Tic-tac-toe was such a simple game--until 40 years of celebrity pranks, scandal and fun changed the rules. On the air since the 1960s (more or less), Hollywood Squares has turned a kids' game into an institution known for getting ratings, fraying nerves and launching careers.
In this big-winnin' True Hollywood Story, E! tracks the history of television's most celebrity-stacked half hour.
The game show, too, seemed simple: Find nine celebrities and a charismatic host, and let two average people compete for cash and prizes. From its early days hosted by Peter Marshall through the John Davidson era and Whoopi Goldberg's tenure, Hollywood Squares has always had a popular following and the ability to draw big-name stars. The real appeal, of course, is the celebrities' classic one-liners.
The story of The Hollywood Squares goes all the way back to the early 1960s...and has its roots in two other shows... Game show producers Merrill Heatter and Bob Quigley hit the jackpot when they sold the first game show to CBS since the quiz show scandals...the high concept Video Village, with hosts (or "mayors") Jack Narz, then Monty Hall, and "town crier" Kenny Williams. They also produced the less successful People Will Talk, hosted by Dennis James and featuring 15 people in a man-on-the-street opinion premise. When NBC cancelled the show, Heatter and Quigley were allowed to use the remaining four weeks for an on-air pilot. So they filled nine of those seats with celebrities and sold the idea to CBS as The Celebrity Game.
Carl Reiner hosted The Celebrity Game, which attracted stars like Groucho Marx, Olivia DeHavilland, Robert Mitchum, Ronald Reagan...and a very young Paul Lynde. The stars were asked questions like "Can a man love two women at the same time?" as the contestants guessed whether the stars would answer yes or no. Unfortunately,, the ratings were never very high for The Celebrity Game and after three runs between 1964 and 1965 production stopped. (CBS reran it one more time on Sunday afternoons in 1967 and '68.)
The quality--if not ratings success--of The Celebrity Game inspired Merrill Heatter to work overtime trying to develop another multi-celebrity game. One Sunday afternoon he suddenly hit on an idea...put the celebrities in a giant tic-tac-toe board. He brought in partner Bob Quigley and the two pitched the idea to CBS daytime chief Fred Silverman, who ordered a pilot. So, with Bert Parks emceeing in 1965, the two taped a pilot called The Hollywood Squares.
Silverman had a slot to fill and a choice to make between Squares and The Face is Familiar. He chose Face (anyone remember that one?). When the option expired Heatter and Quigley shopped the show to ABC and NBC and were turned down cold. But NBC at least agreed to take a second look, and bought it. Their only complaint was that they didn't like host Bert Parks (and apparently didn't want Sandy Barron, host of the second unaired pilot, either).. So they searched for another host. Supposedly, someone saw a Kellogg's ad featuring comedian and song-and-dance man Peter Marshall ...and the rest was history.
The Hollywood Squares premiered on NBC in living color (it was always in color) on October 17, 1966, at 11:30 a.m. EST, opposite The Dating Game on ABC and reruns of The Dick Van Dyke Show on CBS. (The latter competitor was ironic since DVD regulars Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie were guests on that first show, and in fact were regulars for years.) Three more of those first squares--Abby Dalton, Wally Cox and Charley Weaver-- were also regulars during the show's first few years. The Hollywood Squares would hold onto that time slot for ten years; ABC would move The Dating Game to another time within a year.
Despite its success, Heatter was still not completely thrilled with Squares. He tells author Jefferson Graham ("Come On Down! The TV Game Show Book") that he put his finger on the problem during a business trip to New York. That's when he noticed the show moved too slowly, because the celebrities just wouldn't shut up. Heatter immediately put out an order that there were to be no less than 22 questions in each show, though he would prefer 30. This, possibly, gave rise to the so-called "zinger". With nine celebrities vying at once for airtime and wanting attention, they could get it through memorable one-liners.
TV Guide listings for NBC daytime and primetime versions, circa 1968.
By 1970-71 the show had become the number one daytime show, and had already spawned several other versions. NBC tried a prime time version in the first half of 1968, airing Friday nights at 8:30 EST right after Star Trek. Paul Lynde of Bewitched appeared six times on that version and joined the daytime show as a regular later that year. The syndicated nighttime version premiered in the fall of 1971, first as a once-a-week show then later twice a week. There was even a Saturday morning version in 1969 called The Storybook Squares, with the stars dressed up as characters. For instance, Wally Cox took the role of Paul Revere; William Shatner was James T. Kirk; as always, character actor Cliff Arquette played Charley Weaver; and Paul Lynde once even dressed up as the evil queen from "Snow White". Even after being dropped as a series, The Storybook Squares was occasionally revived during special theme weeks for years afterwards.
Amsterdam left the show in 1969, Dalton in 1970, and Wally Cox and Charley Weaver stayed until their deaths in 1973 and 1974, respectively. Paul Lynde established himself as the center square, and George Gobel, a frequent guest, joined the show as a regular in 1973. Rose Marie came and went over the years but eventually stayed through the end of the run. Others who were considered "semi-regulars" included Karen Valentine, John Davidson, Florence Henderson, and film legend Vincent Price.
The Hollywood Squares marked its tenth anniversary with declining ratings and a time change. NBC moved the show back one hour to 10:30 EST, up against the CBS powerhouse The Price is Right. Obviously, TPiR won that one, and Squares was moved to afternoons in 1978, then to 12:30 to replace the cancelled revival of Jeopardy! with Art Fleming. To make things worse, the show's established center square, Paul Lynde, left in a dispute around this time. Near the end, Squares and its NBC lead-in, Card Sharks, were being soundly beaten in many markets by the "Good Morning" shows that appeared locally on many ABC affiliates, and were even pre-empted in many areas by Donahue.
Take a look at some of the names who appeared on Hollywood Squares:
-Peter Marshall, host;
-Kenny Williams, announcer.
Semiregular panelists (appeared between 20 and 50 percent of the year in the network version)
Frequent panelists (appeared at least six weeks): -Marty Allen
Description: Tic-tac-toe with a bunch of wise-cracking celebs.
Here's how the game was played: Two players competed in a game of tic-tac-toe, with one celebrity represented in each of the nine squares of the board. The first contestant would choose a celebrity, who would give an answer to a question posed by Marshall. The contestant then had to determine if the star was giving the correct answer or was bluffing. If the contestant was correct in their judgment, they got the square; if not, it was awarded to their opponent (unless awarding that square gave them the game). Three in a row across, up and down or diagonally won the game and $200. Contestants played a best two-out-of-three match, with the winner going on to face a new opponent for a maximum of five matches. In the syndicated edition, each game was worth $250, with an extra $50 for every square awarded in the last uncompleted game. The winner of that single episode won a car as well.
The first full game of each daily game was the "Secret Square" game, where one celebrity was chosen as the Secret Square. If chosen, much horn fanfare would result, and the celebrity had to choose from a multiple choice question. If the contestant got the answer right, they won the Secret Square jackpot up to that point; if not, no one won the Secret Square that day and the game continued. A prize was added to the jackpot for every day the Secret Square wasn’t won or picked. Five-time champions retired undefeated with their $2000 winnings, a new car, and any additional Secret Square booty. In the syndicated edition, the first two (sometimes three) games were Secret Square games.
Enjoy some of the tidbit quips that tickled the audience:
-Marshall: "According to Amy Vanderbilt, what is the maximum length of time you and your fiancé should be engaged?"
Rose Marie: "Engaged in what?"
-Marshall: "Why is the booby bird called the booby bird?"
Karen Valentine: "Because they have big… feet."
-Marshall: "According to Raquel Welch, a woman’s bust size should have nothing to do with her sex appeal. True or false."
Joan Rivers: "That’s easy for her to say!"
-Marshall: "True or false: A Detroit housewife was awarded $275,000 by a jury because she doesn’t feel a thing when she kisses her husband?"
Paul Lynde: "Does Charo live in Detroit? Good for you, Charo!"
-Marshall: "What have you done if you have committed regicide?"
Vincent Price: "I would have killed Regis Philbin." (Silence.) "Or Regis Toomey." (More silence.) "I would have killed my grandfather."
-Marshall: "Not unless he was a king."
Price: "But he was! He was king of St. Louis. I thought everybody knew that."
-Peter Marshall: Paul, can you get an elephant drunk?
Paul Lynde: Yes, but he still won't go up to your apartment.
-Peter Marshall: It used to be called "9-pin." What's it called today?
Paul Lynde: Foreplay!
-Peter Marshall: According to Tony Randall, "Every woman I've been intimate with in my life has been..." What?
Paul Lynde: Bitterly disappointed.
-Peter Marshall: According to Parade magazine, on what night of the week is a woman most likely to be molested?
Rose Marie: With my luck it's tonight and I'm working...
-Peter Marshall: Are there any nudist camps in Italy?
Paul Lynde: No, the flies would eat you alive...
-Peter Marshall: Can Jewish boys get into Boys' Town?
David Brenner: No, but we can own it.
-Peter Marshall: According to Apartment Life magazine, can you tell anything significant about the personality of a person whose apartment has brown carpeting, brown furniture and brown walls?
Paul Lynde: Yes, their maid just exploded.
-Peter Marshall: According to police, if you are being molested, other than yelling "Help!" what is the best thing to scream?
Rose Marie (clapping): "More!"
-Peter Marshall: ...and Paula's other hobby is to be Polish...to her parents...
Contestant: I'm an illiterate Polack.
Marshall (stammers): ...Illiterate?
Contestant: I could speak Polish but I never learned to read or write it. I just couldn't handle it.
Marshall: Well, you'll get a lot of letters because of what you just said.
Contestant: Well, it's true, I really am illiterate.
-Peter Marshall: Demond, as you get older, does your skin get lighter or darker?
Demond Wilson: Awwww, man....(gets up and walks out)
Peter Marshall: Demond! Come back, we need you!
-Peter Marshall: True or false...most personal physical attacks are never reported to police.
Rose Marie: No, I just put them in my diary.
-Peter Marshall: True or false...most African soccer teams have their own witch doctor.
Redd Foxx: That's true...and their motto is, "If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em."
-Peter Marshall: Charlie, what is the Japanese word that means "the Gentle Road to Happiness"?
Charlie Callas (in stereotypical Japanese accent): Aaaaaahhhh...da jenta road of hoppiness...I woll say eet's sayanara...
-Peter Marshall: You're eating chicken, and you notice the bones are very dark. What does that tell you about the chicken?
David Steinberg: At one time, the chicken had rhythm...
-Peter Marshall: Famed Doctor Theodore Rubin was asked recently, "What causes prejudice?" He said "I'll answer in one word." What word was it?
Paul Lynde: Puerto Ricans.
-Peter Marshall: True or false...there's no more nutritional value in watermelon than--
Demond Wilson: That's it! (Gets up and walks out of square)
Peter Marshall: Demond! Come back!
Demond Wilson: I don't have to get insulted like this you know, I'm in the number two show here!
-Peter Marshall: To the people of Italy, what is "the poe"?
Paul Lynde: The opposite of "the rich."
-Peter Marshall: In ancient times, after a battle, the losers would present the winners with a handful of grass. What did this symbolize?
Paul Lynde: The losers were Mexican!
-Peter Marshall: True or false...in Egypt, they grow a special kind of cotton that is multi-colored.
Paul Lynde: And white people have to pick it!
-Peter Marshall: Paul, when the citizens of China want a drink of water, they usually do something to it first. What?
Paul Lynde: Remove the shirts.
-Peter Marshall: Paul, at the end of the movie Planet of the Apes, what does Charlton Heston see that makes him realize that he is actually in New York City?
Paul Lynde: A Puerto Rican.
-Peter Marshall: Flip Wilson has said that he's eaten about 2,000 of them and enjoyed them immensely. To what was he referring?
Paul Lynde: Missionaries.
-Peter Marshall: According to The Book of Fairies , who is that creature who stands 14 inches tall, is 400 years old, and is dressed all in Lincoln green?
Paul Lynde: The Emperor Hirohito.
-Peter Marshall: Paul, where at any one time will you find one quarter of the earth's population?
Paul Lynde: Crossing the Rio Grande. (He pronounced it "Gran-dee," with emphasis on the first syllable)
-Peter Marshall: Can you cross a pumpkin with a watermelon?
George Gobel: Yeah, but you're gonna end up with a jack-o-lantern with an afro.
-Peter Marshall: You are married in India. How did you probably meet your spouse?
Paul Lynde: We were fighting over a lima bean.
-Peter Marshall: The average child in China learns how to do it at age three. The average child in America never learns. What?
Paul Lynde: Oh, how to pull a rickshaw.
Clearly, The Hollywood Squares was a show from a much, much different time. It's clearly removed from its current-day counterpart in its humor. In those days, there were still plenty of people who thought it was funny to laugh at ethnic backgrounds, religious backgrounds, foreign accents (John Byner and Charlie Callas often answered questions straight, but in stereotypical accents, as if that was a joke in itself), domestic violence, sexual assault, the elderly (with Charley Weaver leading the charge)...and they still oohed and aahed whenever Phyllis Diller or Joan Rivers or some other celebrity modeled a fur from Dicker and Dicker of Beverly Hills (a game show no-no in this day and age). Today it all stands out like a sore zinger, sending up the red PC flag, but in those days it kind of blended in...
Funny or offensive? You decide... the True Hollywood Story 45 minute commercial free, all for you, tells all, shows all, peeks behind the scenes and the personalites!