The Book, by co-webmaster Adam Nedeff
For many years, "Somebody should write a book about Bill Cullen" was an idea that lingered in the back of some game show fans' heads. The problem, prior to 2012, was the absence of authors who could potentially tackle the subject, and the absence of spare time among people who were qualified to write in depth about Bill.
Two wildly dissimilar events led to the writing of this book. In 2011, I got 15 minutes of fame for a segment of Conan where I briefly discussed my obsession with game shows, to Conan O'Brien's shock. During a chat with Conan (we talked for about 20 minutes one-on-one and most of it didn't air), I told him, "I'd like to write a book some day about game shows."
As I told a few people afterward, I think "I'd like to write a book someday" is the mating call of a guy with no sense of direction to his life, and now that I had said it out loud to a television performer, I felt an obligation to myself to actually see it through and write a book. I penned a four-volume set called This Day in Game Show History and ended up taking exactly one year to write it.
The second event came shortly after I completed that manuscript. The idea of writing a biography of Bill Cullen was rattling around in my brain when, on May 4, 2012, producer Bob Stewart died. As Bill's closest friend and one of Bill's most frequent employers, Bob would have been a perfect interviewee. His death made me realize that the people who knew Bill best would not be around forever themselves, and that their stories needed to be collected and assembled.
With the aid of Bill's executor of estate, Fred Wostbrock, himself a published game show historian (The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows) I began assembling information from a fascinatingly eclectic group of sources:
Matt Ottinger, the original Cullenologist on the internet and co-webmaster of this site, turned over a significant portion of his own website research, as well as newspaper clippings and plentiful audio from Bill's radio work.
Fred Wostbrock entrusted me with an audiotape of an interview he conducted in Bill's dressing room after a taping of Blockbusters in 1981. Fred also owned a collection of photos so massive that it was impossible not to feel anything but a sense of wonder at the sight of it. To give a sense of how many photos of BIll he had, this was an actual exchange we had as I was gathering photos from him for use in the book. FRED: "Here's a good shot, Bill's making a funny face while eating spaghetti." ME: "You already showed me that one." FRED: "No, that was Bill making a funny face while eating spaghetti in 1954, this one is Bill making a funny face while eating spaghetti in 1963."
Bill, in a sense, provided some unintentional help. Bill was a customer of a "clip service," a rather interesting type of business whose employees would scour newspapers and magazines seeking mentions of customers' names. Each month, Bill was mailed a package containing every significant mention of his name in print, which he proudly assembled in a series of albums. Having access to those albums was a dream.
Bill's wife Ann happily went through the rough drafts with a red pen; a source of minor frustration for her was that occasionally, a newspaper writer would throw in a harmless but wrong detail about Bill, and she wanted to make sure that none of those wrong pieces of info made it from those old newspaper articles into my book. For example, a passage about Bill making a fried bologna sandwich was deleted. Ann remembered which writer had mentioned that in a profile of Bill and made it extremely clear that Bill NEVER ate bologna.
One of Ann's most moving contributions was a passage that she wrote about a significant source of sadness in her life. I wanted to address the fact that Bill & Ann were childless. At one point in my research, I found a gossip column mentioning that Ann had miscarried a pregnancy. Fred Wostbrock and I discussed it for a bit and agreed that my book should just say "For some reason, they never had children."
The next time I saw Fred, he relayed what happened next. Ann, reading my rough draft, saw that sentence, and said, "I'm surprised Adam didn't know about my miscarriage. Earl Wilson wrote about it in his column."
Fred revealed I had found that column but wasn't sure how to address it. Ann reacted to that by pulling out some stationary and jotting down a few paragraphs in the third person about her loss. I got those paragraphs from Ann, with instructions to just write what she had written word-for-word in the book. "That way, you don't have to worry about if it will be painful for me; I'm the one who wrote it."
From there, people who crossed paths with Bill just seemed to form a line. I was thrilled and deeply moved by the enthusiasm I encountered over and over again when I explained I was writing a book about Bill. Many of the people I spoke with knew Bill at different times in his life and worked with him on different shows, but all remembered him in much the same way: an uncomplicated man who was happy doing the type of work that he had landed in, and whose world away from the studio revolved around his wife.
Among the interviewees: Allan ("Hello Muddah, Helo Faddah") Sherman's son Robert, who worked with Bill on Blockbusters; Mark Goodson's son Jonathan, who created Child's Play; Bob Stewart's son Sande; Geoff Edwards, regular panelist on The Love Experts; Mike Graham of The Price is Right; Allan Koss and Mark Maxwell-Smith of Barry & Enright Productions; and others.
BearManor Media released the book in July 2013. In September, I returned to my home state of West Virginia for a mini-book tour, promoting it with the help of friends who worked in local radio and television. A friend, Victoria Avalon, edited a highlight reel of some of Bill's funniest lines from game shows; this reel was played before a speech I gave at Vienna Public Library in Vienna, WV. And you can watch it right here!
When working on the book, I said at one point that I was afraid I'd feel sad when I was finished writing it. I was already a fan of Bill, but I'm quite serious when I say that the more I learned about him, the more I liked him.
That's why working on this website with Matt is such a pleasure for me. Bill's career was so extensive that we're still learning about him; we know things now that we didn't know when the book was written.
If you don't own a copy of Quizmaster: The Life and Times and Fun and Games of Bill Cullen, we hope your journey through The Bill Cullen Archive provokes your interest. We think of the book and the website as companions. The book contains plenty of information not found on this site, as well as vintage photos, scripts, and even recipes. You can buy directly from the publisher, BearManor Media, or Barnes and Noble. You can read a sample of the book in the Amazon link below.