the Dolls was like genius compared to it,” Grant said.

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6 Tips From Experts on How to Fake Loving a Gift You Hate
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In this season of holiday giving, it's almost inevitable that you're going to get a gift you just don't like—and nobody wants to hurt another person's feelings when they went to the trouble of buying you a gift. So as you struggle to say thanks for that gaudy scarf from a beloved relative, or that stinky perfume from a well-meaning coworker, we bring you these tips from Jack Brown, a physician and body language expert from New York, and Alicia Sanders, a California-based acting coach with the conservatory program Starting Arts, for how to fake enjoyment—at least until you can exchange your gift at the store.

1. FIND ONE TRUE THING YOU CAN SAY.

Your inner voice may be saying "No!" the moment you peel pack that paper, but there may be a hidden yes inside you somewhere that you can mine for.

Sanders explains that the key to successful acting "is finding the truth in your scene." She encourages her students to tap into a moment when they felt the emotion they are trying to convey, for authenticity. "So you get an ugly sweater with a hideous shape and a terrible image, but you think the color blue is not so bad. You can say, ‘This color blue is so beautiful,' because it's truthful," she explains. The more you can find a real truth to speak from, "the more convincing you can be."

By opening with a grain of truth, you don't set yourself off on a chain of lies. "When you have to start to lie, that's when it's going to show through that you're an inexperienced actor, because you'll be more transparent," Sanders says.

2. WATCH YOUR HAND GESTURES.

However, faking joy runs deeper than just the words you speak. Sanders reminds us to think of what our hands are doing. "If you sit there statically, it feels like you're working too hard," she says.

Your hands can be a telltale giveaway that you don't really like a gift, according to Brown. People experiencing unhappy emotions tend to ball their hands into fists, tuck them against their bodies, or put them in their pockets. "If a person likes what they are getting, their arms and hands are going to go further out from the body, and tend to be more loose and relaxed," he says.

Similarly, we can reveal falsehood by touching our face or head, which often signals lying, anxiety, or discomfort, Brown says. People in these emotional states "tend to touch their face with one hand, and slowly. They might scratch near their eye, right in front of their ear, or their forehead."

Sanders suggests you put a hand on your chest or bring the gift closer to your body as a way of showing that you can stand to have it near you.

3. AVOID GIVING A FAKE SMILE …

Indeed, the gift-giver is most likely going to be looking at your face when they assess your reaction, so this is the canvas upon which you must work your most convincing efforts at false gratitude.

While you may think a bright smile is the perfect way to fake joy, Brown says smiling convincingly when you're feeling the opposite is not as easy. "Most people aren't good at it," he says.

A fake smile is obvious to the onlooker. These usually start at the corners of the mouth—often showing both top and bottom teeth, he points out. A sincere smile almost always just shows your top teeth, and begins more from the mid-mouth. Another giveaway of a fake smile is tension in the mid-face: "If you see someone with mouth tension, where the mouth opening gets smaller, the person's got some anxiety there."

4. … AND USE YOUR EYES.

Smile with your eyes first, Brown advises. "Completely forget about your mouth," Brown instructs. "If you smile with your mouth first, you're absolutely going to mess up."

And be sure to make eye contact, which Sanders says is "crucial to convince someone that you like their present."

But keep in mind that there are degrees of appropriate eye contact if you want to look natural. "If the eye contact is too little or too much, it'll feel like it's not sincere," Brown says. You want to be sure to avoid a stare—which can feel "predatory or romantic," he explains. Instead, make "a kind of little zig-zagging motion that people have when they look around a face."

5. SKIP THE CLICHÉS.

As you unwrap your unwanted gift and have a moment of unpleasant surprise, you may be tempted to reach for the simplest phrase, such as "awesome," which Brown calls "a one-word cliché" that tries to convey a happiness you don't really feel. Brown says this is a no-no, too: "If you use a cliché, your body language will parallel that."

Instead, eliminate canned words and phrases from your repertoire, he urges, "because then you'll think more about what you're going to say."

Aunt Suzie will also notice if your voice is strained or you have to clear your throat before choking out a "thanks." But how do you convincingly soften your tone of voice so that your words sound as authentic as they can?

Back to acting. Sanders suggests mining your own personal happy experiences for honest emotional content; you may be seeing an ugly sweater you'll never wear but thinking of those prized theater tickets you received another year.

Brown, meanwhile, recommends you think of your favorite comedians; they're good at improvisation, and are often laughing or smiling. "When you do that, you're getting yourself in a better emotional state," Brown says. "Or you can think about a funny time in your own personal life."

A mental rehearsal before you get a gift is a good idea too. Brown says you can imagine a gift that this person could realistically have gotten you and draw on the joy of that imagined gift instead.

6. NOW, DO ALL OF THIS AT ONCE.

If you aren't completely overwhelmed yet, keep in mind you must try to get these small communications by your eyes, mouth, hands, language, and tone in alignment with one another. Brown calls this "paralanguage."

"If they're not congruent, if they don't all line up, then you're not going to come across as sincere," Brown says.

If all of this advice has you contorting yourself into a state of confusion, Brown says that if you remember nothing else, just smile with your eyes. You might just fake it until you make it.

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