Remembering Art Linkletter
May 29th, 2010

Am I the ONLY person alive who remembers Art Linkletter? Just goes to show how quickly time marches on and the paths of glory all lead to Forest Lawn.

Back in the Fifties, Art was huge—the Oprah Winfrey of his day. Housewives across the country tuned into his daytime House Party, and my mother was one of them. Then in the summer of 1956 Mom scored some tickets, and the next thing we knew we were sailing across the blistering Mojave Desert in our un-airconditioned Mercury Medalist. Destination: Television City!

Dad was at the wheel; my brother Chuck, sister Carolyn and I were crammed into the back seat. Brother Jim was nineteen at the time and had somehow managed to stay home alone—ostensibly to water the plants and tend the dog. By the time we hit Bakersfield, those of us in the back seat were all thinking what a great time Jim must be having. As for Mom, she was really stoked about the prospect of seeing Mr. Linkletter in the flesh. Perhaps she might even get to meet Art’s frequent guest, the celebrated Hollywood costume designer, Edith Head. Does anybody remember Edith Head? Picture a cross between American Vogue Magazine editor Anna Wintour and the Japanese emperor-god Hirohito.

In Edith’s segment, three or four housewives would be pulled from the audience and subjected to sartorial criticism.

“Good grief, woman, where did you get that hideous unflattering frock?”

Alas, my mother wasn’t to be picked. Competition was intense, and in any event Ms. Head wasn’t Art’s guest that day. Somebody else was, a precursor to Dr. Phil, but I don’t remember his name. What I do remember is being disappointed at how very small the television studio was. I’d been expecting something grander, on the order of a concert hall, but this was nothing more than some bleachers facing a tiny set, whereon stood Art Linkletter, surrounded by cameras and lights, in person no larger than life. It was my biggest disappointment since first seeing Jack Bailey, longtime host of another daytime program: Queen for a Day. Jack had a voice almost as big as Gabriel Heatter’s. On the radio he came across as ten feet tall; on television, he was just a little balding fellow with a pencil moustache.

Does anybody but me remember Jack Bailey? Gabriel Heatter?

The actual highlight of the trip came as we were standing in line outside the studio entrance, when the most handsome man I had ever seen brushed past me. “Jeepers,” I gasped, “did you see that? It’s Wild Bill Hickok!”

Unlike Jack Bailey, Guy Madison did not disappoint. If anything, he was even more impressive in life than on the small screen. I made a vow then and there never to wash the elbow that had been brushed by my Saturday morning TV idol. And to eat more Sugar Pops. Sugar Pops are Tops!

In those days, leading men in Westerns all had humorous sidekicks. Guy Madison had Andy Devine, Hoppy had California Carlson, Roy Rogers had Gabby, Randolph Scott had Cary Grant, and Matt Dillon had Chester.

But then one day Dennis Weaver, who played Chester, moved on and was replaced by Ken Curtis, aka Festus. At which point my Polish father-in-law, a huge fan of Gunsmoke, became confused, thereafter referring to Marshall Dillon’s humorous sidekick as “Fester.”

After I married into my wife’s family I ended up watching an awful lot of televised Westerns, and until just recently I had thought the best of them was a series starring Richard Boone as the gun-for-hire Paladin (Polident to my Polish father-in-law). But now, thanks to Netflix, I’ve been able to revisit the series, and once again I have tasted the bitter pill of disillusionment.

Have Gun Will Travel could very well be the lowest budget Western series ever. The scripts are lame, the acting is wooden, and Boone defies convention by serving as his own humorous sidekick. I’m not kidding. Every time the plot calls for comic relief, Boone holsters his pistol, throws back his head and laughs maniacally. Then he lets loose with some obscure Sanskrit bromide that completely throws the bad guys off their game. Having successfully defused the situation, he rides back to his headquarters at the ritzy Carlton Hotel in San Francisco, where he dresses like a fop and entertains fancy socialites until the following week, when still another supplicant appears bearing his famous business card:


Dumdum dum dummmm…Dumdum dum dummmmm

Remember the musical business card? Does anybody out there remember?


-Richard Menzies