Tuesday 5 June 2012

Richard Dawson

I lied. I know I said that June was going to be “Fictional Richard Month,” but that was before Richard Dawson died on Saturday, June 2. Because my dad enjoyed watching re-runs of the 1970s version of Match Game on the Game Show Network, I intended to do a post about Dawson (who sat in the center position in the first row). Since he has passed on to the great game show in the sky, there’s no time like the present to extol his Match Game prowess.

But first, some shocking news: Richard Dawson was not born Richard Dawson! His birth name was Colin Lionel Emm; he eventually took Richard Dawson as his stage name and later legally changed it.

Richard was born in November 1932 in Hampshire England; his father was American and his mother was English. At age 14 he ran away to join the Merchant Marine (that sounds so Victorian); after his discharge, he took up acting and the stage name Richard Dawson.

Dawson’s first big success was as Corporal Peter Newkirk on Hogan’s Heroes. I must admit that I have never seen this show, but I have heard of it, so I know it was pretty popular in its time. After that, Dawson did a stint on The New Dick van Dyke Show before finding his niche – game shows. Richard was regular on Match Game ’73 and was well-liked by contestants and audiences. He was often chosen by contestants to participate with them in the final round, wherein the contestant and Richard’s answers had to match exactly. From the episodes I have seen, Richard was pretty funny and could be counted on not to come up with overly obscure answers. Unlike some of the celebrities, he had a knack for selecting the most common, most average answer, which was the point of the show. It made sense that so many contestants picked him for the final round – they had a good chance of winning with him.

In July 1976, Richard began hosting Family Feud. He continued to participate on Match Game until 1978, after which he focused exclusively on Family Feud. It was a good move – Family Feud had great ratings success and Richard won the 1978 Daytime Emmy for Best Game Show Host. Richard continued to host Family Feud until the show was cancelled in 1985. During his time on the show, he kissed all of the female contestants for good luck, which was apparently something he picked up from his mother (although presumably she was kissing him and not random females). According to Wikipedia, Richard’s trademark kissing “was one of the things that made the show appear to be a warm and friendly program, and he soon garnered the nickname The Kissing Bandit.” Nickname aside, I find this hilarious proof that the late 1970s and 1980s were a simpler time. If a game-show host today was kissing all of his female contestants, I think people would find that sketchy, not “warm and friendly.” But, hey, maybe Richard could get away with it because he was European (he became a naturalized US citizen in 1984).

Richard appeared as a parody of game-show hosts in the film The Running Man, a decent performance in an otherwise pretty-shitty movie (to paraphrase Roger Ebert). He also hosted the revived Family Feud from 1994 to 1995; he was asked to appear in the first episode of the current iteration, but he declined. He was well and truly retired.

During his hosting stint in the ‘90s, Richard did not kiss the female contestants because he had promised his wife and daughter that he wouldn’t. He was able to get away with all that kissing in the 1970s because he was divorced. Richard was married for a time in the 1960s and had two sons with his first wife. After they divorced he gained custody of the boys and didn’t remarry until 1991. When he did remarry it was to a woman he had met in 1981 when she was a contestant on Family Feud (which is a little bit weird, as she was probably pretty young in 1981 – but maybe not!).

Richard died at age 79 on 2 June 2012 in Los Angeles. He had esophageal cancer. He left behind a widow, two sons, one daughter, and five grandchildren.

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