Chuck Barris. Barris is the showbiz entrepreneur who created The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and The Gong Show (the last of which he hosted), hits in the late 1960s and '70s that were thought to represent the absolute low in schlock TV. There's no doubt that the Gong Show is one of the forerunners of reality television.
You won't want to miss the E! True Hollywood Story, with total and absolute coverage of the man who created such shows as the Gong Show, The Dating Game, and the Newlyweds, and let's not forget the hit song,
'Palisades Park', which became a hit for Freddie Cannon.
At one point in the 1970s, a man named Chuck Barris controlled (as creator or host) more than 13 hours of network television every week. The wild-haired former TV exec had such a knack for twisting the traditional game-show format that his handiwork flooded America's homes daily, from The Dating Game to The Newlywed Game.
But it was The Gong Show that became the most enduring creation of "Chucky Baby" and, essentially, the end of his career. This outrageous, crowd-pleasing E! True Hollywood Story tells of a silly, scandalous reality show--decades ahead of its time--and its brilliant host with a host of other problems.
When the show began in 1976, it was just another of Barris' many hits: an amateur-hour spoof in which contestants were encouraged to be awful and then "gonged" from the stage. The, uh, 'talent' included plump ladies playing tubas, comedians wearing barrels, upside-down banjo players and on and on. But as the train-wreck appeal grew, stars were forged: Gene Gene the Dancing Machine, the Unknown Comic and most of all, Barris, the painfully shy creator who became a different man in front of the camera.
Did the experience--from wild success to flaming failure with The Gong Show Movie--send him over the edge? As this Story recounts, after the show's demise, Barris published a surreal "autobiography" in which he claimed to be a CIA assassin. (It's now the George Clooney flick Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.) He sold his company and dropped out of Hollywood. He escaped to France for a decade, battled cancer and lived far from the mad masses he once entertained.
From Barris' wars with network censors to his surging status as a cult god, this Story takes you inside one of television's most unusual shows--and minds.
All that is coming right up on E!, but warm up first with our facts and figures on The Gong Show.
And now, let us introduce, for your viewing pleasure:
A bearded, demented-looking dentist taunts his hapless patient as he drills her teeth, flipping the drill's switch to the tune of "Stars and Stripes Forever."
A petite homecoming queen, obviously nervous, is duped into singing the National Anthem after she and fellow members of the choir have been introduced as collectively performing "The Star Spangled Banner."
A grossly overweight man tap-dances to music from "Swan Lake"; later his equally obese wife squeezes into a tiny tutu and, after fitting her head in a teacup, spins around while playing "Old Folks at Home" on the mandolin.
An Elvis impersonator sings "Hound Dog," but his voice is a monotone.
Who didn't live for acts such as those on The Gong Show, the classic parody of ameteur talent contests? Chuck Barris was the straight man (yeah, right) to a panel of three celebrity judges usually singer Jaye P. Morgan, comedian Arte Johnson (of Rowan and Martin's Laugh In) and Jamie Farr (of M*A*S*H*); plus one or more guests each assigned the task of enduring and judging the ameteur acts that performed, either solo or in groups.
Yes, some of the acts that performed had legitimate talent and did very well, although all of good acts were ameteurs because of Barris' strict rule against allowing professionals as contestants. However, the real fun came in watching those hilariously awful acts. Just a short list of acts might include:
The mustached-magician trying to get his "talented" pigeons to dance.
The teen-aged girls in pastel-colored prom dresses singing "People Who Need People" while dancing in a conga line.
The young comic who did impressions of modern-day actors performing Shakesphaere.
An older woman whose dog had the knack for imitating other barnyard animals.
A man who broke eggs over his head while making faces in a sheet of Plexiglas.
"Professor Flamo" a man who sang out in pain while lowering various body parts onto burning candles. Joey D'Auria was "Professor Flamo" and would later become Bozo the Clown on WGN (1984-2001).
An entire episode dedicated to contestants singing their rendition of "Feelings."
... and countless other acts that were wild and outrageous.
Do those acts sound bad? Of course they did, and any one of the celebrity judges had the right to terminate the act by striking his/her mallet against an oversized "gong" (often, two or all three did, and several times, they fought to get to the gong first). The act had to immeidately cease and were out of the running for the grand prize. Early in the run, some acts were "gonged" just seconds into the act, prompting Barris to implement a mandatory 45-second wait (though judging by the frequent reactions of the celebs, that was often way too long).
Acts that did reach their conclusion (the longest performances were usually two-and-a-half minutes) were scored by the panelists on a scale of 1 to 10, with a high score of 30 possible. The highest-scoring act of the day won the grand prize $516.32 on the daytime show, $712.05 (later $1,000) on the syndicated version; however, a grand-prize winner was not necessarily guaranteed, particularly if all of the acts were gonged.
The 1976 syndicated version, which debuted months after the NBC version began, was identical to the daytime version, except that Gary Owens hosted (until 1978, when Barris took over that job).
Acts on The Gong Show became more and more risquι during the final months of the daytime version. The final straw came during a 1978 daytime telecast, when many viewers declared a certain act obscene (that act would fit in quite nicely with Game Show Network's overtly sex-littered 1998 revival, called Extreme Gong); NBC apparently agreed and whether on its own accord or bowing to pressure from viewers and advertisers cancelled The Gong Show. Not to worry for original Gong Show fans; the fun continued unabated in syndication until 1980.
Running gags featuring the show's regular cast were also popular. Some included:
An inept musician (Larry Spencer) who announces his intention to "play" a certain musical instrument "right now" (with the instrument failing on cue)
Barris reading a children's story with alternate endings (and enacted by the show's cast).
Brief skits from the "Unknown Comic" (comedian Murray Langston) and "Gene Gene the Dancing Machine" (Gene Patton). There was also Scarlett & Rhett where every joke was a dirty one that constantly required the "OOPS!" sign to flash!
Also, guest performers former winning contestants with legit talent and real celebrities, including Alice Cooper were invited to perform in non-scoring, non-gongable segments.
John Barbour (later of Real People) was supposed to be the host, but his straight-man style didn't work out and Barris let him go before the first aired episode taped. Barris took over the job himself and the rest was history.
The Gong Show quickly became a part of American popular culture, with local versions staged as fundraisers by college, high school and civic groups.
There were two unsuccessful attempts to revive The Gong Show. A 1988 revival, hosted by Don Bleu didn't catch on with viewers and was cancelled after less than 26 weeks. Critics panned the aforementioned Extreme Gong (a revival to play off the popularity of reruns of the original series), thanks in large part to the risquι content; hosted by comedian George Gray, the celebrity panel was replaced by a 1-900 number for viewers to judge the acts.
Here are some biographical details about the man fondly remembered as 'Chucky Baby':
Birth Name: Charles Barris
Birthdate: June 3, 1929
Occupation: Game-show creator and host, possible CIA assassin
Claim to Fame: The outrageous, stoned-looking host of The Gong Show
Wife: Lyn Levy; married in the early 60s; divorced soon after
Wife: Red Altman; married 1980; divorced late 1990s
Wife: Mary; married in early 2000s
Father: In Barris' words, "a less than inspiring dentist"
Sister: One, younger
Daughter: Della Barris
Drexel Institute of Technology in 1953
Feast on some of the trivia behind the man and his shows:
Chuck Barris wrote the song "Palisades Park," which became a hit for Freddie Cannon.
His first job in show business was to keep an eye on Dick Clark, making sure he didn't take record-industry money to play certain songs.
Among Barris' other creations were The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, The Rah, Rah Show and The $1.98 Beauty Show.
Gong Show regular the Unknown Comic performed with a bag over his head. He was actually stand-up Murray Langston, who at first didn't want his friends to see him on the show.
Barris' first TV pilot was People Poker, a gambling game played with humans instead of cards. Another short-lived creation was How's Your Mother-In-Law, on which three women competed to convince single people they'd make the best mother-in-law.
Gong Show panelists included a young David Letterman and Rex Reed.
Recurring act Gene Gene the Dancing Machine was actually a stagehand who Barris put onstage one day, trying to kill two minutes. Gene became a national celebrity.
Paul Reubens (aka Pee-wee Herman) was a Gong Show contestant four times.
Winning contestants on the daytime Gong Show got $516.32. In prime time, it was upped to $712.05.
When an act involved dogs, Barris would put meat in his crotch to make sure he'd be attacked. Wackiness ensued.
Barris booked risquι acts he knew would get cut by network censors just so he could get away with more borderline stuff.
One such act was overlooked by censors, and it got Barris in hot water: Two teenage girls sat onstage in cutoff shorts and carefully, slowly sucked on popsicles.
Celebrity panelist Jaye P. Morgan was kicked off the show for flashing audience members during filming.
In 1980's The Gong Show Movie, Morgan flashes the camera again, and the footage isn't cut.
The movie, which is unavailable on VHS or DVD, featured most of the show's weirdest acts and a "fictional" plot about Barris reaching the end of his rope. Barris wrote (with Robert Downey Sr.), directed, starred and even sang the theme song.
On The Newlywed Game, couples had to talk about "making whoopee" instead of the many naughty things you can now say on television in the 21st century.
To keep Newlywed contestants from straying into forbidden verbal territory, Barris hired an actor friend to pose as an FBI agent, threatening jail time for those who cursed on television.
In his 1984 book Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: An Unauthorized Autobiography, Barris details that while escorting Dating Game winners on their trips to Europe, he assassinated 33 people for the CIA.
Of Chuck's alleged CIA gig, friend Dick Clark says: "Chuck was always going off with his camera. Going overseas and taking these mysterious trips. So, the first thought you had was, I wonder if this is possible?"
Talking about his autobiography-turned-movie, 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind':
You WANT to know if maybe he's making some of this up. You want to know, to be precise, if we think Chuck Barris is a fraud for claiming, inter alia (I have always wanted to write inter alia), that his nom de guerre--the name he used to order airline tickets--was Sunny Sixkiller; that in 1953, he took his 75-year-old grandmother on a camping trip to the Poconos, where they spent a wonderful day, but unfortunately when he woke up the next morning she was dead, so he zipped her body into a sleeping bag, tied it to the roof of his Volkswagen, and drove to a police station; but, even more unfortunately, while he was inside making a report someone stole the car. That, at the tender age of 16, he persuaded a 13-year-old friend of his sister's to lick his "wee-wee" by telling her it tasted like a strawberry lollipop.That having been hired by the CIA after answering a want ad, he aced his training and was soon infiltrating a civil rights march in Selma, Alabama. That when ABC decided to air The Dating Game, the CIA was rumoured to say, hey, no reason you can't be a successful TV producer and a spy. That he kept dodging assignments until his CIA boss said, come with me to Mexico City, it'll be fun; and during the plane ride, casually told Chuck they were going to kill a communist revolutionary, which they did. That after he got back he had three ex-cons destroy the Cadillac of a jerk who was in the habit of pretending to be a Dating Game talent scout and raping would-be contestants. That the CIA then assigned him to meet a courier in London, where he exchanged an envelope of money for a roll of microfilm, then jammed his silencer-equipped automatic into the courier's mouth and pulled the trigger three times, whereupon "the man's eyes remained surprised while the back of his head splattered against the wall of the church". That he then "greased the bullet-shaped vial [of microfilm] with [Vaseline], dropped my pants, and slid the vial up my ass". That he then sold ABC The Newlywed Game. That he spent $20,000 on abortions for various girlfriends. That he killed a bunch of other people (the details blur); but then a lot of his friends started getting killed because there was a mole in the CIA, but Barris got the last laugh by killing the mole. Barris says he received an award from the CIA "for outstanding service," which provoked him to muse about "the strange dichotomy of being crucified by my peers for attempting to entertain people and lauded by my peers for killing them."
Is Chuck Barris a fraud? A fraud is somebody who expects people to believe his crazy bullshit. If doubts remain on this score: (a) In 1993 Barris published another memoir, The Game Show King: A Confession, in which he says nothing about the CIA or, for that matter, his previous book, and (b) over the years Barris has given varying accounts concerning his age, the manner in which he proposed to one of his wives, and so on. Of the CIA yarn, Barris coyly says in interviews, "I can't really confirm or deny it"--about as close as he'll come to admitting he cooked the whole thing up as a rebuttal to critics who thought his shows were atrocities. If you want to take the story seriously, Barris is happy to let you. But come on. He made a career out of outrageousness, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind proves he never lost his touch.
So, now you have a part of the Gong Show! story. We know the Gong Show was real. You can see the 45 minute documentary, which covers all the juicy details of this oh so! eccentric man who is considered a pioneer of reality shows, whose imagination is larger than life. Or is it? Watch the unfolding truth about a man and his visions or where they hallucinations? What we do know is this. Chuck Barris did create the Gong Show and other television hits. The rest? Well, maybe the CIA files are sealed and we'll never know; but, the search for truth is ongoing and rumours and gossip is endless. We've got the documentary. You can have it. All 45 minutes of truth. Free to share and enjoy.