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Dennis James hosting Okay, Mother.
|Born||Demie James Sposa
August 24, 1917
Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||June 3, 1997
Palm Springs, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills)|
Game show host
Dennis James (August 24, 1917–June 3, 1997), born Demie James Sposa, was an American television personality, actor, and announcer. Up until 1976 he had appeared on TV more times and for a longer period than any other television star. He is credited as the host of television's first network game show, the DuMont Network's Cash and Carry (1946). James was also the first person to host a telethon (raising over $700,000,000 for United Cerebral Palsy throughout his career), the first to appear in a television commercial, first to emcee a variety show, and first to appear on video tape.
Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, James began his career in radio with WNEW (now WBBR) and moved to television in 1938, working for the soon-to-become-DuMont Television Network station WABD, which helped to found the DuMont network in 1946. (WABD is now WNYW.) James became the host of many game shows, such as the ABC version of Chance of a Lifetime (1952–53) and served as commentator for DuMont's wrestling and boxing shows, such as Boxing From Jamaica Arena (1948–49) and other DuMont boxing and wresting shows such as Amateur Boxing Fight Club (1949–50). He hosted the DuMont daytime variety show Okay, Mother (1948–51) with Julia Meade.
James often addressed the TV audience as "Mother", a practice he had begun when discussing the finer points of wrestling during his sports broadcasts. He feared the men in the audience would be insulted by the implication that they didn't already know the rules (even if they didn't), but would accept that James was merely explaining things for the benefit of women viewers.
Game show career
Known as the "Dean of Game Show Hosts", James started his game show hosting career by hosting the first network game show, Cash and Carry on the Dumont network from 1946 to 1947. During the 1953–54 season, James was the announcer of the quiz program Judge for Yourself, which aired on NBC, with Fred Allen as the emcee.
In 1956, he and Bert Parks hosted the ABC musical game show Stop the Music. In 1956, James emceed the short-lived High Finance on CBS in which contestants answer current events questions to build up a jackpot for prizes.
James later hosted the NBC daytime revival of Name That Tune (1974–75) and his last game show, the weekly syndicated nighttime version of The (New) Price Is Right (1972–77). James and producer Mark Goodson co-hosted a promotional film, selling stations on the 1972 revival of Price, which was originally hosted by James' fellow TV pioneer Bill Cullen.
James also appeared with Bill Leyden in the 1962–64 NBC quiz program Your First Impression. James' game show hosting duties spanned the better part of four decades, presiding over shows such as The Name's the Same, Haggis Baggis, People Will Talk, PDQ, and the talent shows Chance of a Lifetime and Your All-American College Show. James was also the official commercial presenter of the one-episode flop You're in the Picture, and appeared on the subsequent "apology" episode as well.
James was a regular substitute host for Monty Hall on Let's Make a Deal during the late 1960s and early 1970s, and it was during this time that he caught the attention of Mark Goodson, who at the time was putting together The New Price Is Right for syndication; the new format would incorporate the original format from 1956–1965 with elements from Deal. James was Goodson's first choice to host both that version and a daytime version commissioned by CBS, but the network insisted on Truth or Consequences host Bob Barker for the daytime show. Barker took the daytime show, which he hosted until 2007, while James hosted the nighttime version which aired in the "access period". James hosted the nighttime Price from 1972–77, and also filled in for Barker during four daytime episodes that were taped on December 2, 1974 and aired from December 24 to 27 of that year, becoming the only substitute host in the CBS version's history. (There have been two cases of substitutes since 2014, but in each case, they were part of an April Fool's Day storyline between Price and other CBS programming.)
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Outside of sports and game shows, James was also a popular commercial spokesman for products including Old Gold cigarettes, Kellogg's cereals and, through his own production company, many local and regional companies and businesses. For nearly 30 years, James was the spokesman for Physicians Mutual Insurance Company until his death in 1997. His expression "Okay? Okay!" became a trademark in many of James' commercials. Race car legend Andy Granatelli bought Tuneup Masters in 1976 for $300,000 and hired close friend Dennis James to serve as the original commercial spokesperson. The venture grew exponentially and Granatelli sold Tuneup Masters ten years later for more than $60 million dollars.
James hosted the first telethon using the then-new television medium to raise money for charity. James was the emcee of the United Cerebral Palsy Associations' telethons. UCP was founded in 1949 by Leonard and Isabel Goldenson and Jack and Ethel Hausman. (Leonard was the American Broadcasting Company's guiding spirit from the 1950s to the 1980s). James hosted the charity's primary telethon (in New York City on WOR-TV (now WWOR-TV) for 47 years, aided by Jane Pickens, Paul Anka, Florence Henderson, and other performers. He also hosted telethons in major cities all over the United States on a monthly basis from 1950 until 1979. When the telethon went national in 1979 with John Ritter as M.C. in Los Angeles, UCP enlisted James as a national presenter, in addition to James' duties as the anchor of the New York City version, which was also seen on cable all over the US via WOR-TV.
James bought a home in Palm Springs, California in 1980. He was then called on to host dozens of charity events a year in the Palm Springs area, including events for Childhelp International, the Frank Sinatra Golf Classic, and the Bob Hope Desert Classic. In 1996, a Golden Palm Star on the Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.
For his contribution to the television industry, Dennis James has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6753 Hollywood Blvd.
United Cerebral Palsy's office in the Inland Empire is known as the Dennis James Center, and James in 1996 began organising a golf fund-raiser near his home. His widow and children continue with the tournament to this day, which is named in his honor.
James is survived by his wife "Micki", the former Marjorie Crawford of New Castle, Pennsylvania, and his sons Dennis James Jr., an international law attorney, Brad James, a communications industry executive, and Randy James, a talent manager.
- The Joy Of Trivia, author: Bernie Smith, pages 197-198
- Thomas, Robert McG., Jr. (1997-06-06). "Dennis James, 79, TV Game Show Host and Announcer, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved May 16, 2010.
- Dennis James
- Judge for Yourself in Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, A Complete Directory to Prime Time Cable and Network TV Shows , 1946 - Present, p. 622. New York: Random House Publishing, 2003. Retrieved June 11, 2011.
- "Stop the Music", Alex McNeil, Total Television: The Comprehensive Guide to Programming from 1948 to the Present, 4th ed., New York: Penguin Books, 1996, p. 792
- Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated
- Dennis James at Find a Grave
|Host of The Price Is Right