Chronological (more or less) by Bill's participation as host:
Winner Take All
Entire series run:
June 3, 1946 to February 1, 1952 (Various times)
Bill's episodes as host:
September 9, 1946 to February 1949
May 29, 1950-September 15, 1950
January 8, 1951 to February 1, 1952
Two contestants, a champion and a challenger competed against each other. Bill read a series of questions and the contestants rang in to answer. The first player to give three correct answers won the game, a prize, and the right to meet a new opponent. A simple format, but one which innovated a few concepts that became standard in game shows; it was the first show where contestants pressed buttons to answer, and the first with returning champions.
Contrary to several sources, Bill was not the first host of this series. It was, however, the first series he hosted. Ward Wilson was the original host, and Bill was the show's announcer. When Wilson had to step down a few months into the show's run, Bill was made a temporary master of ceremonies. He did so well the job was made permanent, and he was on his way to a career of hosting games.
It was a daytime program throughout the six years listed here; in the summer of 1948, a Sunday night version was added. Figuring out how long Bill hosted the show has been a tough nut to crack for us, but as we've gained access to more vintage newspapers we've been able to figure out this much: At some point in February 1949--we suspect February 21 but we can't be positive--Bud Collyer replaced Bill as host of the radio version. One newspaper article says it's due to Bill's "other afternoon commitments." Collyer was already hosting the concurrent CBS prime time TV version.
In December 1949, the radio version ended as the TV version continued. On May 29, 1950, the five-day-a-week radio version returned as a summer replacement, and Bill returned with it. This version lasted until, apparently, September 15, 1950. Winner Take All and Bill returned for one more run starting on January 8, 1951, and held on for more than a year before finally airing its last radio broadcast on February 1, 1952. By the end of that month, Bill and Winner Take All would resurface on NBC television.
In April 1947, Bill took a two-week vacation to Bermuda. John Reed King, Bill's compatriot from Give and Take, was signed to guest-host Winner Take All in Bill's absence. But King fell ill shortly before the gig was supposed to begin, so series co-creator Mark Goodson stepped in front of the microphone for a rare turn at hosting his own show. As long as we're mentioning the show's co-creators, that's Bill Todman standing next to our Bill in this photo of the low-frills radio show.
As part of an odd promotion, the motion picture Life with Father premiered at the Maine State Fair in Skowhegan. CBS staged a number of their radio shows on August 14, 1948 at the State Fair as a tie-in to the film. Winner Take All starring Bill was one of the shows that went on the road for this special day. The contestants on this broadcast were Life with Father stars William Powell & Irene Dunne, playwrights Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse, Maine Governor Horace Hildreth, and New Hampshire Governor Charles Dale.
During a three-week stretch in 1948, the Strand Theater in Brooklyn turned Winner Take All into a lavish stage show, with six performances daily (including the scheduled broadcast on CBS), all hosted by Bill. Each show started with a spotlight shone against a large curved mirror on stage. A live band played a rhythmic tune while the mirror swiveled back and forth, bouncing the light onto the audience. At pre-determined points in the music, the mirror would stop, and the audience member that the light was hitting at that moment would be called onstage. Six audience members were brought onstage this way at the start of the show, each getting a turn at challenging the reigning champion.
The winner of each game was given control of the swivel mirror and selected an "audience proxy" with it. Two hidden prizes were onstage, the winner chose won prize to keep and one to give to the proxy before either prize was revealed. One was a booby prize, so an audience proxy might win kitchen appliances and the contestant who actually won the game might end up with a toothbrush.
At the end of the performance, regardless of how the games turned out, everybody onstage played the "Jackpot Question," a short song containing hints to the identity of a famous person. Everyone onstage wrote a guess. Anybody who wrote the correct answer won a whopping-for-the-time $5,000 prize package. The show only used a finite rotation of Jackpot Questions and made it known that any Jackpot Questions that stumped everybody went back into the mix, potentially to turn up on a future show. People were encouraged to study the clues and come back for another performance for a crack at the jackpot. In addition to the games of Winner Take All, the stage show included audience members were treated to singing from Carol Ames (Bill's second wife) and the stand-up comedy of Cy Reeves. Some performances even included a movie afterward.
A game of Winner Take All, circa 1948.
Catch Me If You Can
May 9 to June 13, 1948 on CBS
Sundays at 9pm
On Catch Me If You Can, a "climber" answered questions to move up rungs of a ladder. A second contestant, the "challenger", could eliminate the climber by challenging his answer and providing the correct one. The challenger then became the climber, and a new challenger was introduced. Any player who reached the top rung of the ladder reached the Golden Door and the opportunity to unravel a mystery sentence for a merchandise jackpot.
When Chrysler's DeSoto became sponsor of the show, the title, time slot and rules were all changed, making Bill just about the only constant (see Hit the Jackpot).
This was Bill's second series for Goodson-Todman Productions. The title Catch Me If You Can was almost literally a last minute change. Right up to the very morning of the show's premiere date, it was advertised under the title Try 'N Stop Me.
Jack Lemmon appeared as the celebrity guest on a 1955 episode of I've Got A Secret. He revealed that back in 1948, as a struggling actor, he had been a contestant on a radio game show hosted by Bill. Although the name of the show isn't mentioned, Lemmon's description of his experiences would seem to indicate that he appeared on the short-lived series Catch Me If You Can.
Variety reviews Catch Me If You Can
Hit the Jackpot
June 29, 1948 to December 27, 1949 on CBS
Tuesdays at 9:30pm [later moved to 10pm]
Also May 28 to September 3, 1950
Sundays at 7:30pm, summer replacement for Amos 'n' Andy
This show was originally known as Catch Me If You Can, and had different rules. When Chrysler's DeSoto became sponsor of the show, they changed the title to Hit the Jackpot and changed the format. Listeners who submitted postcards were contacted at random and given a chance to guess a mystery phrase to win a valuable jackpot of prizes. Prizes included trips, furniture and a new DeSoto, and could be worth as much as $25,000, a huge payoff for early radio. Mark Goodson and Bill Todman produced the series.
Hit the Jackpot was initially cancelled in December 1949; its replacement was a much better remembered quiz show, You Bet Your Life starring Groucho Marx. Hit the Jackpot would return six months later as a summer replacement for Amos & Andy.
In the adjacent photo, Bill is standing third from right. Bill Todman is second from left. Mark Goodson is second from right. We don't know the identities of the rest of the group.
Variety reviews Hit the Jackpot
Beat the Clock
October 6, 1948-September, 1949 on CBS
Bill's episodes: c.February-September 1949
Weekdays at 4:00 pm
Despite the title, and despite the fact that this was a Goodson-Todman production, this quizzer had almost nothing to do with the TV stunt show of the same name. (Seriously, what kind of radio show would THAT have made anyway?) On this, contestants had to answer five multi-part questions quickly, before the loudly ticking ten-second clock wound down. For the first question, the contestant started with $50 and lost five dollars for every second it took to finish answering the question. Subsequent questions were worth $100 (minus $10 per used second), $150 ($15 per second), $200 ($20 per second), and $250 ($25 per second). If a contestant manages to answer all five questions without time completely running out on them, they get a chance to solve the "Time Rhyme," a bonus question that offers a larger merchandise prize.
This is very obscure, few reference books or magazine articles about Bill mention it and only one episode (from August 23, 1949) is known to exist.
The show originally premiered in October 1948 under the title Time's A Wastin', hosted by Bud Collyer. A common misconception is that this was a separate series, but it was actually the same show. Goodson-Todman made the rather ridiculous discovery that radio listeners assumed from the title Time's A Wastin' that it must be some kind of "hillbilly program," leading to the clearer title.
The earliest reference we've found to Bill hosting this show is in March 1949. We strongly suspect that he started in February, at the same time that Bud Collyer took over Winner Take All due to Bill's "other commitments." It appears that for whatever reason, either Goodson-Todman or CBS opted to swap hosts for these two daytime games.
Quick as a Flash
July 16, 1944 to December 17, 1949
Sundays (later Saturdays) on Mutual
December 12, 1949 to June 29, 1951 on ABC (Weekdays at 11:30)
This complicated early game show had a long, healthy run. Six contestants selected from the studio audience competed. The game was played in six rounds, dubbed "races" and given names associated with popular racecourses (i.e. "The Belmont") Contestants heard clues to a topic and pressed their buzzers to stop the clues and attempt to answer. (The flashing lights also associated with the buzzers were lost on the radio audience.) A wrong answer eliminated a player from that "race" and the clues continued for the remaining players.
Clues were sometimes simply read by the host (originally Ken Roberts, replaced in 1947 by Win Elliot). Sometimes, though, Ray Bloch's orchestra performed musical clues, and once in each show (during the fifth "race") a fully dramatized short mystery play provided the clues. The plays were written to be as misleading as possible. One week, as New York was going through a serious water shortage, the play was about a group of characters experiencing "a watery problem." The clues ended up being about Noah's Ark. Often, the plays featured stars of popular detective series, performing as their well-known characters.
The tiny newsmagazine Quick published a weekly news quiz called Quick as a Flash. It's unknown how much the two had in common, though the magazine quiz page did mention the date and time of the radio show. Even in the era of big money radio jackpots running into the tens of thousands of dollars, Quick as a Flash was always played for meager prizes, relying on the musical and dramatic entertainment for its popularity.
Parts of two Quick As A Flash episodes survive today. One is a ten minute excerpt from a 1948 game hosted by Ken Roberts. The other is the first fifteen minutes of one of Bill's episodes from May 23, 1951. Both feature Bret Morrison as The Shadow.
Bill also hosted the 1953 pilot for the streamlined television version of this series, but did not host the brief series that followed. His pilot episode survives today (with guest stars Boris Karloff and Wendy Barrie) but the series itself appears to be lost.
In a 1980 interview with People Magazine, CNN legend Larry King says that as a youth, he was a contestant on Quick as a Flash.
Strike It Rich
CBS 1947-50, NBC 1950-57
Bill's episodes probably circa 1951
Strike It Rich was a long-running success on radio and television. Described as a charity show masked as a quiz, it featured downtrodden contestants answering a series of questions for a cash payoff, or for a much needed prize. Even if the players failed, donations were called in on the "heartline", making sure no one went home broke.
Warren Hull is the host most closely associated with both the radio and television versions. He took over the radio show in 1948, and is the only regular host reference books list from that point on. Still, a July 4, 1951 Variety article names this program as one of Bill's credits at the time. Our best guess is that Bill filled in for a while around the time Hull was preparing to take the show to television (the TV debut was May, 1951). Hull used many guest hosts on the TV version (maybe even Bill?) so turning over the radio reins wouldn't have been out of character.
Fun For All
CBS, September 27, 1952 - December 26, 1953, Saturdays 1pm
(From March 6 to May 29, the program was ALSO heard on ABC Friday nights at 8:30pm.)
Bill and Arlene Francis were co-hosts for this game show with variety elements. What little information we've dug up from old newspaper clippings indicates that the show was a battle-of-the-sexes trivia quiz, with a team of three men vs. three women.
One article says that the teams are "ex-show gals" and "ex-show guys," which could mean several things. The same article notes that each episode has a surprise guest star; one week, it was Jimmy Stewart. The show had a similar premise to Quick as a Flash. The questions were presented in the form of comedy skits that gave hints to the identity of a famous person or place.
What's fascinating is that, while Quick as a Flash retained a repertory company to act out their skits, it appears that all of the performing on Fun for All was handled by Arlene and Bill. Together, they spoofed other radio shows, popular movies, and hit songs of the day for each round of play. This is remarkable to us. Even though Bill hosted musical game shows at other times in his career, he rarely sang in public. Further, at the height of his popularity, he as offered acting roles without auditions, and he rejected all of them and very candidly stated that he never wanted to act. So it's fascinating to us that Bill spent a year and change hosting a show calling upon two skills that he never had any desire to hone.
Each week's episode had a theme that required the players to assume identities. For example, the players might have to present themselves as Brooklyn Dodger fans, hep cats, or Republicans.
Some years later, during a segment of I've Got a Secret, Bill discussed his brief career as a comedy writer (by his own admission, a very bad one). Scripting jokes came unnaturally to Bill, and he admitted that he actually just cribbed lines from joke books and rewrote them to fit whatever scene he was working on. Fun for All was mentioned during this discussion and Bill implied that he took it upon himself to write some of the skits for this show, using the same process.
The show's announcer was Don Morrow, whose career as a master of ceremonies and announcer spanned decades, including shows like G.E. College Bowl, Camouflage, and Sale of the Century. In his autobiography, Morrow recalls that he tried to get an upstart comic named Jonathan Winters hired to do audience warm-up, but producers rejected him.
Phil Chavin, a fan in Sweden who gave us the dates above, is very eager to hear from anyone with more details about the show (as are we, of course). He was trying to confirm a memory he has that Bill and Arlene sang "Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)" on every broadcast. Based on what information we've uncovered, it seems likely that he's remembering correctly.
Bill's frequent collaborations with Arlene Francis--Fun For All, It Happens Every Day, and Who's There?--was likely due to the fact that they shared an agent, Martin Goodman. Goodman produced this series, according to Don Morrow.
Walk A Mile
As a summer replacement for The Bob Hawk Show (CBS Mondays at 10pm):
June 2-August 1952, July-September 1953
As a separate NBC series (Wednesday nights, 8:30 pm):
October 1952-June 1953, October 7, 1953-June 1954, Fall 1954-Early 1955
[The series was not heard at all in the summer of 1954.]
Bill's first episode: April 8, 1953
Walk A Mile began life as a summer replacement for The Bob Hawk Show, another quizzer also sponsored by Camel Cigarettes. Hawk's show dated all the way back to 1942, when it was called Thanks to the Yanks and rewarded servicemen. In 1945, the show was renamed for its popular host, and that's when it instituted its popular "Lemac" game. A contestant would be asked five questions in a category, and each answer would begin with one of the letters L-E-M-A-C. ("Camel" backwards, of course.) Anyone who answered all five correctly would be crowned a Lemac, and all Lemacs returned at the end of the show to attempt a difficult five-part final question for a jackpot prize.
The simpler format of Walk A Mile took advantage of the sponsor's famous advertising slogan, "I'd walk a mile for a Camel." Each contestant was asked four questions, every question representing a quarter-mile advance. If the contestant answered all four questions correctly, he "walked" the full mile and won $250. A jackpot question at the end paid $500, and the money in the jackpot carried over to the following week if the question went unanswered.
The unusual scheduling of Walk A Mile had it bouncing between the CBS and NBC networks, and over its two and a half year run it had three hosts. Win Elliot hosted the first summer season in 1952. When the show resurfaced on NBC that fall, John Henry Faulk was the host. Bill replaced Faulk on April 8, 1953 and stayed with the show until the end of its run. During its summer run on CBS in 1953, some sources even referred to the series as The Bill Cullen Show. Bob Hawk did not return in the fall of 1953, but Walk A Mile moved back to NBC anyway, where it stayed for another year or so.
No complete episodes of Walk A Mile are known to exist, and only one episode of The Bob Hawk Show survives. However, from Bill's personal archive, we have a recording of what appears to be outtakes from the personal interviews that made up the majority of the show. (Like a lot of comedy game shows of the time, Bill's program was recorded in advance and edited down to a half-hour show.) This recording does not include any gameplay, but does feature the show's opening.
While hosting Password Plus for an ailing Allen Ludden in 1980, Bill makes a reference to hosting Walk a Mile early in his career. Camel had just appeared as the solution to one of the Password Puzzles and Bill nostalgically remembered hosting this early quizzer.
Variety reviews Walk A Mile
Stop The Music
March 21, 1948 to August 10, 1952
Sundays on ABC
August 10, 1954 to Feb 15, 1955
Tuesdays on CBS
The original version of this series, hosted by Bert Parks, was a huge hit built around a simple idea. As the orchestra played, phone calls were placed at random to anyone in the country. Listeners who answered their phones and named the familiar song being played won a small prize and the chance to identify a more difficult tune for an ever-increasing jackpot that could reach $30,000. Bill's 1954 revival was similar, but with smaller payouts.
Vocalists Jill Corey and Jack Haskell provided the music for Bill's version, along with Ray Bloch and his Orchestra. Guest performers included Richard Hayman, The Mills Brothers and even Irving Berlin, who made a surprise appearance in one episode and actually performed. Legendary CBS announcer Bern Bennett was the show's voice and the man who actually shouted "Stop the Music!" when a lucky audience member was contacted.
Happy Felton replaced Bill at some point in the series' brief revival. (Bill was featured at least through October 19, and perhaps much later.) The series was originally an hour long, but eventually expanded to the odd length of 75 minutes. At least five episodes of Bill's series survive today, even more than the better-known Bert Parks original.
Everything has a way of coming back to Bill. On the original series, hosted by Bert Parks, the orchestra was led by Harry Salter. Salter went on to create the most famous musical game show of all time, Name That Tune, which was briefly hosted by Bill.
Bill was profiled in the June 27, 1954 edition of The New York Times. On the same page as his article was a brief note announcing a plan to revive Stop The Music. The blurb said that negotiations were under way to bring Bert Parks back to host. Those negotiations must have failed, because Bill ended up hosting the revival.
Second Chance was an early quiz program hosted by veteran game show announcer Johnny Olson. The Library of Congress lists among their holdings one 15-minute episode of this quiz show hosted by Bill, heard on NBC at 11:45am on Friday, January 7, 1955. We have fifteen episodes of the series, some from before and some from after that date, all of them hosted by Olson. This would indicate that the one episode the Library of Congress holds is one in which Bill substituted for Olson. Another possibility is that the Library of Congress info is wrong.