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What Price Ecstasy?

On ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ the curtain is the Last Frontier

LET'S MAKE A DEAL, Monty Hall

LET'S MAKE A DEAL; Show Coverage on June 16th, 1975.

ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty

The smiling lady wore a toilet seat around her neck. Rolls of green and pink toilet paper hung on strings from her belt. Her red, raw face burst with a foolish grin. A plunger in her hand bore the sign: “I’ll Flush for a Deal.”

This is the “meat market,” officials say. Four hundred Americans, restrained by red velvet ropes, waiting in animal heat to see Let’s Make a Deal. After waiting a year for their tickets, they disembark from tour buses and car pools, wearing their homemade costumes, and as they join the uproar, this seeming Satyricon backlot, they drop any last shred of dignity. A second childhood. Composure is probably hard to come by when you’re dressed as a pepperoni pizza, Raggedy Ann, Carmen Miranda or the king of hearts. Clowns are popular. One couple came as a telephone and receiver. The ABC pages look on with expressions of official pity and contempt.

Two of the show’s writers, Berni Gould and Alan Gilbert (now producer) announce to the throng that 62 contestants will be chosen for the special Trading Floor. The people who get the goodies. The rabble explodes, the waving signs, a school of piranha imploring. Avarice unchained.

Gould and Gilbert walked among the pandemonium, pointing at prospects. The man with anchors on his biceps, wearing a red satin dress and puffball slippers, he will not do because he does not have a wife. Anyone in religious garb is also a nix.

“And we never go in for the sentimental pulls,” whispers Gilbert, a kindly looking guy, gray moustache on tan. “Like the woman who had a sign, ‘I Just Lost My Son in Vietnam.’ That’s not what this show is about. We avoid those people like the plague.”

He pointed at a dame. Yaaaaah. Her mouth silently worked a word of thanks. Those surrounding her flailed at Gilbert, lepers reaching for the Nazarene. The ushers rushed in.

“Some people would really kill for a deal,” asides writer Gould, a jovial ex-hoofer with a face like a wisecrack looking for a place to happen. Ten years he’s been doing this and he still feels like Father Christmas. He indicated the lady in the straw boater doing the vigorous pogo. An usher hustled her under the ropes and handed her the plastic card. She twisted on her heel. “Can I touch you now?” she stuck her face into Gould’s. She was denied. The usher led her off to the room where they would bounce her image onto 14 million television sets.

“The ultimate game show will be the one where somebody gets killed at the end.” – Chuck Barris, game show producer

Let’s Make a Deal was once the laughingstock of the airwaves, representing all that is loathsome in America, if not the Western Hemisphere. No more. Game shows are taken seriously now in some quarters, as the crass American art form that it is, the tailfins of our time.

For emcee Monty Hall and partner Stefan Hatos, Deal means at least ten million dollars a year to divvy up, not including their own private arcane deals. Every movie studio in town is trying to buy them up to use as a profit center. Executive producer Hatos: “We got cash flow; they got none.” He is riled, riled!, that the television networks still view their game shows as clubfooted second cousins, not fit for common courtesy … when it’s the game shows, he claims, that pay the bills for the whole damn industry, that Deal put ABC in the black for the first time in history.

General Motors once sent down a platoon of behavioral psychologists to the Hatos-Hall production offices. They spent a week snooping around, digging up contestant’s motivations.

Stefan Hatos, the short, bald, scrabbly hard nose: “They wanted to find out why a woman with three kids, making $73 a week who never had anything in her life, will get on the show and – somehow by magic she’s picked–and so finally Monty walks up to her and buys whatever she’s brought to trade for $100. And he puts it in her hand and she starts to cry. He’ll then offer this woman a choice of two envelopes–either $400 or four dollars. ‘Which do you want?’ And she goes for it and wins $400. Then he says, ‘How about one of these two, $800 or eight dollars?’ She wins again.

“Now she goes for what we call the Pig in the Poke. The next prize could be a car or it could be a do-it-yourself corn beef and cabbage, which is a couple of steers and a head of cabbage. He says, ‘Do you want this money in your hand or do you want to go for what’s behind the curtain?'”

Hatos throws up his hands. “Now, if you’re making book, you know this woman would never wager $800 in her life! Right? And we know what’s behind the curtain. But she does it and gets zonked, she’ll get what? A sequin-covered bicycle seat. Now the guys at GM wanna know why people do the things they do. They sat right where you’re sitting now and we tell ’em, ‘Fellas, our thing is show business, your thing is psychology. Who wants to be cerebral and define these things?’

“We don’t ask why they do what they do, because our show is that face in the closeup at their moment of good fortune, neutral fortune or lousy … ah, bad fortune. There’s a great deal of empathy involved in our show, I don’t care who you are. Eisenhower used to love this show. Used to write to us and say so.”

Hatos is a bright guy. He once wrote scripts for Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater. I asked him how he reconciled himself to his business. He jumped to his feet. “Easy. I reconcile it all the way to the bank.”

Game shows are as old as Adam (“You’ve got the Garden of Eden and eternal reward, how about going for what’s behind the apple?”). Some Thirties radio shows asked for a bit of intelligence (The Camel Quiz Show, Dr. IQ, Information Please, The Quiz Kids). Game shows promised ecstasy on Pot O’Gold, Take It or Leave It, Break the Bank, 20 Steps to a Million.

But lowermost is the humiliation racket, started by the granddaddy of the grovel games, Truth or Consequences. Its progeny include Dollar a Second, Beat the Clock (all splendidly satirized by Firesign Theatre’s Beat the Reaper, wherein you are injected with a fatal disease and given 15 seconds to figure it out and win the antidote).

We’ve seen the heartbreak business, like It Could Be You (“Aunt Martha who you haven’t seen in 20 years!”) and heartbreak mixed with the rising consumer ethic: Queen for a Day. The confessions of these shows–don’t forget This Is Your Life – gave way to simple personality shows. Quizzes were just a sidelight (To Tell the Truth, People Are Funny). You Bet Your Life was Groucho’s vehicle, Who Do You Trust was Johnny Carson’s.

The personality market was mowed down by the sexual innuendo of Dating Game, Newlywed Game and now Tattletales, which peddles such risque images as “boobs” and “tushies.”

The old personality show asked the viewer to identify with the man on the street. Celebrity shows have wiped these out. Out-of-work faces get their extra 15 minutes of fame on Celebrity Sweepstakes and the like. On Hollywood Squares, one of the big syndicated evening shows, celebrities get their nimble wit written out ahead of time. How painful it is to watch Paul Lynde deliver a devastatingly fast rejoinder to a question, and then fumblingly have to ask for the question again because he didn’t really get it.

The price of ecstasy continually rises. Radio’s $64 Question became TV’s $64,000 Question. Producers built national folk heroes out of big winners, greasing them with answers and teaching them how to sweat under the spotlight. “Thinking Music.” In 1958, a Dotto contestant, who was not getting any answers, squealed. A Twenty-One contestant, who did get answers but thought the producers were chiseling him, took his problem to the DA.

The week the shit hit, Twenty-One was hosted by a rising Canadian upstart, Monty Hall. He was yanked from the airwaves and regular host Jack Barry flown back to face the music. Quiz shows fell into disfavor. Monty Hall swore up and down he knew nothing of the answer fixes. (“I was incredulous because they had kept me in secrecy. There was no reason to cut me in on the action.”)

Hall was reduced to announcing wrestling matches on New York’s Channel Five and the nation turned its lonely eyes to westerns and soaps. But all levels of performance are cyclic. Another show was just then getting off the ground, called The Price Is Right, an offspring of Mark Goodson, a self-described John Foster Dulles of daytime TV. This was the consumer ethic in all its flower. A thin, underfed host, Bill Cullen, guided four contestants while they guessed a prize’s worth. The prizes were heaped on–goodies, gadgets, blenders, the gospel according to Spiegel Catalog. The winners would gnash their teeth in happiness.

It took Let’s Make a Deal, in 1964, to add the element of hysteria, gambling fever, the glimpse of paradise behind the curtain, Saturnalia, godless want … if games are nothing but a live dramatic model of a universe, this was truly America’s. It changed the shape of daytime TV. The hysteria, however, was an unexpected byproduct. Flap-mouth extroverts were at first avoided. (“For good reason,” said Hatos. “They upstaged Monty.”) One day a contestant tried to muscle into the show dressed as a clown. The producers reluctantly let him on. They let themselves in for a shoreless sea of gargoyles.

As for daytime TV now, Dealer’s Choice and Treasure Hunt are flagrant copies of Deal. The New Price Is Right is a rejuvenation marked by great bilious smears of video color (replacing Deal‘s costumes), a frothing wrestling match crowd and the underfed host, Bill Cullen, now replaced by Bob Barker, a grinning eel who has all the character of a barberpole. The show looks like it is staged in a pinball machine somewhere in Hades.

Let’s Make a Deal has also been copied on Australian TV. A sample Big Deal prize: maybe $100 worth of free dry cleaning. In Spain, the Deal imitators make a morality play out of it, adding two sideline advocates–almost a devil and a bishop–one urging the sweating contestant to “Yes do it!” while the other hisses “Don’t you dare!”

In America, the image is becoming everything. The game shows are becoming louder, flashier. Hence, the once drab Password becomes Password All Stars, decorated like a new supermarket. The visuals take over, the sets become gargantuan, unreal. On Money Maze, a man fights his way through a labyrinth as his wife screams directions from above. They are mere figures on an electronic landscape.

Deal is built upon speed. Stefan Hatos: “I told Monty I wanted him to go, totally impersonal, right through that audience like crap through a colander … to make it the fastest half-hour in television.

“The impression we try to create is that this goes on into infinity. Really. That this is a never ending bazaar, a slice of life every day on your television.”

Nancy Loughlin, a contestant who lived through it all: “It just overpowers you. When Monty touches you, you just don’t realize a thing you’re saying and he does it all so fast, you don’t have any time to think. I don’t remember a thing that happened to me.”

Monty Hall, a berserk evangelist, sometimes talking too fast for his own good … like the time he sees a lady with a baby bottle and he sidles up for a Deal and he offers her $50 if she can show him another nipple. …

The tension and the adrenalin in the air, you could almost taste it. The 62 giggling contestants sat on metal chairs in a bare room, waiting for special instructions.

Two shows are shot each working day. While the first group–the Trading Floor–goes out, the second show group watches on a monitor television set. For them an anxiety builds that is nerve-wrenching, intoxicating.

Writers Gould and Gilbert handed out the release statements, told them to be excited but not murderous. You’ll get your prizes at least 90 days after the show is aired, and please do what Monty tells you, why, there was a lady who wouldn’t sell Monty her purse because … how the hell do we know why she wouldn’t empty her purse? Maybe she had a lid in there? Hahahaha, everyone giggles and–Now Ladies, we’re not supposed to say this because the Boss would get real mad but, after you win a deal, go ahead and kiss Monty …

Two women sitting in back got their tickets from the Claremont Moose Lodge. This was Pat Long’s fifth time on the show. A chubby woman with a pink rose behind each ear, a round putty face under a basket of hair. She wore a billowing Hawaiian mumu and she held a pineapple in her hand. Her husband lost his job washing cars during the energy stink and she was getting the family through lean times by packing Del Monte catsup bottles in cardboard boxes out at Brockway Packing.

Her friend Gail Hughes was in a clown’s costume. She fretted that her clown makeup made her look like, well frankly, a whore. Her open, confiding face jumped with a smile that begged for reassurance.

All eyes in the room were fixated upon the television set suspended from the ceiling, a gray electronic tit. The first taping had begun. Monty Hall had just touched a woman and offered her the choice between a sultan’s weight in Ragu Spaghetti Sauce or … behind the curtain. The room was in havoc, shouting at the screen: “The curtain! The curtain!”

Gail and Pat agreed. “Monty’s really a fox, isn’t he? Isn’t he good looking?”

Gail breathed heavily. “I guess I want, more than anything, a Cadillac, a mint green one with the little windows in the back.” She twisted in her seat to get a better look at the guy behind her.

“What’s that you’re writing down? Are you getting ideas? I do manicures all day and you should hear the ideas I get. All day long. I hear everybody’s life story, everybody’s love life. They trust me because I’m a stranger.”

She looked at the stranger and smiled a searching smile. Pat jostled her arm and said: “If I get my hands near a color television set, I’m staying. I’m keeping it.”

Is that the goal?

“Yup. My husband told me, he said, ‘Honey, leave your brains at home tonight.'”

Up on the monitor, Monty dangled a can full of 20s at a lumberjack. All for him or … behind the curtain. The curtain! The curtain! The lumberjack looked longingly at the wad of bills and then took it.

Aaaaawwww. Faces were etched in heartbreak and betrayal. Monty triumphantly pointed to the sliding curtain, which revealed a motorboat. Booo went the room. Naked scorn. But one couple, dressed in Roman togas–”Ben-Hurting to Make a Deal”–kissed happily.

Gail spun around in her seat. “Do you think we’re all fools?”

No. Do you?

“No, I’m an individual.”

Up ahead fidgeted an elderly woman grinning like a jukebox. “This is so exciting. It’s a good thing I went potty before.”

One suddenly needed relief. Alone in the front row sat a creamy little bud, dressed scantily as an Indian maid. Her name tag read Susan. She had tiny hands, a serene smile and piercing gray eyes that promised untold emptiness. She was 25 and from Costa Mesa. We talked about lonely towns.

She said she was never lonely. “I’ve got the Lord, so I’m never lonely. Before the show today I said a little prayer to the Lord and I asked that his will be done.”

But won’t it be done anyhow?

“I suppose.” After some prodding she talked. “I wasn’t always like this. I used to be into hard drugs. Well, not shooting up, but smoking grass every day, the whole tamale.”

So what happened?

“It went on and I ended up at this party at an apartment and after all the smoking and everything, it got into a Satanism ritual. That just freaked me out and I knew right then that there was a choice between the Lord’s way or Satan’s. That was two years ago. Now I have the Lord and peace. I just do the Lord’s will and go where he says.”

I assured her she’d come to the right place. But doesn’t this show violate one or two of the seven deadly sins?

“I just do the Lord’s will and he willed me here.” She tilted her cute little punkin face. “Where did you say you were from?”

She was told the magazine. She frowned and withdrew. “Rolling Stone … aren’t they in Satan’s path?”

How so?

“You know. Cutting out. Going all the way.”

The reporter told her about the time he shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.

“I am a salable commodity.” –Monty Hall

He has an announcer’s voice. Not a luxurious baritone, but a quick, eager voice. Unfortunately for Monty Hall, there is something about his screen image that suggests the weasel and the wisenheimer.

For he is a likable man. A bright guy of liberal persuasion (he contributed to both McCarthy and McGovern), he is aware of his unsavory reputation among the high-tone critics, and oh how he regrets it. For what good is it to be a national institution with your own gold terrazzo star inlaid on Hollywood Boulevard if he must be the butt of violent satires like Let’s Make a Dope Deal, Let’s Cop a Feel.

“Monty’s a sad man,” judged an industry man. “He won’t admit to what he’s doing. If you gild over what he does, he’ll be your friend. He’ll make up a thousand platitudes and explanations so as not to face up to what he does, what he really does.”

Monty Hall rises to a quick defense. (“A good size ego is almost indispensable,” he once said. “You have to sell yourself, your personality, to the public. But first you must sell yourself to the network or the agency.” To prove it, he recently had his autobiography published.)

Perhaps he is comforted by the sign in his office, a blowup of a magazine quote: “You can learn more about America by watching one half-hour of Let’s Make a Deal than you can from watching Walter Cronkite for a month.”

Small comfort. He redeems himself with a great load of charity work – little girls with leukemia want to get a letter from Monty Hall before they die and he rushes right out to the house if he can and institutions claim that autistic children get very attentive when he is on the air and Monty will visit the center and kids’ll laugh and Monty will cry. He redeems himself on a million telethons and still the critics knife, the sidewalk rubbernecks yell and once in a while Monty will yell back and later in the car his wife Marilyn says, “You shouldn’t have done that.” He’ll say, “I couldn’t help it, I’m thin skinned.”

He came out of Winnipeg, a hockey broadcast “color man” used to the art of high-speed palaver. He monkeyed with a dozen New York shows, Video Village, Kideo Village, and in 1960 moved to Los Angeles to produce a Freudian association word game called Your First Impression. (Claimed it was later ripped off by Goodson-Todman with Password.)

He got Nixon on the show once, during the 1962 governor’s race. “He was highly, explosively nervous,” Monty reports, “and we had to lay out everything for him very carefully. He was worried about his television image, which had been criticized in his campaign against Kennedy, and he was worried he would say something he shouldn’t.”

In the show, when Nixon was presented the free-association tag line: “I wish that I,” he answered, “had become a PT boat captain.”

NBC did not want to show favoritism and voted to cancel the show. Nixon immediately got on the phone to Monty, in a stinking rage. “He complained very bitterly over what had been done, oh, he just went into a long tirade against the networks. He felt it was a personal restriction. He had done well on the show and he was stunned. He was very bitter.

“So then we got Governor Brown to come on a later show and the network said okay, run the show. “Sure, I heard from him again. He sent me an invitation to have dinner at his home and an autographed copy of Six Crises.”

It was two hours till show time and Monty looked spent, exhausted. His face was ashen and he needed a shave. An allergy rimmed his eyes in red. A six footer, a well-preserved 55, he stood with a sag.

He was safe below the pavement in his dressing room. Upstairs, the contestants were being chosen from the lines and occasionally a rumble of footsteps and a wave of screams pierced the walls of his bunker. It had the tone of a human sacrifice. He glanced at the ceiling, brow arched.

It is difficult getting a make on Monty Hall. He will talk to anybody any time about his craft and he is capable of remarkable self-detachment (“My biggest asset is my believability”), but the speech sounds processed, like mashed potatoes, as if he were the person to be convinced–

He’d rather be Eric Sevareid. He now has a series of late-night talk shows … his associates worry that he wants to play Hamlet … somebody even offered him political jobs, say, senator from Arizona … but he doesn’t want any part of that … politics is too dirty …

(His son Richard, a former reporter for Ramparts magazine: “He is a sensitive man. My father was a brilliant college student and the intelligentsia of this nation have not accepted his show with open arms, right?

(“I’ll tell you a story. He was at my graduation at Yale, where an honorary degree was given to Mister Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the children’s program. The degree was recommended by the psychology department.

(“My father resented the fact that this guy, who wasn’t a king of TV like my father is, got a degree. And that’s the kind of recognition he would like to get, an honorary degree from Yale. I told him it’s not important, they don’t have a media department. But I know he would like to get that kind of recognition. You should have seen it, he was really envious, a little put out.”)

So Monty brews a cup of instant onion soup and waits for his hour on the airwaves to charm the pants off America and he emphatically tells us: “At no time have we said somebody should give us a Pulitzer Prize for this show’s contribution to American culture. It does what it purports to do, it entertains.

“I’ve always objected when assumptions were made, when gratuitous comments were made.” He looked hurt. “One fellow wrote in the Wall Street Journal … not really a satire, but he just tore the show apart. He made statements that were obviously false.”

In pain now. “He said I was a short man, and I’m not a short man. He said I walked down wearing my doubleknit sport jacket. The facts of life are I don’t own one doubleknit in my extensive wardrobe. He said I leer at the contestants … I don’t leer, we have a wonderful rapport going. It wouldn’t work with someone who deliberately poked fun at the audience. But if you dignify them with a little warmth and say it’s all right …

“Ed Muskie watches the show all the time! Birch Bayh. I remember when he came to town, he said it was his family’s biggest treat watching the show. Scoop Jackson is another one.” He leaned forward, earnestly. “From Phil Silvers to Jimmy Durante, they love my performance because they know it’s the toughest job in television. Getting up there for 30 minutes every night and being left to your own devices … no script writers, you do it all by yourself.

“Most of my mail comes from college kids. I’ll show you the mail I get from motivational research people. I dignify every one of them. A college kid once said to me, ‘It’s all a greed syndrome.’ And I said, ‘You wait a minute. You stick around and I’ll show you all you want to know about greed and then show you how wrong you are.'”

The light of defiance came to Monty’s eye.

“That really got me going. I gave him the works. I sat him down and two hours later he said, ‘This has been the greatest afternoon of my life! I never realized I could meet a person like you and come away with such information.’

“I said, ‘What did you expect to find? Where do you think I was discovered? On a trash heap somewhere? What do you think my background is?’

“I might as well give you my definition of greed. I worked for years on it and I used to bring in all sorts of defense mechanisms and apologies. I’d bring in Webster’s and the history of labor unions and the race track …”

It still took him some time. In brief, he said when you do it, it’s risk. When the other guy does it, it’s greed.

“Remember that woman on yesterday’s show who just about lost control? When it happens to you, a catharsis takes place. It’s an ad-lib catharsis. And the beautiful thing is, whether they win or lose, the women kiss me.”

He beamed. “I have to do my 2900th show today and I want that show to be different. How do I make it different? It’s the way I play that contestant.

“Sure, it’s been tough doing this show. Tough right from the end of the first year. It’s exhausting, mentally, the running up and down the stairs, the mental exhaustion of the thinking and the figuring and ad-libbing a mile a minute, being one second ahead of what you’re doing … so when I’m through at nine o’clock tonight, I’m really washed out. If I don’t come through, it’s no show.”

What’s all this worth? In cash?

He stiffened. “We’ve got our own deals, about the same as everyone else. Our oil deals have been kaput, a television station that’s been struggling. Our land deals have been all right. Apartments, yes.”

He tried to smile. “I’ve never revealed the amount of money I make, and I’ll stick to that. I’ll just say when I was a child and my father didn’t know where the next dollar was coming from, we could have used some of the luck I’ve had today.”

He looked at his watch. He had 15 minutes left for a nap before his makeup man would drop by.

In 1964 Hatos and Hall took their unknown game show around to PTA groups, church groups, and caused all kinds of frenzy. They put on a full-blown studio trial version for the NBC executives. The officials asked: “So what do you do tomorrow night?” The same thing. “The same thing?”

NBC did not notice the galvanizing narcotic, which was the thrill of possession.

It says something for the market that this show, consistently top ranked, is little more than a running half-hour commercial. Each of the big goodies mentioned on the show means a cash kickback. (The fee varies along with how much description is rattled off.) The finer prizes are donated on a straight exchange basis, prize for rap. The cars and boats are bought at cost. On the evening show, syndicatedÈto 180 stations, the cars get pretty outlandish. Cars are the proven top dog prize. But the producers have studied the applause and wow meters and have seen that a twice-the-price Mercedes-Benz does not deliver the orgasm fetched by a more recognizable Chevrolet Caprice.

Involvement and Identification, they are the successful elements according to Saint Monty: the “vicarious thrill” of watching some chinless rube win $14,000 right in your living room, but first watching him suffer for it. … “The tension, the anticipation … is sustained by manipulation, by construction and orchestration. The acts are so constructed so as to build a climax.”

They have terrific terms for all this. When Monty applies pressure to a victim, it’s called the Turn of the Screw. And he religiously keeps this show at a superficial level and never inquires into their personal lives, because you might feel something akin to pity for them and cross … the Sentimental Threshold. When the dealers suffer the Pig in the Poke over the Zonk behind the curtain, this is the Jeopardy Factor, otherwise it would just be a lotta Pollyanna Nonsense. … they’ve got to make a decision, a Roman morality, reward and punishment, heaven and hell in their hands. …

Faced with such knowledge, the Trading Floor sat under the insanely bright TV lamps and all of them looked as if they had to go widdle. The cameras wheel to position and face them, their anxieties cresting, when a refreshed and dapper Monty Hall, wearing one of his 150 suits, bounces through the stands … Monty collars a guy … “And now I think I am going to make a deal with … [reading name tag] … Larry Dill. I hope you’re not in a pickle. We were going to do a show from a deli once and call it Let’s Make a Dill. Ah-hah-hah, Larry looking down now to curtain number three. …” … a stereo set, ahhhh, with a fine blond, Carol, stretched over it, running her fingers over the rim. …

They look at Monty as if he were the end of the rainbow. When he touches a dame, she reacts as if jolted with a combination vibrator/cattle prod.

And poor Pat Long, standing there with her pineapple and psychedelic muumuu. Monty chose three ladies, told them to stand, and gave them each an. envelope. Pat clutched hers desperately and her eyes began to water. The lady in 1890 swim costume elected to keep her envelope and she missed … the curtain moved … a trip to Pluto, somewhere. And in her envelope: $13. Her glassy smile dissolved. The second lady went for the curtain and won a refrigerator. Okay with her.

Pat Long was now openly crying. Her putty face aquiver, she looked as if she’d shred the pineapple with her bare hands. She was being orchestrated, she was tasting the Jeopardy Factor.

Monty moved to her side. The cameras rolled up. Her drizzling closeup was going out. It is at this point people usually realize they are dressed as a pepperoni pizza, that their friends will be watching, that by gum you need the money but what happens if you choose wrong? Pat just had to give her car back to the finance company last week and her husband was at home babysitting for the goddamn fifth time she’s been on this show. … She did a fast calculation, based on years of watching, and flailed a hand at the envelope. “She’s going for the envelope!” Monty cried and ripped it open and counted out $440 on her fluttering hand while she let loose a whooping saxophone solo of a cry laugh.

Frankly, the rest of the show dissolved for me into a star-infused wave of tears. The Big Deal winner was the 34-year-old woman dressed as Raggedy Ann. The story unrevealed (nix the Sympathetic Threshold) was that her husband died the week before. Some friend had the balls to hand her a ticket to the show. Thus she capped off her mourning period by winning $6000 in crapola. About that time an uncalled-for voice inside of me suggested that describing this program in terms of Avarice was probably a meaningless exercise.

The studio lights went out and we were plunged into shadows. The prizewinners were herded off to sign papers. Announcer Jay Stewart held a raffle for the remainder. Monty stood stiffly on the dark floor, pausing to talk. He trembled mildly from an adrenalin backwash. Two women rushed to his side and stared adoringly. Gail Hughes, the manicurist from Pomona, had won a set of patio furniture. Pat Long, $440 richer. Monty smiled beatifically. Gail Hughes was flustered. She dug a business card out of her purse and pushed it at him. “Why don’t you come out to Pomona for a manicure? I’ll give you one free. On the house.”

Monty recoiled. “I should go all the way out to Pomona for a manicure?”

But he was bushed. The ABC chauffeur took him home and he collapsed in front of the TV set.

Marilyn made him dinner and he watched Kojak. He just tries to become a blob, he says.

Gail and Pat, however, could not stop talking about it for the rest of the night. Gail was so excited she made herself sick. She couldn’t get to sleep for thinking over and over about Monty Hall touching her shoulder.

Pat Long drove home with all the horns honking. She and her husband decided to hell with the bills for right now, let’s go to Las Vegas. She skipped work the next morning. When she finally got to Brockway Packing, she was a big hit down on the line. The company brass sent down a photographer so they could put her picture in the Brockway Bee. They told her: “We don’t get too many celebrities down here at Brockway Packing.”

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