Don Pardo, who died in August 2014, walked almost by accident into his network broadcasting career. He’d been working as a staff announcer for NBC’s Providence (Rhode Island) affiliate in 1944 when he and friend Hal Simms were invited to tour the NBC studios in New York.
The tour was arranged by the network’s supervisor of announcers, Patrick J. Kelly. Pardo was impressed enough that he made a point of seeking Kelly out to thank him personally for the tour. Impressed by Pardo’s stentorian voice, Kelly offered Pardo a network job right then and there. Pardo went to work with the full network 15 June 1944, assigned to the nighttime staff and working until the network signoff at 1 a.m.
For the next few years, Pardo’s radio announcing credits would include Dimension X, X Minus One, and Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator. In 1950, he lands the announcing gig for a new comedy that should have enjoyed a better fate.
Premiering tonight, The Magnificent Montague hooks around a Shakespearean actor fallen to times hard enough that he was compelled to take a job in radio as a children’s host and, when becoming a surprise success, go to often absurd lengths to keep his old theater friends from discovering his unlikely new livelihood.
The show appears to be a way for star Monty Woolley to continue softening his well-established type as a snooty priss along the line of the Sheridan Whiteside character he played so brilliantly in the theatrical and film versions of The Man Who Came to Dinner. Woolley until now has been a frequent radio guest in slots usually designed to poke fun at the stereotype. In The Magnificent Montague, he gets a chance to obliterate it.
Pardo’s sonorous announcing proves a perfect shepherd to Woolley’s booming Montague. But the show will last only slightly longer than a single season. The problems prove to be two. Between head writer/director Nat Hiken’s inconsistent time at best with the kind of drawing room spoof the show could become, and the show’s scheduling opposite ABC’s Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and, later, CBS’s Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch, The Magnificent Montague doesn’t have a prayer.
Hiken, of course, would go on to better days in television, where he fashions less sophisticated but more popular spoofs of military life (You’ll Never Get Rich, a.k.a. The Phil Silvers Show) and police work. (Car 54, Where Are You?) Woolley would go on to sporadic film, television, and radio work until his health forces his retirement in 1957. (He will die of kidney and heart failure in 1963.)
Pardo’s career isn’t even close to over when The Magnificent Montague expires. Come 1956, he’ll land the first of the television announcing jobs that begin to make him as familiar a name as the hosts for whom he works, when he becomes the announcer for The Price is Right, hosted by genial and often spontaneously whacky Bill Cullen, in 1956. Cullen addresses Pardo by name frequently during each show and helps make Pardo almost as much a household word as Cullen himself becomes.
Pardo stays with The Price is Right until its 1963 move to ABC, simply because he had plenty of NBC work still to occupy himself.* It will be Pardo, in fact, from whom New York WNBC viewers first hear of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, when he breaks into a rerun telecast of Bachelor Father to deliver the first news.
Several months later, Pardo becomes the announcer for a new midday game show that reverses the question-and-answer style and offers perhaps the most intellectual television game exercise since the shows that factored in the late 1950s quiz show scandals. Hosted by friendly Art Fleming, Jeopardy! becomes a smash right out of the chute in March 1964, capturing its audience among college students, homemakers, and working men and women on their lunch breaks alike.
As did Cullen before, Fleming has the habit of thanking Pardo by name after being introduced to start a Jeopardy! game. In the show’s early days, Fleming (who’d never hosted a game show before) will announce the day’s champion’s winnings and invite Pardo to describe consolation prizes for the runners-up. (Fleming takes to announcing all the prizes himself in short enough order) In time, that short-lived early habit becomes conflated to Cullen’s early calls to Pardo to describe The Price is Right prizes for bidding into “Tell him/her what he/she wins, Don Pardo!”**
Jeopardy! will endure for eleven years, until it becomes a victim of NBC programming director Lin Bolen’s shakeup aiming toward the 18-34-year-old daytime demographic; when Jeopardy! still out-rates several competitors as well as whatever Bolen plugged into its former noontime slot, Bolen simply orders the plug pulled on the show by January 1975.*** (Fleming’s farewell has survived and remains poignant.)
For Pardo, however, the cancellation will prove another case of fortuitous timing: now that he’s free, he can be hired as a kind of old-world counterpoint to the forthcoming new-world whackiness each week on a new comedy entry to be born as NBC Saturday Night. It finishes what The Price is Right began, making Pardo an irrevocable star in his own right, since he is now seen almost as often as he is heard—and will be, for just about the rest of his life.
Baseball great Reggie Jackson will call legendary Yankee Stadium announcer Bob Sheppard “the voice of God.” There will be those moving into and out of Saturday Night Live‘s orbit who probably came to feel likewise about being announced by Don Pardo.
TUNE IN TODAY . . .
“The greatest living Shakespearean actor,” as Montague (Monty Woolley) himself has it, is broken and beaten after eight years out of work . . . because he’s reduced to performing on radio, heaven help us! Meaning he has to rise at 8 a.m. to be ready to appear daily as Uncle Goodheart, a job he has no intention of allowing his fellows at the Proscenium Club to discover.
Poor fellow. He’s never heard of orange juice, thinks corn flakes are for swine, he lives for his tart maid’s (Pert Kelton) day off, and he’s determined never to go back on the radio again (It’s like asking Arturo Toscanini to conduct “Goodnight Irene!”) thanks to a sleepless night lamenting his fall from stage grace—and with some station publicity men coming to call for some Thanksgiving activities he’s even more depressed . . . especially when he realises his show is a smash.
Poorer fellow: This show doesn’t stand a chance. But it should.
Additional cast: Jolly Gibson, John Griggs, Art Carney, Gavin Gordon, Anita Anton, Bob Hastings. Announcer: Don Pardo. Music: Jack Ward. Writer/director: Nat Hiken.
Further Channel Surfing . . .
Columbia Workshop: A Drink of Water (dramatic anthology; CBS, 1938)
The Burns & Allen Show: Expecting a Baby (comedy; CBS, 1942)
Fibber McGee & Molly: Uppy’s Nephew (comedy; NBC, 1942)
Suspense: Will You Make a Bet With Death? (mystery/thriller; CBS, 1942)
Duffy’s Tavern: A Party for Bob Graham (comedy; NBC; Armed Forces Radio Service rebroadcast, 1944)
It Pays to Be Ignorant: What Happens When You Eat Garlic? (quiz parody; CBS, 1944)
The Clock: The Actor; a.k.a. Jeanne Claire (mystery/thriller; ABC, 1946)
Quiet, Please: Three (fantasy; Mutual, 1947)
Broadway is My Beat: The Johnny Hill Murder Case (crime drama; CBS, 1950)
Dragnet: The Big Kid (crime drama; NBC, 1953)
Fibber McGee & Molly: Preparing for Duck Hunting (comedy; NBC, 1953)
Rocky Fortune: Messenger for Murder (crime drama; NBC, 1953)
Gunsmoke: Gun Shy (Western; CBS, 1957)
WORLD WAR II
“The End of the Beginning” (BBC, 1942)—Referencing his now-famous “blood, sweat, and tears” speech, Prime Minister Winston Churchill lauds a taste of victory long overdue for the British—in the Battle of Egypt (“Rommel’s Army . . . has been very largely destroyed”)—while advising that such victory is merely as the title of this speech indicates and the war yet to be fought is still only too much in progress.
Special Report: FDR Returns to Washington (NBC, 1944)—Roosevelt returns to Washington after his election to an unprecedented fourth term, suggesting it’ll be the last time he runs for the White House, and unaware that no less than Winston Churchill’s personal physician observed him closely at Yalta and has concluded the President doesn’t have long to live. The President speaks from an off-track podium set up at Union Station. Reporting: Kenneth Banghart (anchor), Holling Wright, Dick Hartnett, John Fisher.
* Don Pardo and Bill Cullen would work together once more, in 1966, when Cullen becomes the host of a new but short-enough-lived NBC game, Eye Guess.
** Arguably, Pardo’s only rival for name recognition among television announcers in the 1960s and 1970s will be Johnny Olsen, himself a former radio figure. Olsen by the mid-1960s becomes the announcer for several game shows as well as a longtime Saturday night fixture, The Jackie Gleason Show.
Perhaps ironically, in 1972 Johnny Olsen will become the announcer for the show that first makes Pardo’s name: with former Truth or Consequences host Bob Barker as the new host, Olsen will announce—and provide the immortal catch phrase, “Come on down—the resurrected, updated version of The Price is Right, until his death in 1985.
*** Lin Bolen did offer to make it up to Jeopardy! creator Merv Griffin: to placate him over the Jeopardy! assassination, Bolen offered to take any new game Griffin might create. Griffin accepted the offer . . . and thus would come Wheel of Fortune.