Come on down…and check out these stories about the off-stage lives of famous TV game show hosts.
Longtime The Price is Right host Bob Barker is well known for his end-of-show sign-off, asking viewers “to help control the pet population and have your pets spayed or neutered.” Barker was an outspoken animal rights activist, ever since he became a vegetarian in 1979. He did so because his wife, Dorothy Jo, had given up meat, too, and when she died in 1981, he decided to take on her passionate cause as his own. So much so that in 1987, he quit his 20-year gig as host of the televised Miss USA Pageant. He asked organizers to stop giving away fur coats as prizes; they refused, so he resigned.
Before he found the profession for which he was clearly born to do—headlining game shows—The Newlywed Game host Bob Eubanks was a top amateur athlete. As a teenager in the 1950s, he won multiple national roller skating championship events, and almost got to show off his stuff in the Olympics, which was reportedly set to add roller skating as an official event. That ultimately didn’t happen, so Eubanks went into the entertainment business instead.
Tomarken was a constant presence on daytime TV in the 1980s, hosting several game shows, notably Press Your Luck (“no Whammies!”). He was also a constant presence on the Southern California medical transport circuit. Tomarken was a licensed pilot, and when he wasn’t giving away fabulous prizes to contestants, he was flying his plane for Angel Flight West, a charity that airlifted sick or injured people free of charge. (Tomarken was on his way to transport a San Diego cancer patient in 2006 when his plane crashed into the Santa Monica Bay, ending his life at age 64.)
Former Broadway actor Gene Rayburn found his niche as the host of Match Game in the 1970s, presiding over a panel of often soused B-list celebrities including Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly. In its Rayburn-hosted iteration, Match Game ran from 1973 to 1982. A reboot was planned for the 1985-86 season, but while the show was in pre-production, an Entertainment Tonight “celebrity birthday” segment wished a happy 68th to Rayburn. What’s so bad about that: Rayburn had been lying about his age for decades, claiming to be much younger than he actually was. The Match Game revival was canceled, and Rayburn says the mini-scandal—and the age discrimination that came with it—prevented him from finding work.
Family Feud host Richard Dawson, met his wife, Gretchen Johnson…on an episode of Family Feud. In 1981, after her family completed a multiple episode run, Dawson asked Johnson if he could call her sometime. She said sure, and that he could find her number in her show application. Dawson called Johnson three days a row and she never answered, so he thought she’d given him a fake number. It turns out, she’d had her wisdom teeth removed and wasn’t up to answering the phone. When she did, he invited her to his L.A. home, where he made her Beef Wellington.