Friday, September 30, 2005

My Childhood Memories Confirmed

All the hoopla over "Jeopardy!" and Ken Jennings made me compare him -- unfavorably, of course -- to my favorite long-running game-show champion when I was a kid. This was a guy on the '80s version of "Sale of the Century". This show had started in Australia and had run in several different versions in several different countries; the one I saw as a kid was on NBC and was hosted by Jim Perry, who looked like Guy Smiley come to life and would occasionally make "hip" jokes like: "We're like 'Star Trek.' Sale of the Century -- the search for Nielsen families with people meters!"

Anyway, one week in 1985 there was this guy -- a pleasantly average-looking, curly-haired guy -- who just kept answering every question right. He also mastered the show's Byzantine rules about how to buy prizes with the "money" he won in the question rounds; he bought prize after prize after prize, and by the end of the week he'd walked off with an amount, in cash and prizes, that seemed impressive even to one weaned on "The Price is Right." (A relative was once horrified to find me and my sister watching "The Price is Right" and speaking of large sums of money as though they were nothing: "Only $3,000 at Plinko?" I'd say. "That's not much." And in the context of a game show, it wasn't much, but she was understandably concerned that television was teaching us to regard thousands of dollars as a mere trifle.) Jim Perry told him he was the biggest winner ever. And I was in awe of his incredible knowledge and prize-winning savvy.

According to this, the biggest winner on the show was one "Tim Hollerin." I don't remember the guy's name, but that sounds right, and so does the time frame. So take that, Ken Jennings. You may be super smart, but did you ever get a pair of skis and a living-room set on the same day? No, sir.

I only remember two questions from that week of shows. One was (although I didn't realize this until later) an example of how NBC would work shameless plugs for its own shows into the questions:

JIM: On what show would you find a hulking bailiff named Bull Shannon?
(Tim buzzes in.)
TIM: "Night Court!"
JIM: Correct!

The other was a question about who co-starred with Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? Tim correctly answered "Bette Davis," and that was the first time I'd heard of Bette Davis. I also remember that Jim followed up the question by telling an anecdote about how Bette Davis and Joan Crawford hated each other, so thank you, Jim Perry, for my first exposure to lurid celebrity gossip.

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