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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bill Cullen (1920-90)

William Lawrence Francis Cullen was born February 18, 1920, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Bill was an only child. At the age of 18 months, he contracted polio. He wore a brace on one leg until he was ten.

Bill attended South High School in Pittsburgh. A good student, he was considered somewhat of a clown. He organized pep rallies and assemblies at South High. And he was the comic relief at spelling bees. He organized fund raising projects and published his own school paper when he disagreed with the official one.

During his Junior Year of high school he was involved in a terrible automobile accident that put him in the hospital for nine months. (Most websites combine the childhood polio and the car wreck, stating that he contracted polio at the age of 18. Or they state that he was involved in a car wreck that left him with a limp.) So his school that year was provided by a private tutor in the hospital.

Even though he was nearly killed in that car wreck, Bill acquired a new hobby during his senior year of high school, midget racing (uses miniature versions of Indianapolis-style racing cars.) He was so involved in it that at one point, he dropped out of school and raced professionally. After talking with his parents, he went back to school and graduated with his class in 1938.

Between 1938 and 1943, Bill was a student at the University of Pittsburgh. He was a pre-med student, hoping to become a physician. To pay for his studies, Bill worked at his father's garage. Some of the clients at the garage were well known radio personalities. He got a chance to be in the audience of the 1500 Club on station WWSW in Pittsburgh. Eventually, he performed on the show. He worked at the station for free first, then they began paying him minimum wage. One of his jobs on that station was to help veteran sportscaster Joe Tucker give color to University of Pittsburgh football games. He had a whimsical sense of humor that was appreciated by most listeners.

In 1943, Bill earned a Bachelor of Arts in Theater Arts from the University of Pittsburgh (he didn't drop out; again some of the researchers combine their facts to make Bill's biography shorter. It should also be pointed out that pre-med is NOT a major but a group of classes future medical students take as prerequisites for medical school.) No longer interested in becoming a doctor, after working at WWSW for a couple of years, he moved on to station KDKA, the pioneer station of Pittsburgh. A 50,000 watt station, owned by Westinghouse, and affiliated with NBC, Bill's voice was now be heard by a great portion of the United States.

It was also this time that Bill married a local Pittsburgh girl. The marriage didn't even last two years.

In 1944, Bill was hired as a staff announcer for CBS in New York. He also wrote some of the copy for Easy Aces (Goodman Ace and Jane Sherwood Ace.) In getting this job Bill said with all the major announcers out because of military service (this was World War II), they had to hire him. He was also heard as an actor on some of the programs on station WOR (and, consequently, some of the Mutual network programs.) The loyal Blogger can point this out on the hour long end of the year program on WOR in 1944. Bill was one of the servicemen who was a prisoner of war in Bataan in that program.

Two years later, Bill got his big break and hosted the radio quiz show, Winner Take All. That program would be his destiny. But the show that was paying the bills at home was a 15 minute daily soap opera called This is Nora Drake. Eventually he did many of the shows on CBS, including Casey, Crime Photographer, Beat the Clock, Give and Take, Dan Dodge, Catch Me If You Can, Strike It Rich, and many others.

On February 20, 1949, Bill hosted his first television game show, Act It Out, on WNBT (now WNBC-TV) in New York City. Rather than give a narrative of all the TV game shows on which Bill appeared (he was a panelist on To Tell the Truth, though he often subbed for the regular host), here is a numbered list (these are only the game shows):
  1. Act It Out (AKA Say It with Acting) [WNBT] (1949)
  2. Meet Your Match [WOR-TV] (1949--two weeks in October)
  3. Winner Take All [NBC] (1952)
  4. Give and Take [CBS] (1952)
  5. Matinee in New York [NBC] (1952)
  6. I've Got a Secret [CBS] (1952-67)
  7. Name's the Same [ABC] (1952-53)
  8. Who's There? [CBS] (1952)
  9. Professor Yes 'n' No [Syndicated] (1953-but possibly filmed as early as 1950)
  10. Where Was I? [Dumont] (1952-53)
  11. Why? [ABC] (1952-53)
  12. Place the Face [CBS/NBC] (1954)
  13. Name that Tune [CBS] (1954-55)
  14. Bank on the Stars [NBC](1954)
  15. Place the Face [NBC] (1955)
  16. The Price is Right (daytime) [NBC/ABC] (1956-65)
  17. Down You Go [NBC] (1956)
  18. The Price is Right (evening) [NBC/ABC] (1957-64)
  19. Eye Guess [NBC] (1966-69)
  20. You're Putting Me On [NBC] (1969)
  21. To Tell the Truth [Syndicated] (1969-74-Bill was a regular panelist, who often subbed for host Garry Moore frequently)
  22. Three on a Match [NBC] (1971-74)
  23. Winning Streak [NBC] (1974)
  24. $25,000 Pyramid [Syndicated] (1974-79)
  25. Blankety Blanks [ABC] (1975)
  26. I've Got a Secret [CBS] (1976-four weeks in summer)
  27. How Do You Like Your Eggs? [QuBE-Warner Cable] (1977-two shows)
  28. Pass the Buck [CBS] (1978)
  29. The Love Experts [Syndicated] (1978-79)
  30. Chain Reaction [NBC] (1980)
  31. Blockbusters [NBC] (1980-82)
  32. Child's Play [CBS] (1982-83)
  33. Hot Potato [NBC] (1984)
  34. The Joker's Wild [Syndicated (1984-86-took over, sharing duties with Jim Peck, after the death of Jack Barry, the show's creator and original host)
The Internet Movie Database states that Bill Cullen hosted 23 game shows. Wikipedia states this number is 24. Your loyal Blogger listed all the game shows that Bill hosted (including the one in which he served as panelist and substitute host), allowing the reader to make his or her own conclusion.

In 1953, he hosted a 30 minute variety show (no guests, ever) that only lasted 13 weeks, The Bill Cullen Show. Two partial episodes are available on DVD, believe it or not! Bill hosted. Milton DeLugg's trio played the music. And Betty Brewer sang. There was no script. The sponsor was Mogen David Wine! (Remember that Bill's background was Irish Catholic!)

Inside NBC was a local news/public affairs program on WRCA (now WNBC-TV) in New York City 1955-56.

He hosted the Tonight Show a few times in 1956.

Sports Cavalcade was a documentary sports series that was syndicated in 1963.

The NFL Special was a syndicated program that aired during the 1966 football season in which Bill interviewed professional coaches and players.

NBC Sports in Action was NBC's attempt at their own version of ABC's Wide World of Sports. Bill hosted it for the first half of 1966. And then it went off the air on June 5.

Bill continued to be active in radio all during this time. He hosted a number of game shows in the 1950s including Quick as a Flash (ABC). He had a variety show called Pulse (AKA The Bill Cullen Show) on WNBC (now WFAN) from 1955 to 1961, which, unlike the TV version of the Bill Cullen Show, was immensely popular. During the 1956 football season, he was a commentator for Army Football Games (US Military Academy, West Point, NY.) From 1960 to 1975, he hosted a series called Emphasis on NBC, these were short documentaries that aired five times a weeks. He was one of the hosts on NBC Monitor (1971-72).

His last work in broadcasting was a group of radio documentary series produced by David J. Clark, which aired between 1981 and 1988. These included: People Who are Different (1981), Goose Who's Coming to Dinner (1982), Fuji Facts (1987?), and The Parents' Notebook (1985-88.)

On July 30, 1949, he married singer Carol Ames. They divorced in 1955. She was a regular cast member of Arthur Godfrey's radio program until about 1971.

Bill's third wife was model/dancer Ann Roemheld Macomber, the daughter of Heinz Roemheld, a composer of music for the movies. Bill met her in the 1950s when he would host one game show in Los Angeles (Place the Face) and fly back home to New York. They married December 24, 1955. He finally moved out to California in the late 1970s. Ann's sister, Mary Lou Roemheld, was married to another game show host, Jack Narz (1922- ) in the 1950s and 1960s until they divorced. He then married a TWA "stewardess" named Dolores ("Dodo"), who began working for the airline in the 1950s and was still working as a flight attendant when the airline was sold to American Airlines in 2001.

A lifelong smoker, Bill started getting sick in 1987. He died at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles on July 7, 1990. Bill was 70 years old.

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