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Joe David Brown
October 26, 1964
At the crest of his popularity as a showman, Art Linkletter remains indefatigably athletic
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October 26, 1964

A Star And Sportsman Riding A Wave

At the crest of his popularity as a showman, Art Linkletter remains indefatigably athletic

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Linkletter's reaction to the loss of his job was typical. He vowed that never again would he work at a regular salary and told a friend, "I'm going to make a million dollars in the next five years starting now." Soon he was averaging 18 radio shows and earning $700 a week. Variety, the show business paper, called him a "one man dynamo" and, everything considered, he was doing fine. But he knew he was still minor leugue, and it rankled. All of his radio shows were local, and his total income from them was not much more than a single network program would pay. Los Angeles, the home of Hollywood and the stars, was where the network shows originated. So, although he was making around $50,000 a year, he loaded Lois and the children into the car and set out for Los Angeles.

The move at first seemed disastrous. Linkletter bustled around making himself known to important people, and he and Lois were invited to Atwater Kent's famous parties, where they hobnobbed with stars. But Linkletter seemed to have lost his magic touch. In rapid succession he was on—and canceled off—three shows. Soon bills were piling up, and for the first time in his life Linkletter was discovering that boundless optimism would not pay the grocer. Things were looking particularly gloomy when he lunched at the Brown Derby one day with John Guedel, a writer-producer he knew slightly. Since he had a successful radio program going, Guedel appeared to be doing all right. Actually, it paid him only $75 a week and he had no more business lunching at the Brown Derby than Linkletter did. Nevertheless, in the best Hollywood tradition, both kept up their fronts, and after they had eaten they began to exchange ideas for radio shows. Linkletter said he would like to produce a show based on some case histories he had borrowed from a psychologist and call it Meet Yourself. Guedel said that was funny, he had gone through the files of a University of California psychologist looking for material for a behavior show he wanted to call People Are Funny. He and Linkletter blinked at each other for a moment, and Guedel said, "C'mon."

They went to Guedel's office and immediately set to work blocking out a show. Twenty-four hours later they had it written, and they managed to scrape up $15 between them to cut an audition record. They shipped it off airmail to a Chicago ad agency which Guedel had learned was looking for a new show. Two days later a phone call came that had Linkletter and Guedel whooping. The agency liked the show and would buy it for a network presentation. There was only one hitch: nobody had ever heard of Linkletter. "Get a big name who can work with him." the agency said.

"At that point we would have hired King Kong to get the show on the air," Linkletter says. They eventually settled on Art Baker, a polished old pro at radio emceeing. and when People Are Funny made its debut in the summer of 1941 Linkletter was billed as co-M.C. The program was a hit from the start, and its ratings climbed steadily. So nobody was more surprised than Linkletter when Baker notified him after the fourth show that two M.C.s on the same program were too many. One of them had to go. Linkletter and Guedel told Baker they were sorry to see him go. After all, Linkletter not only was a co-originator of the show, he owned half of it.

The partners phoned the agency people in Chicago to tell them. The agency said it was Baker—or else.

Linkletter often has called that the blackest moment of his career. He says he felt completely whipped and defeated. Obviously he did, though it is difficult for someone not in show business to understand why he felt so completely devastated. He was still co-owner of a network show that was a smash. He was assured of a substantial sum of money each week for a long time. Nonetheless, he felt he had failed in Los Angeles, and he and the family returned to San Francisco. It was not difficult to pick up where he had left off. and there still are people in San Francisco who maintain that no matter what station they tuned in during the early '40s, they heard the voice of Art Linkletter.

Soon Linkletter was earning $75,000 a year from all sources, and as his bank account and popularity increased, so did his confid nee. He continued writing material for People Are Funny, and after a couple of years he felt that he had proved he was invaluable to the show. He simply asked Guedel to drop Baker as M.C. Guedel agreed, and this time nobody objected, except Baker. Linkletter triumphantly moved back to Los Angeles and took over. Not long afterward. Guedel and Linkletter dreamed up House Party, and it also became a hit. When television arrived both shows moved into the new medium without a hitch. Before he reached his 40th birthday, Linkletter was a national celebrity earning $350,000 to $400,000 a year. Since then things have only gotten better, to the point where what Linkletter was telling his followers as they flocked around him in Hawaii was hardly true—he could afford to be there if nobody ever recognized his face again.

That same day the Linkletters drove to Sea Life Park, about 14 miles outside Honolulu, where Linkletter got a rare chance to show off in the element he takes to with such pleasure, water. The park was established by a young marine biologist and his wife as a combination marine laboratory and tourist attraction, and Linkletter has become fascinated by it. A couple of years ago, when he was on his way to Hawaii, some friends asked him to look over the park because they had been asked to invest in it and they wanted his opinion. The park still was being built when Linkletter arrived, but after looking around he told his friends that they should save their money. Not only did he think it was not going to amount to much, he thought it was too far from Honolulu to attract tourists even if the marineland show that was planned happened to be good.

On his present trip Linkletter had paid another visit to Sea Life Park, and he was amazed to see how many tourists were visiting it. He went inside and soon discovered why. The park was presenting an interesting marineland show. Unlike the typical professional and highly polished marine acts, at Sea Life Park spectators were shown how porpoises are trained to respond to underwater electronic signals. White-smocked attendants and trainers also spoke about the habits and peculiarities of porpoises, though they were obviously more preoccupied with training porpoises and studying them than they were with entertaining the spectators.

Linkletter was captivated and praised the show so much that the owners invited him to go swimming with the porpoises. He accepted, but he wanted a photographer along to make a record of the occasion. In his long career he had posed for every kind of gag shot imaginable, but this was the first time he had ever gone swimming with porpoises and he wanted to make the most of it. Now he had the photographer and was ready. As usual, a gaggle of excited tourists were trailing after him. Linkletter looked at the pool where a dozen or so porpoises were cruising around slowly with their fins out of the water. "Well, what do I do?" he said. One of the park biologists smiled. "Go into the water slowly and don't splash. They don't like a lot of commotion. Handle them gently, just as you would a young puppy."

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