Legendary LET'S MAKE A DEAL Host Monty Hall Dies at Age 96
Monty Hall, popular television producer and master of ceremonies who brought the word "Zonk" into the American lexicon with his venerable series Let's Make a Deal, died Saturday at the age of 96.
Born Monte Halparin in Winnepeg, Manitoba on August 25, 1921, he was told following a scalding accident and a bout with double pneumonia that he would not live to see age 30. After graduating from high school at age 14, he worked in his father's butcher shop until a benefactor stepped forward to pay for a college education. Halparin would graduate from University of Manitoba, and go on to work in radio (where he legally changed his name to Monty Hall) on a variety of programs, though he quickly became known for game shows. In Toronto, he hosted a radio game called The Auctioneer, in which he would offer to buy unusual items from audience members' pockets and purses. He also created Who Am I?, in which he would read a series of cryptic poems leading to the identity of a famous person. Who Am I? lasted for ten years.
Hall would move to the United States in 1955, serving as a communicator for NBC Radio's Monitor, host of NBC-TV's Cowboy Theater, and host of CBS-TV's Video Village. Behind the scenes, he began developing new programs. He created a nascent version of a word communication game that would become Password for CBS. Among other programs Hall produced: the game shows Split Second, Masquerade Party, It Pays to be Ignorant, and It's Anybody's Guess; the sitcom The McLean Stevenson Show; and his own series of variety specials for ABC.
While producing Your First Impression, he collaborated with writer/producer Stefan Hatos to produce a new game show that combined elements of the previous game The Auctioneer with an idea Hatos had that was inspired by the short story "The Lady or the Tiger," about a prisoner whose fate is determined by making a choice between a set of doors. Let's Make a Deal premiered on December 30, 1963 and ran continuously until September 1977, with the show airing in both daytime and nighttime during much of its run. It would return again with Hall as host in 1979, and then in 1984, and once more in 1990. The new millennium would bring a new version of the program hosted by Billy Bush for NBC, and a five-day-a-week CBS version, now in its ninth season, hosted by Wayne Brady. Though Hall was happy to pass the torch, he appeared on both versions of the program as a special guest host.
Each Let's Make a Deal program saw Hall tempting contestants with combinations of known and unknown items. For example, he might hand a contestant $400, and then present a curtain with something hidden behind it, offering to sell whatever was behind the curtain for $400. It could be a car or a dream vacation, or it could have been a donkey, a garbage can, or a dilapidated wreck salvaged from a junkyard. Such booby prizes were dubbed "Zonks" and became a trademark for the series. Let's Make a Deal was also famous for the thousands of contestants who showed up wearing Halloween costumes to play the game; a gimmick that came about accidentally, as contestants originally wore suits and dresses on the program, but eager to catch Hall's attention and get picked for the game, they began dressing more elaborately and outrageously.
Game show historian and author Adam Nedeff explains, "Monty Hall was the host but not the STAR of Let's Make a Deal. The stars were the nervous woman biting her nails while her eyes darted back and forth between the box and curtain, trying to decide which one she wanted, and the man dressed as Count Dracula handing over a thousand dollars and looking like he already regretted it. Let's Make a Deal presented emotions, and it presented people-all shapes sizes, colors, and ages. Let's Make a Deal was called 'The Marketplace of America,' because that's who was watching and that's who was playing."
Hall's own talents for tempting and haggling with players could often go unnoticed by viewers looking in on the berserk show. He often conducted himself as a straight man for contestants jumping and screaming with fright or elation as the suspenseful game played out.
When asked what exactly his talent was, Hall once said, "My talent [is] I love people, and I communicate with them."
Though Hall was known primarily for Let's Make a Deal, his calendar each year devoted significantly more time to fundraising causes. Hall's college benefactor held him to a promise that he would someday help another person in need, and Hall was so committed to that pledge that on days when Let's Make a Deal wasn't taping, he could be found at fundraiser luncheons, golf tournaments, silent auctions, and telethons raising money for numerous causes, even traveling from state to state to host telethons raising money for the local branches of larger organizations. In 1970, when a pair of plane crashes killed members of the Marshall University and Wichita State University football teams, Hall hosted a telethon to raise money for surviving family members.
In 1979, Hall told reporter Jack Severson, "If you're a member of society, you've gotta PARTICIPATE in that society. You've gotta work, you've gotta give, and if you have talent on top of that, you've gotta perform."
His philanthropic efforts were so intensive that he and his wife Marilyn admitted later that it caused stress for both of them. Marilyn Hall, a television writer/producer, penned an episode of Love American Style, starring her husband as a man who didn't spend enough time with his wife because he was constantly going to charity functions. At one point, she even asked him to consider taking six months off from charity fundraising, even though she acknowledged that he could never bring himself to do that. His charitable nature was a self-induced compulsion.
Son Richard Hall says, "He was an inspiration to us all the time. He was an amazing person who single-mindedly made himself successful and used that to affect the lives of so many others."
Daughter Joanna Gleason adds, "Dad wanted to be a pediatrician, but quotas kept him out of med school in Canada. So he used his talent and used the platform that television gave him to become a fundraiser...He helped children's charities, he helped open hospital wings, among other efforts. So he got to help children, after all."
Bob Boden, a game show producer, executive, and friend of the Hall family, says, "Monty Hall was so much more than a television personality, more than a game show host. He was an American institution for 60 years who positively influenced the lives of thousands of people who appeared on his programs and who benefitted from his generosity. He will be missed as an entertainer and humanitarian."
Hall received more than 500 awards for his charitable efforts. He served on the boards of numerous organizations. In 1975 he was elected President of Variety Clubs International and in 1981, was given the lifetime title of International Chairman. He also won the organization's International Humanitarian Award. He has been inducted into the Order of Manitoba and the Order of Canada. The childrens wings at Hahnemann Hospital, UCLA Medical Center, Mount Sinai in Toronto, and Johns Hopkins are named for him, as are streets in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Cathedral City, California. In 2005, the Game Show Congress presented him with the Ralph Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award for Career Community Service.
Hall was preceded in death by his wife of 69 years, Marilyn. He is survived by two daughters, one son, and five grandchildren. The Hall family asks that in lieu of gifts, donations be made to American Jewish World Service.
Below, watch the Lifetime Achievement video produced and narrated by his daughter, Joana Gleason, for the 2013 Daytime Emmys Awards:
In 2010, Monty Hall returned to LET'S MAKE A DEAL on CBS, hosted by Wayne Brady. Watch the appearance below: