Robert Q. Lewis
|Robert Q. Lewis|
Lewis in 1956.
April 25, 1920
New York, New York, United States
|Died||December 11, 1991
New York, New York
|Alma mater||University of Michigan|
Robert Q. Lewis (April 25, 1920 – December 11, 1991) was an American radio and television personality, game show host, and actor. Lewis added the middle initial "Q." to his name accidentally on the air in 1942, when he responded to a reference to radio comedian F. Chase Taylor's character, Colonel Lemuel Q. Stoopnagle, by saying, "and this is Robert Q. Lewis." He subsequently decided to retain the initial, telling interviewers that it stood for "Quizzical."
Lewis is perhaps best known for his game show participation, having been the first host of The Name's the Same, and regularly appearing on other Goodson-Todman panel shows. He also hosted and appeared on a multitude of television shows of the 1940s through the 1970s. His most distinguishing feature was his horn-rimmed glasses, to the point that the title card for his second Robert Q. Lewis Show featured a pair of such glasses as a logo, and they were mentioned in the title of his lecture. As a frequent guest panelist on What's My Line?, Lewis's blindfold featured a sketched pair of glasses.
Lewis made his radio debut in 1931, at age 11, on a local radio show, "Dr. Posner's Kiddie Hour". He enrolled in the University of Michigan in 1938, where he was a member of the Phi Sigma Delta fraternity. He left to enlist in the U.S. Army in 1942 and became a radio operator in the Signal Corps.
After the war, he became an announcer and disc jockey. Among those who served as writers on Lewis's radio programs were playwright Neil Simon, author and dramatist Paddy Chayevsky, and radio comedy writer Goodman Ace, who headed a CBS team of comedy writers, including Simon, that acted largely as "script doctors" for existing shows in need of fixing. Ace was frustrated over CBS's revamp of the show he assembled for Lewis, The Little Show: "I give them a good, tight, fifteen-minute comedy show," Ace told Time, "and what do they do? Expand it to half an hour and throw in an orchestra and an audience. Who the hell said a comedy show had to be half an hour, Marconi? Ida Cantor?"
Future talk-show host and producer Merv Griffin often sang on Lewis's show. Lewis began appearing on television, but he continued on radio, first for the CBS and later as a disc jockey in Los Angeles. One of his radio series, Robert Q.'s Waxworks, was devoted to old records, setting the pattern that later radio personalities like Dr. Demento would follow.
His interview-based program was heard locally on KFI, Los Angeles, in 1972.
Lewis was an early arrival on network television, presiding over more than one series at a time. The Robert Q. Lewis Show had a six-month run on CBS's Sunday night television lineup from July 16, 1950 to January 7, 1951. At the same time he also hosted CBS's TV talent-search variety program The Show Goes On from January 19, 1950 to February 16, 1952. He also had two daytime variety shows on CBS. The first, Robert Q's Matinee, was a 45-minute daily show, which lasted 14 weeks, from October 16, 1950 to January 19, 1951. The second, more successful The Robert Q. Lewis Show ran on CBS-TV from January 11, 1954 to May 25, 1956.
Lewis was often recruited to fill in for performers who were ill or otherwise unable to perform. He frequently sat in for Arthur Godfrey, who was considered his tutor. Lewis often credited Godfrey with giving him his first big breaks in show business. Jackie Gleason invited "Robert Q. Lewis and His Gang" to take over his American Scene Magazine time slot while he was away. These emergency replacements became part of Lewis's comic monologue; he'd tell of how he phoned his mother to watch him on CBS, only to hear her say, "Oh? Who's sick?"
Robert Q. became a fixture on television quiz shows in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1952, he settled into his most enduring game show role as host of ABC's The Name's the Same. In 1954, Lewis gave up the show to devote more time to his variety program; several times during his tenure, contestants appeared on the show bearing the name Robert Q. Lewis. In 1958, he hosted the short-lived original version of Make Me Laugh. In 1962, he substituted for and ultimately replaced Merv Griffin as host of Play Your Hunch. In 1964, he hosted the short-lived game show Get the Message on ABC.
Lewis was also a frequent participant on the panel show What's My Line?, making 40 appearances on the show. He first appeared as a panelist in 1951, about a year into the show's run. His most regular run on the show was alternating weeks with comedian Fred Allen following the departure of regular panelist Steve Allen, beginning in 1954 through early 1955; Fred Allen ultimately took the spot on the panel on a regular basis for approximately a year until his death. Lewis continued to make regular guest appearances on the panel right up to the show's final year in 1967. He also made one appearance as the show's "Mystery Guest" in 1955. He was also a guest panelist/player on a number of Goodson-Todman shows, including To Tell The Truth, Get The Message, Hollywood Squares, and both the original and 1970s versions of Match Game.
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Robert Q. Lewis was always an enthusiast of vintage music. He frequently revived old Tin Pan Alley tunes on his radio and TV shows, and in his very popular nightclub act. From the 1940s he sang for Columbia Records, MGM Records, and Coral Records. He scored his biggest hit in 1951 with the dialect novelty song, "Where's-a Your House?", an answer record to the Rosemary Clooney hit "Come On-a My House". In 1967, Lewis recorded I'm Just Wild About Vaudeville for Atco—this collection of circa-1930 songs has Lewis cleverly imitating different singing styles of the day.
Movies, TV, and theater
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Lewis's fondness for show-business nostalgia was well known within the industry, and in 1949 he was hired to narrate the "lighter side" segment of the feature-length March of Time documentary film The Golden Twenties. He was too busy to pursue a movie career at the time because of his hectic radio, television, and nightclub schedule.
Later in his career, Lewis acted in a few movies, notably An Affair to Remember (1957), Good Neighbor Sam (1964), Ski Party (1965), Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972), How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967) and the TV movie The Law (1974), in which he played a dinner speaker at a lawyers' convention. He also performed on a number of television series, including Room for One More, The Hathaways, Branded, The Patty Duke Show, Ichabod and Me, Slattery's People, Grindl, Bewitched, Love, American Style, and Emergency!.
During the 1960s, Lewis became a familiar face on the live-theater circuit, starring in road-company versions of Broadway hits, including Bells Are Ringing and The Odd Couple. He continued to make sporadic acting appearances until a few years before his death.
Lewis was a long-time smoker, and was frequently seen smoking cigarettes on the air in the early days of television. At that time smoking was not uncommon on panel shows. He died in 1991 at age 71 of emphysema, leaving no immediate survivors.
A collection of Robert Q. Lewis's personal papers, notes, and scripts, covering roughly the years 1940 until 1960, now resides at Thousand Oaks Library in Thousand Oaks, California. He is interred at Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.
- Collins, Glenn (1991-12-13). "Robert Q. Lewis, 71, Comedian And TV Host and Panelist, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-04.
- Les Brown (1992). "The Robert Q Lewis Show". Les Brown's Encyclopedia of Television. US: Gale Research. p. 422,. ISBN 0-8103-8871-5.
- Vincent Terrace (2004). "The Name's the Same". Encyclopedia of Television: Series, Pilots and Specials, the Index : Who's Who in Television 1937-1984. Germany: Verlag für die Deutsche Wirtschaft AG. pp. 103, 121, 154, 227, 244, 271, 291, 489. ISBN 0-918432-71-5.
- "Up From Jabberjockey". Time. 23 June 1947. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
- John Dunning (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-time Radio. US: Oxford University Press. pp. 580–581. ISBN 0-19-507678-8.
- "Aces Up". Time. 8 September 1947. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
- Rachel Shteir (2004). "The Stripper B-side". Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show. Oxford University Press. p. 311. ISBN 0-19-512750-1.
- The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, page 1232
- Merv Griffin (2003). "Always Bet on Yourself". Merv: Making the Good Life Last. David Bender, Contributor David Bender. Simon and Schuster. p. 44. ISBN 0-7432-3682-3.
- "Robert Q. Lewis". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved January 21, 2013.
- Robert Q. Lewis at the IMDB
- Robert Q. Lewis' Gravesite
- Kinescope of "The Robert Q. Lewis Show" at the Internet Archive