Still Zingin’ In The Rain

Not much went on in Los Angeles yesterday; heck, our mayor was all over Sunday morning national news programs yesterday comparing what we were about to experience with Tropical Storm Hillary to what those in Maui experienced with wildfires recently.  Given her political leanings, I suppose she was a bit more afraid of a storm with that name than most.  It’s certainly made her own journey a bit tougher.

Not gonna diminish what many have and are still going through at this writing.  A few folks I know have lost power, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be the cleanup crew trying to dredge the Dodger Stadium parking lot over the next few days.   And I was certainly glad I wasn’t driving last night when the storm intensified.  But as anyone who has ever driven midafternoons through the Tamiami Trail on any given day can attest, a few intense minutes of driving rain shouldn’t be enough to derail your entire day.

And for the folks who were determined to hold an event honoring both the game show genre and a beloved executive and vendor that had delayed the event since March 2020, in the manner that so many of them were raised, for some going back to the actual days of vaudeville, the show indeed did go on.   The Hollywood Media Professionals, an organization dedicated to honoring and connecting many veteran performers and executives, had planned this event a few months earlier to celebrate the 75th anniversary of TV game shows (the first national broadcast of one was the DuMont Network’s CASH AND CARRY in 1946, but you knew that already, didn’t you?) and the genial and innovative Arthur Alisi, whom a 1995 LOS ANGELES TIMES profile by Libby Slate described as someone whose influence was far greater than the average person might realize, particularly anyone who has ever ingested a grain of Rice-A-Roni:

(D)ozens of other promotional items and services come from a variety of sources, chief among them the 13-year-old Burbank-based Promotional Consideration, Inc. “They call me the godfather of the industry,” says…Alisi, co-founder with Dan Fox and previously the executive in charge of production for Merrill Heatter/Bob Quigley Productions. He worked on such shows as “Hollywood Squares” and “High Rollers”.  There are the high-end prize items such as cars and trips–Hawaii is the most popular destination–and the “fee items”: recliners, music boxes, water softeners, car wax, gum and other consumer products for which manufacturers pay a fee to be mentioned on the show.

Alisi, who I had the pleasure of working with and sharing several extremely cordial and expensive dinners with, was a rare breed who had a penchant for procuring business by always finding a way to give to get his products in the hands of executives who were skittish about receiving gifts (most companies prohibit ones over a certain amount from outside vendors), but he knew exactly where the lines were and, most importantly, he never failed to deliver for either the producers looking to reward contestants and even post-game interview guests despite being on a tight budget nor the companies who found ways to advertise their products in far more efficient and economical ways than the traditional purchase of an ad.

But sadly, once this event was announced, it took several tragic turns.  Alisi passed away two weeks before the original event date, shortly after his partner Fox passed.  COVID , first the outbreak of the pandemic itself and then subsequent outbreaks of new variants that seemed to coincide with several proposed makegood dates, then continued to derail the project.  And considering the majority of HMP’s members are elderly, one could understand their caution.  The honoring of the genre itself also saw some poignant reminders of how much time had passed, what was initially intended as a lighthearted “interview” for  a then-new Amazon Prime series featuring Alex Trebek and Regis Philbin debating the value of pickles in a turkey sandwich turned out to a grim reminder how much both of them are missed.

But one thing about veteran showbiz people: unlike quite a number of younger folks these days, when they set their minds to finally do something, they DO it.  More than 100 producers, executives and uberfans made it yesterday morning to Woodland Hills’ Hilton Hotel.   After all, after COVID and death, not to mention the fact that so much time had passed since so many in the room had actually seen each other they had to squint to be sure that those who had gotten greyer and/or balder were the same person they remembered, who would think a mere tropical storm, or even a 5.0 earthquake that occurred as the event was winding down, would get in the way?

Legendary emcee Bob Eubanks was there, a bit stooped from age and, as he quibbed, “a few too many rodeos”, but his humor and mind were as sharp as ever as he set the record straight yet again on the actual quote most associated with the classic NEWLYWED GAME (it’s “in the ass”, not “in the butt”, FYI).  The godfather of slime Marc Summers, who parlayed his hosting of the groundbreaking DOUBLE DARE into a prolific career as a producer and host of many shows for the Food Network, was there as well, looking far younger than he had when he made the rounds of talk shows after a near-fatal injury suffered in a Philadelphia cab a decade ago.  And yes, you’d have to be a true afficionado to know that non-Social Security qualifiers Glenn Scarpelli and Annie Wood had game show careers–no doubt anyone who knew about CASH AND CARRY knew that Scarpelli, as a teen heartthrob, co-hosted a show called FANTASY and Wood, as an up-and-coming model and comedienne, hosted a speed-dating based show called BZZZ! because, as she confessed, “we were on such a tight budget, we couldn’t afford the vowels”.  But their respective enthusiasm and beauty were more than welcome additions to a panel which 90s talk show staple Michael Burger hosted and rosted.  Even that room needed its share of folks neither greying nor balding.

For me, many of those in attendance have been one-time friends and colleagues.  Though decades have passed in some cases, we savored the chance to actually hug and reminisce.  A few canes were present, but nary a mask.  And for others, it was a chance to show off memorabilia and advertise an entire museum being dedicated to the genre.  Heck, the original face-off podium from FAMILY FEUD (with WORKING LOCK-OUT devices). saved from the scrap heap in the early 90s, was center stage, on its eventual way to upstate New York in the same manner that Aaron Judge’s bat or Julio Rodriguez’s batting gloves will be.  (Forgive me, J-Rod’s record-breaking week kept my fantasy baseball team’s slim playoff chances alive and allowed me to edge our league’s most trolling and juvenile competitor, so I HAD to get in a shout-out for him).

No, it wasn’t the biggest Hollywood event most of us had ever attended, and Lord knows we’ve experienced better buffets.  But it was a day far too long in the making, and proof positive resilliency and a positive attitude will triumph over even the most overwhelming odds.  I know that’s a lesson I need drummed into my head more often than not, and I’m sure glad I had the chance to be schooled by the masters of it yet again.

Take that, whippersnappers.

Until next time…

Leave a Comment