A Conversation with Gene Wood, Part II

(as told by David Hammett, June 2, 1996)

The second part of my talk with Gene Wood began with him making sure to acknowledge a couple of thoughts he didn't have the last time. His first comments were about our favorite network, GSN: "These guys took on a difficult job in a difficult time. I'm pleased of what they're beginning to accomplish. Everyone should support them." He was also happy to see Jonathan Goodson starting to do a little bit more with game shows now.

He then moved on to mention one of the most important people in his life, his wife Carlene. "She's always been there, supporting me, encouraging me, lying to me," jokes Gene. "If she had continued her acting, she'd be another Colleen Dewhurst. [Carlene's] devoted her life to me, and then she devoted it to our first child." Gene adds humorously, "I got upset by that." He also notes, though, that in a Feud poll from the past women were asked what was the most important thing to them... the top 4 answers in order were children, security, shopping, and husband. "So then I knew exactly where I fit in," quips Gene. He concludes seriously: "She empowered me; without her, life would have been difficult."

But then the discussion turned back to the shows. He talked about Feud, but I'll delay mentioning that until later. Other shows from that era, however:

DOUBLE DARE: "Goodson couldn't do it every time. The game show environment changed; Goodson always used a structured format, then executed it to perfection. But the mores of society changed; people wanted instant gratification. DD was too controlled from that perspective."

THE BETTER SEX: "We always started 15 minutes late; Sarah Purcell was never ready on time. This drove Goodson crazy; he was a perfectionist." As an example of Goodson's perfection, Gene related that once he had the staff of "Beat the Clock" (the 70s version) change hotels because they had tried to economize; Goodson wouldn't hear of it, wanting his staff to be in the best of hotels. Also, when celebrities were on the show, he would always arrange for the little things: a limo from the airport, fresh flowers in the hotel room, etc. Back to TBS: "We couldn't get into any interesting questions in that day and time... we had the same problem on Tattletales. Anyway, ABC was in a big struggle with CBS for daytime domination, and so it was more important for them to expand their soaps, which is why TBS was cancelled."

CARD SHARKS: "Jim Perry and Bob Eubanks were both great emcees. Jim was the perfect mechanic... he could control the show, he knew the rules, and he executed each show to perfection. Bob has an impressive personality; people know the boss is there when Bob's around." About the show, Gene says, "I loved it... the element of chance was such a crucial factor on that show." More on Jim and Bob: "Jim wrote a book based on finding out who he was... I don't remember the title... but it ought to be made into a motion picture. It was very intorspective." Also: "Bob found himself surrounded by people he liked and who liked him. If he could do it over again, he probably would be a stand-up comic. We'd do a lot of stuff together for the audience during the commercials."

PASSWORD PLUS and SUPER PASSWORD: "Some of us knew how ill Allen was. He kept saying he was having these pains in his chest/stomach area, and that it was the edge of the podium he was having to bend over that was doing it. But that wasn't the case. The last six months of his life was such a sad time, but his wife Betty was so courageous." Gene had more to say about Allen and Betty: "Allen was the eternal optimist; he had a certain innocence that I've only seen in one other performer... Jack Benny. He really cared about what he was doing, and he cared passionately for Password." On Betty: "I remember one party I had where Allen and Betty came. Allen was ready to leave at one point, but couldn't find Betty. After looking around, I found her in the baby's room, rocking my son Sasha in her arms. She was such a caring person... and still is!" As for the subsequent hosts: "Tom Kennedy was an extraordinary professional. He was fun-loving, and he really gave it his all. When Super Password premiered, Bert brought a different quality to the show; he had no qualms about following in Allen's footsteps." In one last comment about Betty White, Gene said: "I put her in the same category with Gypsy Rose Lee and Arlene Francis... just a great person."

CHILD'S PLAY: "Bill Cullen was one of the greats among the great. But he went against W.C. Fields' advice: "Never work with animals or children." The problem with the show was that it was too formal; it was hard for the kids to be themselves on stage. The children were aware of the tension and pressure, and they were less able to deal with it than the adults. To work with children, you've got to be exceptionally concerned about them as human beings."

MATCH GAME/HOLLYWOOD SQUARES: After laughing upon mention of this show, Gene explains: "Rayburn was dragged kicking and screaming into that hour. Bauman was likable, but his character was so foreign to TV. Jon's fate was of not keeping the show moving, plus his occasional "pose" as Bowzer seemed out of place. Instead of being looked up to, he was doing shtick... and it didn't fit."

YOUR NUMBER'S UP: "In my humble opinion the show was underproduced. Goodson always gave his hosts maximum support. Nipsey needed support, and it wasn't there." Gene did YNU during a Goodson hiatus; Goodson had no problem letting go of Gene temprarily to do that show. But Gene remarks that during this time, he was doing so many shows that it was getting to him: "I was coming off the 10 freeway and not paying enough attention... a guy ends up getting the front end of my car when I went through a light." He knew then he'd have to be more discerning about what jobs he'd take.

BRUCE FORSYTH'S HOT STREAK: "Bruce was a charming guy. And Bob Noah was there... great guy. The show had a couple of flaws, and Bruce didn't have the recognition factor here that he does in the UK. In England, if the audience likes you, they'll stick with you through whatever. That didn't happen here."

CLASSIC CONCENTRATION: "That was fun. It was the first time Alex and I worked together over an extended time. He's matured over time, and has a very wry sense of humor. We'd sing to the audience despite their protests: I was Pavarotti, he was Mel Torme. There was a touch of sadness about Alex until he got married and had a kid... now life is chubbier for him than it's ever been." He relates a couple of stories about Alex: "I had a horse named Goodness Gracious that died of cancer. I told Alex about it, and that Christmas he sent me a gray rocking horse lithograph, with a note: 'Hope this will replace your horse.' Very kind." Also this: "Alex had trouble with his knees; if he could be an NHL player, I think he would. Anyway, he went to Chicago for a charity hockey event, then comes back and has to have arthroscopic surgery done. A year later, he was going to Toronto to do the same thing. I told him he was crazy, but he said he'd be OK. We all lit candles and said prayers while he was gone. Turned out he was OK, but it just goes to show to what extent he'll go to honor a commitment."

WIN, LOSE OR DRAW: "I had just finished doing Love Connection for the season when Bert Convy called and said, 'I need you.' We did the pilot, and it went very well. Bert and Burt went into negotiations with Disney, and the deal was made. But when I called Eric Lieber and told him I wouldn't be back to LC, he got angry; I pointed out that no one had said anything to me about returning." Regarding the atmosphere of the show: "It looked laid back, but the tension off camera was enormous. It was not a happy place; that's one reason why I left to do Family Feud when it returned." He does mention one interesting anecdote about one of their Hawaiian excursions: "I had malaria in World War II, and so I don't do well in the heat. While doing one of the outdoor WLD's there, I started getting the symptoms of a sunstroke. Burt and Loni were on the show that day, and for the life of me I couldn't remember her name when I was introducing them at the top of the show! I called her "Lori" Anderson, and later she asked me, 'Don't you remember my name?' I was mortified! I apologized to Loni, and later that day I got a card from her and Burt telling me to get my rest, and that they would see me that night for dinner. Very thoughtful."

FAMILY FEUD: "In the first version, Dawson was just great to work with. He heard everything, and reacted to it accordingly. We complemented each other with our lines in working with the audience and on the show. One time, he even sliced an apple by using a Samurai sword... the apple was sitting on me! Anyway, the difference between the Dawson and Combs versions was this: Dawson had a sensitivity to people; he brought the humor out of them and the show. Combs was a stand-up comic with no prior preparation; he was bright and contemporary, but his experience was so limited in the game show area." Still, he had this to say about Combs: "I never saw anyone work harder at keeping the show on the air; he traveled all over the country promoting Feud. I attribute 60% of the continuation of the show to Ray's efforts at promotion. He has such a high energy level; he makes me look like a 98 pound weakling in that regard!"

MATCH GAME: "Ross Shafer was nice, came out of the comedy circuit. But he was put into the middle of some heavyweights, like Charles Nelson Reilly. When Rayburn did it, he was in charge. I told Ross, 'You're one of the stars... you've got to get them to accede to your wishes.' But it was hard for him. The game may have come back a year or two too soon."

BABY RACES: "We did it in Orlando, and it was a disaster. The problem was that 3 and 4 year olds were too young to utilize their abilities and personalities on the show, while the 7 and 8 year olds we had to use were not babies. The title didn't match the show!"

Of course, now Gene has been working with Ray Combs again on "Family Challenge" on the Family Channel, and has just done a demo tape for a show called "Getting to Know You." He calls it "a classy Jerry Springer," where the idea is to get at the dynamics of human emotion, not sex. He expects it will cater to an older crowd.

That's about it...

(NOTE: I, Chuck Donegan, had no contact whatsoever w/the GS personality whose reminiscences appear above; what you have just read was a transcript of a phone interview conducted by David Hammett, as originally posted to ATGS on the date mentioned at the top of the page)