Thursday, December 12, 2013

12.12.13 Hero of the Day: Bob Barker

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Name: Bob Barker
Age: 90
Occupation: retired game show host
Last Seen: Los Angeles, CA
Awarded For: reaching a huge milestone


On this date in 1923, a stork brought plenty of joy to Mr. and Mrs. Byron Barker.

Not only were the husband and wife happy about their new addition, the world would eventually be enjoyed, too.

OK, so storks don't deliver babies, but nonetheless, Robert William Barker would eventually grow up to enjoy a nice, long life of entertaining people all around the world. Yes, we remember Bob as the long-time host of The Price is Right, but he's done a myriad of other things too.

Like many celebs, Bob had his ups and downs early in life. When he was only six, his father - an electrician - died in a freak accident when he fell from a tower. His mother, Tilly, told Bob that he was the man of the house. A few years later, Bob's mom remarried, and he had a baby half-brother, Kent. His family moved a few times from Washington to South Dakota to Missouri, where he graduated high school and attended college at Drury University.

In the 1940's, Bob enlisted in World War II where he was a fighter pilot. After his tenure, he came back to Springfield where he began his broadcast career at KTTS radio. He also married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy Jo after his service tenure.

As the 1950's grew near, Bob knew that he could be big in Hollywood, so he and Dorothy Jo moved to Los Angeles where Bob was hired to do a show at KNX called "The Bob Barker Show". The program had Bob and his crew go to stores and give out prices for certain items, like washers and dryers and other appliances.

One day, Ralph Edwards, creator and host of Truth or Consequences and This is Your Life happened to be listening to Bob's show, and loved his voice and style. He hosted both shows at the time, and wanted somebody to do Truth. So, he chose Bob. On New Years' Eve, 1956, America said hello for the very first time to a boyish-faced 33-year-old named Bob Barker.

Bob hosted Truth for 19 years, a Guinness record at the time. He also hosted a few other short-lived shows such as The Family Game for ABC in 1966 and a pilot for NBC called Simon Says in 1971.

However, in 1972, Mark Goodson - who was on a roll with re-vamps of his classics such as To Tell the Truth and What's My Line? - felt that it was time to re-tool The Price is Right. Like Barker, TPIR debuted in 1956. Its original host Bill Cullen was unable to do the new show because of his fight with polio as a child which created difficulty walking for him, so the job was offered to Barker. He accepted, and on September 4, 1972, The New Price is Right debuted on CBS with Barker at the helm.

The early days of the 1970's TPIR were a lot different than the modern verson of the show; most of the audience was made up of old housewives (its target audience), there were only two models (Janice Pennington and Antria Ford) and the show was a mere 30 minutes, therefore, no Showcase Showdown. However, TPIR proved to be a success, so it became an hour-long show in 1975.

Barker hosted Truth until 1974 when he left to focus more on TPIR. However, he and Ralph Edwards remained close - even celebrating Bob's anniversary as a game show host every year with a dinner - until his death in 2005 at age 92.

Even after its 1975 expansion, throughout the next few decades, TPIR experienced huge ratings. If they changed a thing, people complained, which was why the show kept using outdated sets and even jerky chyron over the years. True, Bob had his setbacks over the years on TPIR; the 1985 death of announcer Johnny Olsen, the battles between him and his "Barker's Beauties" that involved a few lawsuits and his rumored fallout with the late Rodd Roddy were just a few. However, the worst thing that happened to Bob during his run on TPIR might have been the death of Dorothy Jo in 1981 from lung cancer at the age of 57.

When Dorothy Jo died, Bob decided to honor her memory by becoming a vegetarian and an animal rights activist. He ordered TPIR's producers to stop giving fur coats and animal-based products as prizes. He even developed the phrase "help control the pet population; have your pets spayed or neutered!" which ended each show. He even stopped dying his hair since hair dye was being used on animals.

Bob was considering retiring from TPIR in the 1990's, but thanks to an appearance in the Adam Sandler film Happy Gilmore, he was cool again. Over the years, TPIR's fanbase grew from housewives and retirees to college students as well. Despite his popularity, Bob knew that his best years were behind him, and in 2007, he taped his last TPIR as host. Drew Carey took over, and has since done the show in his own style without copying Barker's.

But, Bob is anything but retired. He wrote a memoir, Priceless Memories in 2010 in which he returned to TPIR to showcase. He even appeared on an episode of WWE's Monday Night Raw to promote it as well.

Bob is the head of the DJ&T Foundation, named for the two important women in his life: wife Dorothy Jo and mother Tilly, both of whom loved animals. The organization helps people get low-cost or free spays and neuters for their pets. Bob has also been busy donating MILLIONS of his money to various animal-based causes.

It's without any doubt that in the long history of television, Bob Barker wasn't one of the best game show hosts in history, he was the best, period. His longevity, his sense of humor and slight cheesiness - i.e. his long-stemmed microphone - have all made him who he was. His love of animals and his late wife and mother have made him even stronger over the years. In a world where too many good people die young, Bob Barker is proof that he is a good man, and to make it to 90 is wonderful.

So here's to you, Bob. Let's see if that wheel can land on 100.

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