WHAT DID THEY DO WITH THEM?
Reprinted from TV Guide, July 5-11, 1958
Ever win an elephant, a mile of frankfurters, a 1928 Rolls Royce complete with chauffeur, or 10,000 Eskimo Pies? If so, just what in heaven’s name, Mabel, did you do with them?
Every day (and twice on Thursdays) winning panelists on NBC’s The Price is Right must decide how they can dispose of some of the fanciful gifts they get from emcee Bill Cullen.
Take that elephant. The beast was picked by Price producer Bob Stewart as a bonus to be awarded to the winner of a grand piano “so he’d have a supply of extra ivory in case any of the keys needed replacing.”
Suspecting that whoever won the piano wouldn’t really want the elephant, Stewart rented a prop pachyderm for display on the show. He planned to give the winner the cash value of an elephant (about $4,000) rather than the genuine article. Turned out, though, that the winner was a Texan. And you can never tell about Texans.
He did so want the elephant. He figured the beast was just the thing needed to spruce up his cow pasture. They do things big in Texas, you’ll recall. So Stewart is having an elephant flown in from Kenya.
It’s the occasional elephant, Stewart firmly believes, that gives The Price is Right “heart.” Otherwise, the show is as simple as window shopping. It includes a panel of four, picked from the house audience, who guess the value of the merchandise Cullen displays on the stage.
The panelist who comes closest, without going over the top, walks off with the loot, plus an occasional bonus- an elephant, for instance.
“Our wacky prizes are usually the bonus gifts,” says Stewart, who thinks up the gimmicks himself. “You couldn’t get anyone to bid on an elephant, so you have to give it away. We gave away a mile of hot dogs and a six-foot jar of mustard to a man who had won a barbecue pit. We sent him the mustard in 1200 half-pint jars and he threw a big barbecue party in his backyard and gave whatever remained to a county hospital.”
A youthful Brooklyn interne, bidding on another barbecue pit, was given a black angus steer as a bonus “just in case you run out of steak.” The stripling Hippocrates sold it to a New Jersey farmer. But most winners, says Stewart, keep their bonuses- no matter how bizarre.
After guessing the right price on a color TV set, a young schoolteacher was given a live peacock (“Use it, my dear,” Cullen advised, “as a color guide.”) And she also won a safari to Africa. She kept the peacock, and plans to embark on the safari during her summer vacation.
The prizes given away on each week on the evening edition of “Price” are worth, all told, from $15,000 to $20,000. The show’s daytime giveaways average $2,500, or $12,500 a week.
One night the panelists, speculating upon the value of a $23,000 sable coat, all went over the mark. Stuck with the coat, Stewart decided to give it away as a bonus. Two weeks later Bill Cullen announced that the sable would be presented to the bidder who came closest to the value of a ratty-looking raccoon coat picked up at a bargain basement. One contestant declared he had just bought a similar raccoon coat for $25.
“Is that your bid?” asked Cullen.“No,” said the panelist cagily. “I’ll bid $50." One round later a lady from Florida won the raccoon (and the accompanying $23,000 sable) with a bid of $5. Its value: $29.95. She kept both coats and is quite happy about it all.
A lucky price guess on a complete home soda fountain won a Denver, Col., housewife a bonus of 20 stalks of bananas “so you can make banana splits.”
Added Cullen: “In case you overdo the eating, here’s another bonus gift: a home gymnasium complete with bar bells.” The winner went home, made three banana splits- and, gagging perceptibly, gave the rest of the bananas to a fruit stand. She kept the soda fountain.
To enhance her prize of a pair of matched Afghan hounds, a contestant was awarded equipment for walking her dogs: 50 pairs of shoes, 250 stockings- and a portable fire hydrant.She took off with the shoes and nylon stockings but she left the hydrant.
Another contestant on Price won a portable beach house- and for a bonus, was given bathing suits for the entire family. The family got them all right, but they were circa 1900- a bonus, incidentally, they as yet have been unable to unload.
Then there was the lady from Dallas who won a swimming pool. Her bonus was a wishing well, entitling her, said Cullen, to “one wish.”
“A car with four doors!” the lady announced.
The next week Cullen gallantly produced four doors salvaged from a junkyard then coyly came up with the car. The latter the contestant took home, the four doors she happily returned to the junkyard.
For bright-eyed, eager-beaver Bill Cullen, one of the hardest-working, highest-paid entertainers on television, The Price is Right is right. “It’s a great show and I’m lucky to be on it,” he says frankly. “I’m one of the luckiest guys I’ve ever known. You can put it this way: I don’t say I’ve got great talent. I always am the first to say I’ve had great luck.”
Cullen’s luck began 15 years ago when he came to New York from Pittsburgh, got a radio job at CBS. In 1952 he switched to TV as a panelist on I’ve Got a Secret. Since then he has mastered everything from Place the Face to Name That Tune.
Since Bill became emcee of “Price” in November, 1956, he has given away such tidbits as: a five-piece band, 12 jars of caviar and 12 quarts of champagne (all to a lady from Long Island who threw a whale of a party): 100 shares of Union Pacific stock (plus a safe to keep the stock in and a chihuahua to “guard” the safe); an island in the Pacific; a mink-covered couch (plus two live mink so the winner could “raise covering for the rest of your furniture”); a 16-foot Ferris Wheel (to a father of three from Hattiesburg, Miss.); a chauffeur-driven 1928 Rolls-Royce (as a bonus to a lady who had just guessed the price of a sports car), and 100 pounds of Swiss cheese (so that the panelist who had just won a snack bar could make himself a sandwich).
The gentleman who won the cheese gave his prize to a local hospital. The panelists who won the railroad stock, the Pacific Island, the mink couch, and the Rolls-Royce kept their prizes. And the three children of the man who won the Ferris Wheel set it up in their backyard. They think their father is the greatest daddy of them all.
Of all the gifts that he has bestowed, quizzer Cullen’s personal favorite is an elaborate array of bonuses given to Paul Jones, a 25-year-old furniture salesman from Simpsonville, SC, who guessed correctly the value of a color television set.
”Now that you’ve won this set, we want you to know what goes on behind the scenes of television,” Cullen told him blandly. “So your bonus is a job as actor in an episode of Jefferson Drum.”
Jones, now happily en route to Hollywood will begin his career as an actor (he will go to work in the series sometime after Monday, July 7, when the series is scheduled to go back into production) won another prize: 10,000 Eskimo Pies, complete with an ice cream vendor’s tricycle, awaiting him in the company’s freezers.
“Just in case your option isn’t picked up in Hollywood, “Cullen explained, “we want you to set up an alternate business.”