A Tribute to Gene Wood
Yesterday afternoon, I recieved an IM from friend Seth Thrasher saying "RIP Gene". Not putting two and two together, I was uncertain who he meant, but it was two hours before I found out: Gene Wood, one of the best announcers in the game show biz, had died after a long battle with cancer. Knowing all that he achieved in his career, I thought it only fitting to write something in remembrance of him and his career accomplishments.
Gene began his career in TV as a writer for Milton Berle, clearly a sign of good things to come. Following an appearance on "The Garry Moore Show", he became a well-known commercial pitchman, doing over 100 ads in the 1950s, and later working for Bob "Captain Kangaroo" Keeshan. He also released a self-described bad comedy album ("What Would Have Happened If?") in 1960(?), but regardless of the content, it gave him a chance to show off comedic potential that would later serve him well in his career.
Then, in 1965, came game shows. Goodson-Todman hired Gene as a fill-in announcer on their classic series "Password" as a sort of on-air tryout. It proved successful, and Gene was later hired on a full-time basis in 1969 for the syndicated G-T revival of "Beat the Clock" with Jack Narz, a role he quickly settled into over the next 3 years. In fact, so good was Gene at what he did that following host Narz's departure in 1972, Goodson and associates moved Gene in front of the camera to be Narz's replacement. He also hosted a similar series, "Anything You Can Do", around the same time, but in a true show of character, quit after several contestants sustained injuries while performing the required stunts.
Despite lasting only two years, G-T apparently developed some strong feelings about Gene's potential, even letting him try his hand as a celebrity guest on two of their other series, "To Tell the Truth" and "Match Game '74", and just a year after BtC's cancellation, brought him back behind the camera as announcer for their new ABC series, "Showoffs"; it lasted just half a year, but Gene would not be kept away from the mike for long, as he was brought back just a year later for another new series, "Family Feud".
As it turned out, FF was the show that put Gene "on the map" as an announcer. Host Richard Dawson quickly realized Gene had some on-camera talent as well and often invited him to appear during his opening monologues; during FF's 9-year run, you may have caught Gene:
Balancing an apple atop the FF home game on his stomach for Richard to slice
Performing w/a breakdancing group
Presenting countless gifts from fans to Richard
And more often that not, Gene was pulling double-duty during his reign as FF's announcer. Some shows were flops (The Better Sex, Child's Play, Your Number's Up), while others were more successful, particularly "Card Sharks", where Gene once appeared on-camera to deliver a tribute to Jim Perry in celebration of Jim's 3,000th TV episode, and "Super Password", where he brought back the former tradition of whispering the passwords to the home audience during each game, and delivered some hillarious "ticket plugs" during the show's final week on-air, putting his former comedic talents to good use. He also served briefly as interim announcer on "The Price is Right" in late 1985, following the death of longtime original announcer (and fellow G-T veteran) Johnny Olson.
Not wanting to mess with what works, Gene would return for the late 80s revivals of "Card Sharks" and "Family Feud"; though his on-camera appaerances during the latter's run were few and far between compared to the Dawson era, he did surface during a couple of special 1990-91 weeks with pro wrestlers (in which he did a mock-WWF intro, donning a tux and delivering the opening onstage via an overhead mike), along w/a memorable 1990 appearance where he brought out a cake for host Ray Combs' birthday and a young contestant tried to get a share:
Contestant: "Can I get a piece of that?"
GW: "No, you can't get a piece of that. It's rented!"
Gene's final game show work was as announcer for the first season of the Family Channel series "Family Challenge", providing a reunion for himself and Ray Combs (though that reunion would be short-lived, following Combs' 1996 suicide). However, even after his stint on FC ended, he wasn't completely out of the picture afterwards, later doing pre-recorded prize plugs for Game Show Network and even giving interviews for their "Club AM" wraparounds and original series "Game TV". This was followed by his final GS-related work, doing new fee plugs for summer reruns of "The Price is Right" that aired at the tail end of the 1997-98 season.
And despite Gene's later disenchantment w/"the biz" in his final years, fans continued to name him as one of the best announcers of his time and seemed equally puzzled over network apathy towards the older crowd he was a part of.
In his 25+ years behind the mike, Gene truly left a lasting impression on game show fans everywhere, and will no doubt continue to do so via GSN reruns and the fond memories of an announcing legend.
Godspeed, Gene. May your voice forever resound in our heads and in our hearts.
-Chuck Donegan, May 24, 2004
(.jpg courtesy of GameShowNewsNet)