The check is up there

I find it so ironic I read a post about Geoff Edwards’ role in the events after JFK’s death and how he was a radio news reporter who went from San Diego to LA .  And then hours later I find out another one of my favorite game show hosts, the man who took us on treasure hunts, hoped we played the percentages and made video games, well gamier, died a month after turning 83 from pneumonia.

According to many websites, including Adam Nedeff’s Game Show World, he was born Geoffrey Bruce Owen Edwards in Westfield, New Jersey on February 13, 1931.  Early in his life, he loved music, even playing the drums. In 1949, Edwards attended Duke University in Durham, NC where on weekends he jammed in a dixieland band. After some time in the Air Force, Geoff went to New York to resume his musical career, but an encounter with a more established musician made Geoff rethink his future.

I went to the Union Hall in New York, and a guy named Phil Urso, who was a very famous—at that time—tenor player…great guy, played with Woody Herman, standing there with a little drizzle coming down…and he says, “Hey, man…You know where I can get a gig?” And I thought, “You know, maybe this isn’t what I want to pursue.”

The music passion led to a career in radio.  After stints in Albany, NY and West Palm Beach, he made it out to southern California, first to San Diego at KFMB Radio.  In November 1963 as Geoff was moving to Los Angeles and then top ranked KHJ, President Kennedy was murdered.  His bosses at RKO sent Geoff to Dallas to cover the events afterward.  In the following blog post from comedian Keith Levine is an amazing description of what Geoff was doing.

I was in San Diego listening to KFMB, my former radio station while packing for my new job at KHJ in Los Angeles. The news broke: President Kennedy had been assassinated. A few hours later I arrived in Dallas, reporting for KHJ and the Mutual Broadcasting System.

My first impression of Dallas was a hefty Dallas policeman directing traffic with a cigar hanging from his mouth. Little did I know it was a metaphor.

Press coverage of this momentous event is hard to believe given the ways of today’s electronic world. No cell phones then, no internet broadcast abilities, and even with the FBI everywhere, no one defined as “in charge”.

I entered the Dallas Police Headquarters, walked right past the desk sergeant and down the halls without showing any Press Credentials, or indeed any ID at all.

There were reporters from all over the world and a room had been set aside for us. We gathered there and exchanged information, nailing down certain facts so all our reports would agree on times,  each of us telling what we had uncovered.

Oswald was brought down a hall with the press lined on one side yelling out questions. His rifle held high by an FBI agent, he was asked if he had a lawyer.

“No”, he said in a soft voice. “I want Melvin Belli”. Belli was a well known defense attorney out of San Francisco. After Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald, Belli represented Ruby for free.

The FBI brought Oswald into a good sized room to be questioned by a group of us. He was seated behind a long table. Oswald was asked if he was handcuffed. He held his hands up in front of him and said, “Yes sir.” Next day the front pages of almost every major newspaper showed that photo with the caption, “Oswald gestures defiantly at the press.”

There was a phone on the table. I dismantled it, and wired it into my tape recorder. The tape recorder’s microphone was placed near Oswald and thus delivered the only live broadcast of the questions and Oswald’s answers.

Listeners wanted to know the reactions of the general public. I went into the office that was collecting telegrams and phone call messages from US citizens.  After locking the door, I called Mutual and read a sampling over the phone, and thus, live on the air. The police information Captain knocked loudly and rattled the door handle. I told him I’d be done in a minute. Still needed no ID.

Opening the door to an interrogation room, I was surprised to find Oswald and his mother. That was the one time during the weekend I backed away.

On the morning that Oswald was to be transported to County Jail, the Dallas Police Chief brought us up to speed, pointing out snipers on rooftops set to protect Oswald on the route.

At the garage entrance door, press credentials were checked for the first time. I walked up to the back of the van that was waiting for Oswald. A police officer roughly yanked me back.

The mass of press was outside a guard rail and a few steps down. Jack Ruby somehow made his way through the group, and, well, the rest is history.

President LBJ said information relating to the Kennedy assassination would be kept secret until everyone alive at that time was no longer around.

The question should be, what is in those records that we were not supposed to know?

The acting bug bit Geoff and he would make appearances in TV shows and films, including one of the few duds for Paul Newman “WUSA” (no relation to Washington DC’ s channel 9, ironically one of the stations which carried “The New Treasure Hunt.”)

I was in a movie with Paul Newman called WUSA; the worst movie he ever made. It doesn’t show up anywhere. If you find it on the internet it’ll take you to a page that says “Uggh.”

I spent an afternoon with him; we did a scene together. I was a radio engineer and Paul played a talk show host. I asked him about acting…He said, “Acting is like running a mile one foot at a time.” Because you act, then they change the cameras, do it again, change the lighting, do it again, on and on…He was a sweet guy.

After years at Top 40 KHJ, Geoff would move to the more Middle of the Road 710 KMPC, where a lot of his game show brethren, including Wink Martindale, Gary Owens and the recently deceased Jim Lange worked.  At KMPC, Geoff did what would be considered phone taps ala Z100’s Elvis Duran.  One infamous one involved calling a dry cleaner in Georgia and a certain superhero.

Adam Nedeff has the text of this uproarious call.

GEOFF: Hi, My name’s Mister Kent. I dropped off my leotards a few weeks ago.

CLEANER: Your what?

GEOFF: My leotards. Are they ready?

CLEANER: I’m, uh, not sure.

GEOFF: Well, I need them for fighting crime. Can you check?

CLEANER: Yes, sir. What’s the name again?

GEOFF: Mr. Kent. I had Miss Lane drop them off for me, though.

CLEANER: Oh…Okay…What do they look like?

GEOFF: Blue; they have a big letter S on the front, you can’t miss it.

CLEANER: Well, I don’t see them back here. Can we call you back?

GEOFF: Well, no. See, I’m in a phone booth right now.

The year 1973 proved to be a pivotal year for Geoff.  It was a year after he was a part of a cast of a summer variety show starring Bobby Darin serving as a summer replacement for Dean Martin, who was about near the end of his long-running variety show on NBC.  Geoff told a story of how he got to join the cast.

I was playing tennis…and the phone rang. And my agent said, “Bobby Darin would like to talk to you about being on his television show.” I said, “Great! When?” He said, “Right now.”

So I got into the car, sweaty…I get over to NBC…Bobby’s on his way out, he says to me, “Walk with me down the hall.” He said, “This is the character I’m going to play…” And his character was going to be a shoeshine guy who used to be a champion or wanted to be a champion or whatever. And he said, “Talk to me. You’re getting a shoeshine.” So all the way down the hall, we did this bit. At the end of the hall, he said, “You’re on the show. Thanks.”

Darin died in 1973.  So Geoff still doing radio needed something else.  On the local LA TV scene, Geoff received his first regular work as an emcee for “Lucky Partners,” a Los Angeles TV game produced by Bob Barker who was hosting The Price is Right at the time. In his autobiography, Barker notes during his career as a producer, he only hired two emcees other than himself, those would be Richard Dawson & Geoff Edwards. Reflecting on that, Barker says he “batted a thousand.”  To say the least.

Geoff’s first national hosting gig was on Jack Barry and Dan Enright’s Hollywood’s Talking for CBS.  It was a show where contestants had to guess what famous stars were talking about to win cash.  Like The Object Is for Dick Clark, the show didn’t last, but showed potential for Geoff.  Later that year, though he would host the show that would make him a game show super icon.

Chuck Barris, hot with hits such as The Dating Game and the Newlywed Game, wanted to bring back the game show Treasure Hunt, first hosted by Jan Murray.  The show, The New Treasure Hunt, got rid of the 1950’s run quiz contest and replaced it with a pop up surprise to decide who went on the treasure hunt.  The contestant, always a woman, was shown 30 boxes, each one containing things from showcases of amazing prizes, cars, trips, even cash to booby prizes called clunks, a word Geoff himself invented.

BUT…in one and only one of those boxes was the show’s grand prize…TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS (excuse me, but I can’t resist doing that).

Each box had an envelope with it containing a cash amount of up to $2500 which the player could keep instead of the box.  Regardless of what happens. Geoff looks inside the box and then proceeds to use his acting chops to perform in a skit which could lead to a prize or a clunk.  For the big check, the piece of paper itself was in the box.  If found, and not given up, Geoff does what I just did…and then…

Look, $25,000 in 1974 money is over $100,000 today.

There were other moments that were unforgettable in the minds of fans of the show, which lasted until 1977 seen here in the NYC area on WCBS-TV Channel 2.

Like this segment where a birthday cake leads to something even sweeter.

The show was featured on 60 Minutes after a woman fainted after finding out she won a newly restored 1932 Rolls Royce car.  That episode was seen in 2007 on GSN as part of the Feast of Favorites, which also had that cake segment.

At the end of each show, if the check isn’t found, Geoff engages in “Banter” with the show’s bonded security agent Emile Autori, who really was a guard.  He never talked to Edwards and it made for frustrating and hilarious results.

Steve Beverly had an interview with Geoff a few years ago to talk about The New Treasure Hunt and about one of the show’s funniest moments.  It had to do with dough, and not necessarily money.  A contestant picked a box…WITH REAL DOUGH IN IT.  And under the hot lights the dough did what dough does.  You can imagine it from there.

In 1974, home came calling…well New York that is.  It was there Geoff met up with another game show genius, Bob Stewart.  A year after the success of The $10,000 Pyramid, Stewart picked Geoff to host NBC’s Jackpot, a wild party game with 16 players, riddles, and a chance to win $50,000.  Geoff, decked out in casual 70’s men’s wear (AHEM!) hosted the 16 where each one tried to stump an expert with crazy riddles worth dollar amounts (for $150 here is my clue).  Money was added to the Jackpot until the expert picked the Jackpot riddle where in turn the person holding the riddle yelled out the show’s name.  There was also the Super Jackpot.  If the last 3 digits of the Jackpot matched a target number (800 for example), the expert and the riddler vie for the Super Jackpot determined by the random amount and a multiplier up to 50 (my example means the Super Jackpot is $40,000…which would be split between the two just as much as the Jackpot is). So…with the target at 995 and 50 for the multiplier, the extra $250 is kicked in making the payoff $50,000.  The other way it happens, if someone has the Super Jackpot Wildcard.  That automatically means the two go for the really big money. One episode on the web has a moment where the Super Jackpot is attempted for over $38,000 and features one of the most hilarious wrong answers in game show history.

Geoff looks back at one time the $50K was on the line

GEOFF REMEMBERS: THE FIRST CRACK AT THE BIG PAY DAY Bob Stewart was my favorite boss in the game show business. No doubt, no question…greatest game show producer around, nicest guy, and he always listened to you if you had a suggestion. He was really great. He was a little cheap…We had the $50,000 question, and it was pretty early in the show, and I asked the riddle: “I’m black & white and filled with fuzz. What am I?” And the contestant started to give an answer, and I hear these footsteps running down the iron stairs yelling, “BUZZER! BUZZER!!” It was Bob Stewart.

In the summer of 1975, Lin Bolen , then in charge of programming for NBC called for radical changes to the show.  She switched the riddles to Hollywood Squares-like questions and cheapened the payoffs.  After that Jackpot was done.  Then again she killed off Jeopardy, but the oh so enterprising Merv Griffin said let me come up with a show.  That show…Wheel of Fortune.

After Jackpot ended, Geoff was back in Hollywood hosting The New Treasure Hunt.  But then after the 1976-77 season, Chuck Barris decided to flex his sadistic muscle, according to Geoff and other sources. Barris at least according to Geoff, his “evil” plans included giving a contestant a new car…only to tell her all she won was…the windshield. After hearing that, Geoff no longer wanted to be a part of the show and quit at the end of the 1976-77 season.  Despite it being a hit, Barris couldn’t find a replacement for Geoff who had his energy, his style, so The New Treasure Hunt was cancelled.

Later in 1977, Edwards came back to New York to host Shoot for the Stars.  This Bob Stewart production had two teams of a celebrity and civilian contestant try to solve puzzles that would fit into the Jeopardy! category of In Other Words.  Like say “Waif of a pistol” would be “Son of a Gun.”  The teams picked from 24 numbers on the board worth dollar amounts from $100 to $500.  One member solved the first half, the other the second.  No penalty for a wrong guess.  There were also four stars on the board.  Running into one of those was like the Daily Double; you could bet any or all of your winnings.  According to Nedeff’s page, there were other spaces such as Double Score or even Instant Car. The first team to $1500 won the game and played a bonus game.  To start the player stops a series of flipping numbers to determine the number of correct answers, from 5 to 9, needed to win a jackpot which began at $1000 and went up $500 each time it isn’t won.  To win the clue-giver is then shown a series of two-word phrases. The clue-giver then had to describe each phrase, but only describe one word at a time. (For example, with “rabbit ears,” it wouldn’t be acceptable to give a clue like “the things on top of your TV.”  The clue-giver had to describe “rabbit” first, then “ears.”) The receiver then must guess the well-known phrase. The team can pass if they get stuck, but if they get the required number of answers, the contestant wins the pot.  Win five games, and you win a car.  The format would be revised in 1986 for Double Talk on ABC hosted by the late Henry Polic II.  The pilot for Shoot, called Shoot The Works was seen on GSN.

In 1980, Geoff was asked again by Barry and Enright to host a game show where “intuition and knowledge” could lead couples to thousands of dollars.  It was a show Geoff said he enjoyed hosting the most…Play The Percentages.  Thing is the show underwent many format changes.  Format one had two couples try to predict what percentage of the public answered questions correctly.  After both couples punched in, the answer was revealed with the couple coming closest getting the answers points.  Going over didn’t matter.  Also that couple could earn the remaining points by either answering that question or daring their opponents to answer hoping they miss.  The first couple to 300 points won the game and $300.  Anytime a couple hit the nail on the head would constitute a win. Like on any B&E show, win five games, you win a car.

The champs then played a bonus game which featured one of the then coolest game show effects where the floor from the main game rises vertically to create the game board for the bonus round. To start, the champs pick a number between 1 and100 to be their jackpot number (displayed throughout the bonus round on the lower right percent sign circle ). Geoff then asks another series of general knowledge questions with three choices. Of the three choices, one was not given by anyone in the poll (and is worth 0 as a result). Another was the most popular answer in the survey (often, but not always the right answer) and the other was just an answer getting some points (again this might also be the correct answer).

For each question Geoff asks, the couple makes a choice and the percentage for each of the three answers is revealed in the upper circle. If the couple’s chosen answer got any points at all, the points are added to the couples’ total. If the couple should pick the zero answer at any point, they lose everything in the round. After every question, the couple has the option of taking $10 per point accumulated (50 points are worth $500) and quitting, with the risk being that they get nothing if they find a zero answer next. Scoring 100 points without a zero answer turning up, wins the team $2500. BUT…if an answer chosen by the couple has a percentage value matching their jackpot number, they win the jackpot, which starts at $25,000 and builds by $1,000 a day until won.

The jackpot would go to the upfront part of the game wherein any couple hitting any answer on the nose breaks the jackpot.  It got as high as $36,000.

The tweaking of the formats began with the upfront’s jackpot dropped to $10,000 and the jackpot number in the bonus game eliminated.  The reason? Believe it or not the display that showed the couple’s target percentage during the bonus round went bust after the first week, and B&E decided it would be easier to change the rules than fix the necessary electronics.  In 1980, like today, money wasn’t worth anything.

But then, midway through the show’s one season on the air (seen here on WOR-TV Channel 9), a total overhaul of the format.  It turned into more a question and answer format where “people determine the difficulty of the questions.”  Meaning the more the people who missed the question made it worht more points.  The Couples format went to individual contestants.

Two solo contestants play a game with three categories, one chosen by each player and a third “Pot Luck” category. A category was randomly chosen to start each round; if it was one chosen by one of the contestants, that player had first crack at answering a question. Question values (chosen by the contestant) ranged from 10-90 points, representing the (rounded-off) percentage of the survey who missed the question. If “Pot Luck” was the selected category, the questions were jump-in. Two questions were played in each round. The first contestant to score 250 points wins the game and $500. If nobody won after five rounds, 50-point toss-up questions was asked until somebody attained the needed points. Later the format went to all toss-ups.

The bonus round was played more like the main game of Family Feud where the question was about how people responded when asked about a certain situation. The champ also allowed to have a partner join them in the round, but the contestant could only answer. Geoff asked one survey question and revealed six answers, the five most given and one answer not given. The top five answers were calculated to total 100%, and if the contestant and helper could pick the five answers given in the survey without finding the 0% answer, the contestant won $1,000 and a $2,500 prize package.  Anytime of course at $10 a point the team could stop and take the money.

Sometimes of course hosting a show with so many format changes could take its toll.  And for Geoff, well, in this series of clips, it can get to you.

In 1980, Edwards was also doing some fill-in work on the show Chain Reaction for Bob Stewart, hosted by the great Bill Cullen.  Eventually, he would host a new version of Chain, taped in Canada, for the USA Network.

In 1981, Treasure Hunt was brought back, but now with a cheaper prize budget, 66 boxes and a jackpot check which began at $20,000 and went up until it got to $50,000.  It was basically a recycling of The New Treasure Hunt.  Even though Chuck Barris was one of the Executive Producers, he had nothing to do with that show.  For that reason, or so we are told, Edwards said he had some more fun…and even a chance to get the giggles as in this classic blooper involving him, a cute female contestant…and an alligator hat.

However, the show was also sight of two of the biggest heartbreaks in game show history.  How would you feel knowing you turned down $46,000…OR EVEN $50,000?!

As soon as Geoff said in the second clip “we’re about to see a marriage go up in smoke”, you knew something bad was going to happen.

Eventually, a Jamaican woman named Rose by way of Canada would end up winning the $50,000.

In 1982, Geoff added a new hobby.  Everybody was playing video games such as Pac-Man, and the people at San Francisco production house JM Productions decided to that obsession into a game show.  The result…STARCADE.  The weekly show first seen on WTBS Atlanta and then in syndication had Geoff replace Mark Richards as host.  The show had two players play five video games against the clock on the set to rack up as many points as possible.  Of the five games on stage, one was a mystery game worth a bonus prize if picked.  After two rounds the player ahead played the name the game board where scenes from games are shown.  Getting three of four netted a prize, where naming all 4 netted a bonus prize.  After the third round, the player with the most points played the final round. The winner picks one of the two games remaining and has 30 seconds to meet or beat the average score of 20 players who played it for the same amount of time prior to the show. If the contestant does it, that player wins a full-size arcade cabinet game.

But, according to Nedeff, Geoff backed in to this gig. By his own will, Edwards turned himself into a video game fanatic, reading electronics magazines, studying “secret tips” for gameplay, and well just playing the games.  Geoff kept his job because he knew the material, and it was fun. As a result Geoff remained a devoted gamer.

One week in 1984, Geoff even subbed in for Monty Hall on The All New Let’s Make A Deal.

Then in 1987 Geoff was selected as host of the California Lottery’s Big Spin, the longest running lottery game show on TV.  Thing is he had to go to Sacramento to host the show.  The show, airing Saturday nights had lottery players who sent in a qualifying scratch-off ticket, spin a giant wheel with a ball in it.  The person could win cash prizes from $10,000 up to $1,000,000 or a grand prize which started at $2,000,000 and grew with each spin until it hit over $15,000,000 at one point and was won.  Geoff’s gig lasted until 1994.  Big Spin went on until 2009.

This episode was from 1989, the year Jackpot! was brought back.  Same 16 players, same riddles, but a cheaper budget with up to $25,000 possible. The Super Jackpot and Target Number had nothing to do with each other. The multiplier was gone as well.  There were like the NBC run prize riddles, double dollars riddles (self explanatory), return trips (which meant the reader and the expert could come back the next week) and the target match where answering the riddle jumps the jackpot to the target number resulting in playing for the Super Jackpot.

Sadly, this version died a quick death because of outside circumstances. The show’s syndication distributor SyndiCast , was going bankrupt rather quickly at the time “Jackpot!” began taping. The show was put on a Jack Benny-like budget.  But it wasn’t enough and Jackpot! was cancelled in March as a result of not having a company left to syndicate it. For the second time, “Jackpot!” went down for a reason outside of the quality of the show as Bob Stewart intended it.  Perhaps the 1:30 time slot in New York on WNYW Fox 5 may have played a role in it.

Geoff was also a guest on some game shows.  Most notably for Bob Stewart on The $20,000 Pyramid

And on the talk/game hybrid The Love Experts hosted by Bill Cullen

There were acting gigs in shows like Diff’rent Strokes and Petticoat Junction where he met the woman who would be his co-host on the local LA talk show Mid Morning LA, Meredith MacRae.  In this wild skit from 1982, Geoff and Meredith take on local horror movie hostess Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (ironically seen on KHJ-TV[now KCAL]).

The last thing Geoff did was write about traveling; even blogging about it on the site No Spin Travel and his own Facebook page.  Here ironically was one of the last things Geoff posted before his death.

First Jim Lange, now Geoff Edwards.  If they say things come in threes I dare not ask who’s next.  That’s one treasure hunt I wouldn’t want to go on.

Good luck and good-bye Geoff.  I also hope the percentages are in your favor now that you have returned home.

 

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