Charles Hirsch Barris
June 3, 1929
|Died||March 21, 2017 (aged 87)|
Palisades, New York, U.S.
|Alma mater||Drexel Institute of Technology|
|Occupation||Television producer, television presenter, songwriter, author|
(m. 1957; div. 1976)
(m. 1980; div. 1999)
(m. 2000; died 2017)
Charles Hirsch Barris (June 3, 1929 – March 21, 2017) was an American game show creator, producer, and host. Barris was known for hosting The Gong Show and creating The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game. He was also a songwriter who wrote "Palisades Park", recorded by Freddy Cannon. Barris wrote an autobiography titled Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, which was made into the film of the same name and directed by George Clooney.
Barris was born to a Jewish family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 3, 1929, the son of Edith (née Cohen) and Nathaniel Barris, a dentist. His uncle was singer, songwriter and actor Harry Barris. He graduated in 1953 from Drexel University where he was a columnist for the student newspaper, The Triangle.
Barris got his start in television as a page and later staffer at NBC in New York City. Following his stint at NBC, Barris worked as a standards-and-practices person at the television music show American Bandstand for ABC. Barris produced pop music for records and television, and wrote "Palisades Park," which was recorded by Freddy Cannon and peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks (June 23–30, 1962) to become the biggest hit of Cannon's career. Barris also wrote or co-wrote some of the music that appeared on his game shows.
Barris was promoted to the daytime programming division at ABC in Los Angeles and was responsible for determining which game shows ABC would air. Barris told his bosses the game show concepts being pitched were worse than his own ideas. They suggested that Barris quit his programming job and become a producer.
Barris formed his production company Chuck Barris Productions on June 14, 1965. His first success came in 1965 with The Dating Game, which aired on ABC. This show was hosted by Jim Lange and featured three contestants who competed for a date with a person blocked from their view. The contestants' sexy banter and its "flower power"-motif studio set were a revolution for the game show genre. The show ran until 1980 and was twice revived, later in the 1980s and 1990s. A Celebrity version of the show began in June 2021.
The next year Barris began The Newlywed Game, originally created by Nick Nicholson and E. Roger Muir, also for ABC. The combination of the newlywed couples' humorous candor and host Bob Eubanks's sly questioning made the show another hit for Barris. The show is the longest lasting of any developed by his company, broadcast until 1985, for a total of 19 full years on both "first run" network TV and syndication. Game Show Network airs a current version with Sherri Shepherd. Interviewed on the NPR program Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! on August 1, 2009, Barris said that The Newlywed Game was the easiest program he had developed: "All I needed was four couples, eight questions, and a washer-dryer."
Barris created several other short-lived game shows for ABC in the 1960s and for syndication in the 1970s, all of which revolved around a common theme: the game play normally derived its interest (and often, humor) from the excitement, vulnerability, embarrassment, or anger of the contestants or participants in the game. Barris also made several attempts through the years at non-game formats, such as ABC's Operation: Entertainment, a variety show staged at military bases akin to USO shows; a CBS revival of Your Hit Parade; and The Bobby Vinton Show, a Canadian-based syndicated variety show for singer Bobby Vinton (produced in conjunction with Chris Bearde and Allan Blye). The last was his most successful program other than a game show.
The Gong Show
The somewhat shy Barris rarely appeared on camera, though he once dashed onto the set of The New Treasure Hunt to throw a pie at emcee Geoff Edwards. However, Barris became a public figure in 1976 when he produced and served as the host of the talent show spoof The Gong Show, which he packaged in partnership with television producer Chris Bearde. The show's cult following has endured, though it ran only two seasons on NBC (1976–78) and four in syndication (1976–80). As with some of Barris' other projects (including The Newlywed Game), it was at one point possible to see The Gong Show twice daily, a relatively uncommon feat in the years prior to cable TV's expansion into the commercial market.
The original host of the NBC show was John Barbour, who misunderstood the show's concept and considered it a straight talent show, as opposed to Barris' parody concept. Barris dropped Barbour at the last minute; in order to save the show, Barris followed the advice of an NBC executive who suggested that he should host his own show.
Barris' jokey, bumbling personality; his accentuated hand-clapping between sentences (which eventually had the studio audience joining in with him); and his catchphrases (he would usually go into commercial break with, "We'll be right back with more er ... STUFF ...", occasionally paired with shifting his head to reveal the ubiquitous sign behind the stage reading simply "STUFF", and "This is me saying 'bye'" was one of his favorite closing lines) were the antithesis of the smooth TV host (such as Gary Owens, who hosted the syndicated version in its first season). Barris joined in with the eccentricity of the format, using unusual props, dressing in colorful and somewhat unusual clothing (such as strange hats pulled over his head, if not his eyes), he became yet another performer of the show, and for many viewers, quite a cult hero. Dubbed "Chuckie Baby" by his fans, Barris was a perfect fit with the show's goofy, sometimes wild amateur performers and its panel of three judges (including regulars Jamie Farr, Jaye P. Morgan, and Arte Johnson). In addition, there was a growing "cast of characters", including an NBC stage carpenter who played "Father Ed," a priest who would get flustered when his cue cards were deliberately turned upside-down; stand-up comedian Murray Langston, who as "The Unknown Comic" wore a paper bag over his head (with cut-outs for his eyes, mouth, and even a box of Kleenex), and "Gene Gene the Dancing Machine" (Gene Patton), arguably the most popular member of the "cast", the show's stagehand, who would show up and dance whenever the band played the song "Jumpin' at the Woodside". In the early 1980s, Patton was even pointed out by tour guides of incoming NBC tours as his onscreen character, while at the same time adhering to his more typical off-camera work duties.
One Gong Show episode consisted of every act appearing singing the song "Feelings", which was popular at the time. One of its most infamous incidents came on the NBC version in 1978, when Barris presented an onstage act consisting of two teenage girls, slowly and suggestively sucking popsicles. Another incident, which most missed originally, was when during a "Gene Gene, The Dancing Machine" segment, Jaye P. Morgan opened her blouse to reveal her bare breasts.
In 1980, Barris starred in and directed The Gong Show Movie. The film was a major failure at the box office. Its storyline and approach, though including a number of Gong Show segments, was actually quite less "zany" (another favorite Barris phrase) than most audiences may have expected.
The Gong Show has had four subsequent revivals, one under Barris' title (with Don Bleu) in 1988–1989, one on The Game Show Network in 2000 called Extreme Gong and another with current format owner Sony Pictures Television (with Dave Attell) in 2008. A fourth version, produced by Will Arnett and hosted by fictional British celebrity "Tommy Maitland" (Mike Myers), aired on ABC beginning in 2017.
Comebacks and setbacks
Barris continued strongly until the mid-1970s, when ABC cancelled the Dating and Newlywed games. This left Barris with only one show, his weekly syndicated effort The New Treasure Hunt, but the success of The Gong Show in 1976 encouraged him to revive the Dating and Newlywed games, as well as adding the $1.98 Beauty Show to his syndication empire. He also hosted a short lived prime time variety hour for NBC from February to April 1978, called The Chuck Barris Rah-Rah Show, essentially a non-competitive knock-off of Gong.
The empire crumbled again amid the burnout of another of his creations, the 1979–1980 Three's a Crowd (in which three sets of wives and secretaries competed to see who knew more about their husbands/bosses). This show provoked protests from enraged feminist and socially conservative groups (two otherwise diametrically opposed viewpoints), who charged that the show deliberately exploited adultery, to advocate it as a social norm. Most stations dropped this show months before the season was over as a response to those criticisms. At the same time, Newlywed lost the sponsorships of Ford and Procter & Gamble and earned the resentment of Jackie Autry, whose husband and business partner Gene Autry owned the show's Los Angeles outlet and production base, KTLA, because of its supposedly highly prurient content. So strong were the feelings of the Autrys that Newlywed came close to being expelled from the KTLA facilities, but the show was discontinued by the syndicator before any action occurred. Gong Show and Dating Game also ended otherwise successful syndicated runs in 1980 because of the Three's a Crowd and Newlywed controversies, likely because stations were fearful of community and advertiser retribution on account of Barris' reputation.
During the winter of 1980, Barris attempted to rebuild by bringing back another game show that was not an original of his, Camouflage, in which contestants answered questions for the chance to locate a "hidden object" (such as a toaster) concealed within a cartoon-type drawing. Although a noncontroversial format, it lasted only a short time in syndication. By September 1980, for the first time in his company's history, Barris had no shows in production.
After a year's inactivity, Barris revived Treasure Hunt again in 1981 in partnership with the original 1950s version's producer, Budd Granoff, who had become his business partner (the show itself was created by its original host, Jan Murray). Unlike with the 1970s version of Treasure Hunt, Barris did not have direct involvement with the production of the show itself. This revival, a five-day-a-week strip, lasted only one year.
Barris, by this time living in France, came back again in 1984 and formed Barris Industries. He formed a distributor arm called Bel-Air Program Sales (later Barris Program Sales) and an ad-sales barter called Clarion Communications (later Barris Advertising Sales). After a week-long trial of The Newlywed Game on ABC in 1984 (with Dating Game emcee Jim Lange), Barris produced the daily Newlywed Game (titled The New Newlywed Game) in syndication from 1985 to 1989, with original host Eubanks (and in 1988, comedian Paul Rodriguez). The Dating Game returned to syndication the next year for a three-year run (the first year hosted by Elaine Joyce, and the next two hosted by Jeff MacGregor). The Gong Show would also return for one season in 1988, now hosted by "True" Don Bleu. All of those shows (except for the one-week trial run of Newlywed on ABC) aired in syndication, not on the networks.
Chuck Barris sold his shares of Barris Industries, Inc. in 1987 to Burt Sugarman and left to move back to France and was no longer directly involved in his media company. In 1988, Barris Industries acquired the Guber-Peters Company. On September 7, 1989, Barris Industries was renamed as the Guber-Peters Entertainment Company. After the shows' runs ended, Sony Corporation acquired Guber-Peters Entertainment (formerly Barris Industries) for $200 million on September 29, 1989, a day after Sony Corporation of Japan acquired Columbia Pictures Entertainment. The sale was completed on November 9, 1989, after Sony's acquisition of Columbia Pictures Entertainment a day earlier. Sony revived Dating and Newlywed from 1996 to 1999. Sony also revived The Gong Show in 1998, this time as Extreme Gong, a Game Show Network (GSN) original production. Three's a Crowd would be revived as All New Three's a Crowd, which, like Extreme Gong, was a GSN original. A few years after Extreme Gong ended, Sony planned to revive the show again under its classic name and format for The WB Television Network, but this version was never realized. Sony and MTV Networks' Comedy Central collaborated on a fourth Gong Show revival as The Gong Show with Dave Attell in 2008; this did sell and aired on Comedy Central from July to September 2008.
One more attempt at reviving an old game show that was not his own originally resulted in an unsold pilot of the 1950s-era game Dollar a Second, hosted by Bob Eubanks. It had at least one showing on GSN, and has since become part of the collector/trader's circuit. Two more unsold pilots were called Bamboozle and Comedy Courtroom.
Barris published Della: A Memoir of My Daughter in 2010 about the death of his only child, who died in 1998 after a long struggle with drug addiction.
CIA career claims
In 1984, Barris wrote an autobiography, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. In the book he states that he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as an assassin in the 1960s and the 1970s. A 2002 feature film version, directed by George Clooney and starring Sam Rockwell, depicts Barris killing 33 people. Barris wrote a sequel to Confessions of a Dangerous Mind in 2004 called Bad Grass Never Dies.
The CIA denied Barris ever worked for them in any capacity. After the release of the movie, CIA spokesman Paul Nowack said Barris' assertions that he worked for the spy agency “[are] ridiculous. It's absolutely not true".
In an interview on NBC's Today Show in 1984, Barris admitted to having made the story up. "No, I was never a CIA hit man. I never did those things. I once applied for the CIA, and while I was going through the process I got a job and went on television. But I had always wondered what would have happened if I had done both." In an interview in 2010 with the Television Academy Foundation, he was asked if he had ever disclosed the truth to anyone, including his wife. "No, never," Barris said. "I'll never say, one way or the other".
Personal life and death
Barris' first wife was Lyn Levy, the niece of one of the founders of CBS. Their marriage lasted from 1957 to 1976, ending in divorce. Together they had a daughter, Della, who frequently appeared on The Gong Show, usually introducing her father. Della died of an alcohol and cocaine overdose in 1998 at the age of 36. At the time of her death, she was also HIV positive. In 1980, Barris married Robin Altman, 23 years his junior. That marriage also ended in divorce, in 1999. The following year, he married Mary Clagett.
- The $1.98 Beauty Show
- Bamboozle (unsold pilot)
- The Chuck Barris Rah-Rah Show
- Comedy Courtroom (unsold pilot)
- Cop Out (unsold pilot)
- The Dating Game
- Dollar a Second (unsold pilot)
- Dream Girl of '67
- The Mama Cass Television Show (ABC special, 1969)
- The Family Game
- The Game Game
- The Gong Show
- How's Your Mother-in-Law?
- Leave It to the Women
- The Newlywed Game
- Operation: Entertainment
- The Parent Game
- People Pickers (unsold pilot)
- Three's a Crowd
- The New Treasure Hunt/Treasure Hunt
- Your Hit Parade (CBS, 1974)
Barris composed music and released them on the following 45 rpm records. Songs with an asterisk (*) are songs not composed by Barris, yet featured on the recordings:
- Too Rich / I Know A Child (Capitol Records)
- Baja California / *Donnie (Dot Records)
- Why Me Oh Lord / Sometimes It Just Doesn't Pay To Get Up (MCA Records)
Barris also composed the following songs (with performer, who performed the music first, listed on each). The first two songs were released on "Swan" 45 rpm records, and the third released on a "Decca" LP record:
- Summertime Guy (Eddie Rambeau; an instrumental version of this song was used as the theme for The Newlywed Game)
- Palisades Park (Freddy Cannon)
- Love Sickness (Milton DeLugg)
In 1973, Barris released an LP of television game show music, Chuck Barris Presents Themes From TV Game Shows (Friends Records). All tracks are instrumentals and are arranged by Tom Scott, Mike Barone, and Dale Oehler. The tracks for the LP, as listed from the back of the LP jacket, are as follows:
- "Dating Game Theme" (January/CBP Music, Inc. BMI Chuck Barris/David Mook)
- "Dating Game Closing Theme" (Little Rosie)
- "Newlywed Game Theme"
- "Treasure Hunt Theme"
- "True Grit - Winners Theme" (Bernstein) Famous Music ASCAP
- "Treasure Hunt Losers Theme"
- "People Pickers Theme" (Pretty Maidens)
- "Operation Entertainment Theme" (Road Of Love)
- "Family Game Theme" (Too Rich)
- "Cop-Out Theme" (Little Russian Song)
- "Mother-In-Law Theme" (Mother Trucker)
- "Parent Game Theme" (Baja California)
- "Dream Girl Theme" (Hunk Of Love)
- You and Me, Babe (1974)
- Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (1984)
- The Game Show King (1993)
- Bad Grass Never Dies (2004)
- The Big Question (2007)
- Who Killed Art Deco? (2009)
- Della: A Memoir of My Daughter (2010)
- Confessions of A Dangerous Singer (Domo Records, 2003)
- Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (Domo Records, 2003)
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- "Confessions of a Dangerous Singer". April 8, 2003 – via Amazon.
- "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind". January 24, 2003 – via Amazon.