Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? by
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The  song “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” was written by Cole Porter for the musical High Society in 1956. I suggest listening to this youtube video of the song while reading my story. Unless you want to watch Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holm flirt with each other while singing it, which they do quite adorably.

Cole Porter wrote the song "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" for the musical High Society. This story is NOT about that game show.

 

 

More than four decades later, in 1999, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire became the title of a popular game show that started in Britain, came to the US, and had many international versions. American audiences became aware of the Indian version as a result of the 2008 Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire. However, this story is not about that game show. I only wanted to use the song.

The first game show I remember watching was Queen for a Day. It aired from 1956 to 1964, which for me would be age five to age thirteen, so I’m not actually sure at what age I watched it, but probably more towards the end of its run. The contestants had to tell a sob story about their lives, and the one who sounded the most pathetic would win. Generally she got a refrigerator or a washing machine, which probably wasn’t going to solve her problems, and a year’s supply of Jungle Gardenia by Tuvaché. This perfume was so imbued in our culture that when I turned thirty, my best friend Janet gave me a bottle of Jungle Gardenia as an “over the hill” joke present (along with a bottle of Geritol), and I may still have it.

G.E. College Bowl was a show my whole family loved. It was on the air from 1959 to 1970. Allen Ludden was the host for the first three years, and I do remember seeing him, and being disappointed when he left, but I continued watching anyway. Each week there were teams of four students from two different colleges. The way the game was played was that there would be a toss-up question for both teams, and whoever rang in first got to answer. If they gave an incorrect answer, the other team had a chance to answer. However, if the player from the first team rang in before the host finished asking the question and then got it wrong, there was a five-point penalty and the question was repeated for the other team. A team that answered the toss-up correctly then got a bonus question just for them. Because of this show, the phrase “five-point penalty and I’ll repeat the entire question for [someone’s name]” became a common saying in my family. Some of the teams on the show were from colleges we had never heard of, and others were from colleges we knew and loved. We always rooted for the teams that had at least one woman on them, which not very many of them did. When they wanted to show both teams at once, they generally did it like the image at right, and I always thought that’s how they were on the set, with one team above the other, presumably climbing a ladder to get to the upper seats. It’s only now that I realize that wasn’t the case.

Another show I enjoyed, and watched with my mother, was Password. This was where Allen Ludden went when he left College Bowl. It aired on weekday afternoons between 1961 and 1967, and one evening a week between 1962 and ’67. The game was played by two teams, each composed of a celebrity player and a regular person, who tried to get each other to guess mystery words using only single-word clues. My most vivid memory of that show was an episode where Betty White (who was married to Allen Ludden) was one of the celebrity contestants. The “password” was thrill, and on her first clue to her partner she said “chill” and the partner said “thrill”! It was amazing, because of course the words don’t mean the same thing at all, but somehow in the way she said it, Betty conveyed the right answer to her partner. Here’s Betty on Password, although in this image the word was muffler rather than thrill. She is the guesser in this round and her partner is looking in the little envelope to see what the password is

When I was in college I watched no television at all, and in the ensuing years I watched very little. I didn’t even own a TV until after law school. But I did have one more game show that I watched, and it was my favorite of all.

Name That Tune had many incarnations, but I mainly remember one season, which was 1977-78, the only year that Kathie Lee Johnson (who later married Frank Gifford and became Kathie Lee Gifford) sang the clues. This was in the portion of the show called Sing-a-Tune, where both contestants wrote down the title of the song being sung by Kathie Lee, who replaced any instance of its title in the lyrics with “la-las.” I could always answer these, because hearing some of the lyrics made it easy to hear the title words in my head. A more difficult round was called Bid-a-Note. Here, after being given a clue about the song, the contestants alternated bidding how few notes it would take them to identify it, starting at seven. If one contestant didn’t want to go any lower than the other person’s last bid, they would say “Name that tune!” Otherwise they could keep going until they got to one. Obviously it would only be possible to identify a tune in one note if you already knew from the clue what the song was, but that did happen sometimes. I was pretty good at this round too. The final round was the Golden Medley, where the contestant had 30 seconds to identify seven tunes. Usually I could get all seven, but not always. I wanted to go on this show, because I did so well when I watched it at home. But I never even made the effort to find out how to become a contestant. I regret that now – it would have made a much better story!

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Characterizations: well written

Comments

  1. Marian says:

    Thanks for the memory of Jungle Gardenia, Suzy. I remember the refrigerators and washing machines won on Queen for a Day but not that perfume. I guess I didn’t watch Name That Tune because I wasn’t super into that kind of music, but I did love Password. Go Betty White, she’s still funny and clever.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Thanks for reminding us of some shows that I loved but had forgotten about, Suzy. We occasionally watched Queen for a Day. I think I was sort of fascinated by it, but not enough to think those women were worthy of the humiliation they underwent to win. I absolutely do not remember the perfume they won. Great gag gift for your 30th birthday.

    I had a friend who went on the daytime version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and won a fair amount of money. That was exciting.

    GE College Bowl! I had forgotten all about that one, but our family were devoted fans. Thanks for that reminder. I think my brother was an alternate when Brandeis was on the program. A long-distant memory. We watched Password too, but not too many game shows after that, except Jeopardy.

    I don’t remember if we watched “Name That Tune” (I think we did) and never with Kathie Lee as the host, but to this day, we say jokingly, “I can name that tune in one note”. As you point out – that is almost impossible to do.

    Great description of these shows.

    • Suzy says:

      How fun that your brother was an alternate on the Brandeis College Bowl team! Did he get to go to NY for the taping? Was he hoping that someone would get sick at the last minute?

      You could *never* identify a song based on one note, because it doesn’t tell you anything. The only way a contestant could do that is if the spoken clue gave it away.

      • Betsy Pfau says:

        It was so long ago, and he is so much older that I don’t remember the specifics of Rick’s alternative position. I’m sure he didn’t root for someone to get sick. He’s just not that kind of guy.

  3. Thanx for the quiz show memories Suzy, I don’t remember watching those shows but do remember watching Bennett Cerf, Arlene Francis, and Dorothy Killgallen on What’s My Line, a very funny Groucho Marx on You Bet Your Life, and Carl Van Doren hosting The $64,000 Question.

    And thanx for the trivia bit – I didn’t know that Betty White was married to Allen Ludden!

    • Suzy says:

      I loved Groucho Marx on You Bet Your Life (or Groucho Marx anywhere), but didn’t include it in my story because I thought others might remember it better. Glad to fill you in about Betty and Allen – they married in 1963 and stayed together until his death in 1981.

  4. John Shutkin says:

    Fun song, Suzy, and, as I’m sure you know, “High Society” was the musical version of “The Philadelphia Story.”

    And thanks for the great recap of a few of my own favorite game shows. And, if you will indulge me, I can’t help offering my own vignettes about two of them.

    On GE College Bowl, one of the big early winners was Swarthmore, which won five shows in a row and retired undefeated. This is not surprising to us now, but it was the first time a lot of America had heard of this small but outstanding college. So it got terrific publicity. However, since all four of its panelists were women (natch!), a lot of these new fans did not realize it was coed and Swarthmore had to make a big point of that fact for years to make sure it also got male applicants — and, of course, it had to do so without a website.

    And on the first version of Name That Tune in the 50’s, one winning team was composed of a Navy pilot named John Glenn — whatever happened to him? — and a little kid named Eddie Hodges who could really sing. After his appearance, Eddie was chosen for the original cast of The Music Man in the role of Winthrop — the boy who sang “Gary Indiana.” And, oh yes, another winning contestant was a beautiful young Black woman named Leslie Uggams.

    If only there were a category in Jeopardy for this stuff, no? Anyhow, thank you for letting me strut my (useless) stuff.

    • Suzy says:

      Yes, of course I knew about “High Society.” I never actually saw it, because I loved “The Philadelphia Story” and didn’t want to see Grace Kelly playing the role originated by Katharine Hepburn.

      Thanks for your fascinating vignettes about two of my shows! As I remember, the contestants on Name That Tune never did any singing, so it’s surprising that one would know that Eddie Hodges (or Leslie Uggams) could sing well. Maybe that only happened before I started watching.

  5. Great story, Suzy…and I love how you used the first paragraph to justify using that song as a title!

    Betty White and Allen Ludden were quite the couple. I remember watching an early episode of Password where you could just see the electricity between them. I adore her!

    And of course Name That Tune had to be one of your favorites…you coulda/shoulda/woulda been a contender!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Barb. I know what you mean about the electricity between Betty and Allen on Password. It was really sweet to see. And I sure wish I had been a contender on Name That Tune. That show was made for me!

  6. Risa Nye says:

    When I was in college, a roommate’s mother had won Queen for a Day, asking for prosthetic legs for her daughter (my roommate’s sister). One night at a little gathering, the sister took off her legs and slid them under the couch with the feet sticking up! What a memory! I have several gardenia plants in my yard and cannot help thinking about Jungle Gardenia when they are in bloom, as they are right now. I enjoyed watching game shows back in the day. Password, To Tell the Truth, and What’s My Line were favorites at my house! Thanks for sharing these memories.

    • Suzy says:

      Wow, Risa, quite a memory about the prosthetic legs under the couch. It does sound like winning on Queen for a Day actually helped that mother to get what she needed for her daughter, which is great. Wonder if they also enjoyed the Jungle Gardenia.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    I remember College Bowl and you are so right about the lack of women. Still, always fun to see smart students answering tough questions. No surprise that you wanted to be on Name That Tune. You would have done well, given all of the singing you have done. Thanks for a fun trip down memory lane. For many of our writers, these shows were imbedded in our childhood and youth.

  8. Khati Hendry says:

    I really enjoyed the movie clip–Cole Porter and the flirting both. I am impressed that you remember all the details of the rules for the game shows–they ring a bell but I wouldn’t have been able to pull them out. I don’t remember if Name that Tune just included the actual tune or not–otherwise you could identify Hard Day’s Night from the opening chord for sure. We will have to add the old song category into the Retrospect reunion fun and games list. I find my knowledge is quite deep up to about early 1970’s only–also fell off the mass media train about then.

    • Suzy says:

      Thank you for commenting on the movie clip, Khati. I wondered if anyone would actually watch it. I did remember most of the game show rules, but I admit I checked the Wikipedia article on each show to make sure I was remembering correctly. And good point about Hard Day’s Night’s opening chord – I’m pretty sure they just played the tune on the piano, so no chords involved.

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