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Peter Marshall Interview: Game Show Icon Talks "Hollywood Squares" and Daytime Emmys

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Peter Marshall

Singer and actor Peter Marshall was the original host of The Hollywood Squares (1966-1981) and has about 50 television, movie and Broadway credits. In the 1950s, he earned his living as part of a comedy act with Tommy Noonan, appearing in nightclubs, TV variety shows and several films. His elder sister, Joanne Dru, became a film and television actress who was known for roles in such films as Red River, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and All the King’s Men.

In 2007, Marshall was one of the first inductees into the American TV Game Show Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, and in 2013, he was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. He has won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Game Show Host four times for The Hollywood Squares. Marshall and Barbara Walters co-hosted the 1st Daytime Emmy Awards that were held on May 28, 1974, and he is scheduled to present at the 45th Annual Daytime Emmys on April 29, 2018, at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. The ceremony will be streamed live on Facebook Live, Twitter, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences website and the KNEKT.tv platform.

“It was very innovative. Nobody had ever seen nine stars together. It was a fun game. We had a lot of humor involved.”

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Peter, you and Barbara Walters co-hosted the first Daytime Emmy Awards in 1974, to commemorate excellence in daytime programming from 1973. What are your memories of that event?

Peter Marshall: Well, it was the first one, and it was live. We shot it at Rockefeller Center. I had never worked with Barbara. I had worked with her father, Lou Walters, who worked the Latin Quarter nightclub for many years. She had a sister named Jackie, and I’d met her mother, but I’d never met Barbara. Anyway, it was fun. She couldn’t have been nicer. It was early in her career, but I just had a feeling she would do well. She was on a mission, and she had this phenomenal career.

But the show was live. I said to the director, “Why don’t we rehearse the song because it’s live?” He said, “No. We can do this.” Well, we rehearsed the song just in case, and I can remember the director saying, “We’re short five minutes. Sing the song.” (laughs) I had won an Emmy for best game show host, and the thing was called “Daytime Performer of the Year.” It was down to Dinah Shore and myself. Dinah was in the audience, and I had known her since I was a kid. I knew it would go to Dinah, and then they announced my name, so I won two Emmys that year. That was about all I remember.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I believe that you and Barbara Walters were introduced at the first Daytime Emmys by game and variety show host Garry Moore.

Peter Marshall: You know, I don’t recall, but it could’ve been. Garry was the hot guy on daytime five days a week, then he had the nighttime show. By the way, he was just the nicest man you’d ever want to know. I loved him so very much. He was a great guy.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve won several Daytime Emmys to celebrate your work as a game show host. Was it special for you each time you received the honor?

Peter Marshall: Not really. I won one, and that was enough really. In fact, it got to the point where I was nominated every year, and Monty Hall had never won and neither had Tom Kennedy. All these guys were pals of mine and were terrific at what they did. So I took my name off of all of that stuff because it was embarrassing. I had the hot show. It wasn’t that I was that good. It was just a terrific show.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Were you friends with Allen Ludden of Password fame?

Peter Marshall: I was nominated the year that Allen was, and we had gone out to dinner with him and Betty (White). In fact, it was my sister Joanne (Dru) and her husband, Woody, Betty and Allen. Allen and I were going to New York because we were both nominated, and I kept saying to myself, “Please. Please. Let it be Allen this year.” He had never won anything and was just terrific. So we went back, and it was an afternoon show.

I was sitting with Allen. They said, “The winner is Allen Ludden!” Allen leapt up. I was also sitting with Arte Johnson, Jo Anne Worley and Charles Nelson Reilly. It was so much fun. We had parties that whole day and a big party that night. Allen was just thrilled, you know. Here’s a guy that had been on TV for years and years and had never won anything, and he was terrific. Anyway, we were all thrilled. That was a happy occasion.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why do you think The Hollywood Squares was so successful?

Peter Marshall: It was very innovative. Nobody had ever seen nine stars together. It was a fun game. We had a lot of humor involved. It was just different, and it was fun. I thought it was a 13-week job, to be frank with you, and it ran 16 years on daytime and eight years on nighttime. It was a wonderful experience.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is it true that you took the job as host because comedian Dan Rowan was up for it also?

Peter Marshall: Yes. That’s a true story. I wasn’t fond of Dan Rowan, and I’ll tell you why. When Dan Rowan was selling cars and Dick Martin was a bartender, I was part of a comedy act called Noonan and Marshall. We were very big. Next to Dean and Jerry, we were the hot guys, especially on the west coast. Dick and Dan wanted to be in show business, and Tommy Noonan, moreso than myself, knew them. I knew Dick very well because his dad and my mom worked at Hughes Aircraft together. Tommy and I introduced Dick and Dan. We wrote their act. We got them an agent, and we got them booked. We would work clubs and say, “Hey, there’s a great team.” That’s how it all started for Dick Martin and Dan Rowan.

Tommy really helped them get started and to become what they were. When Tommy had a brain tumor, he was at the Motion Picture Home for eight or nine months before he passed. I called everybody we knew and said, “Please go out and see him. Spend some time with him.” Dan Rowan never once went to see him ever, and that did it for me. I just said, “To heck with him.” Dick, on the other hand, was a wonderful man. He visited Tommy and helped financially. I tell you, when Dan was up for Hollywood Squares, he didn’t even tell Dick about it. By the way, Laugh-In came about two years later. So that’s the kind of guy Dan was, and I never respected that.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Dan Rowan treated Tommy Noonan badly even though the two of you started his career?

Peter Marshall: Yeah. We started his career, but it was Tommy more than me.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): On Hollywood Squares, were any of the answers scripted beforehand and given to the stars?

Peter Marshall: None of the answers. A couple of the jokes were set up. But they never knew what the straight line was, and I never knew what the joke was. So I could read a question and think, “Oh, this must be a straight line.” But I didn’t know. I had no idea.

They would say to Paul (Lynde), “Peter’s going to ask you a sports question. If you don’t know the answer, a good bluff might be, ‘Nine.’ A good joke might be, ‘About half.’” That’s all he got. I’d say, “Paul, how many men are on a hockey team?” Paul would say, “About half.” But if he didn’t know, he had a bluff. Once in a while, he would have a joke, but what he did with it was brilliant, you know.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Some of Paul Lynde’s answers were filled with sexual innuendo.

Peter Marshall: Yeah. We were probably the first to ever do those kinds of dirty little things here and there.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any trouble with censors?

Peter Marshall: Oh yes, sure. They cut out a lot of things, but a lot of things they didn’t understand, so we just did it. But I’ve been away from it for 35 or 40 years. It ended in 1981. Once I finished that, I went to something else. I’m an actor. That’s what I am. I’m not really a game show host.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did the success of Hollywood Squares open up doors for you as an actor?

Peter Marshall: It really did. I had been in show business 25 years. Before Squares, I was starring on Broadway with Julie Harris, and before that, I was starring in London with Chita Rivera. So I did a lot of things, but I couldn’t sell tickets. I worked for a lot of big stars. They sold the tickets. But with Squares, I started selling the tickets. I’d been in the business, but I really wasn’t very famous. Squares made me an entity of sorts.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you know you wanted to be an entertainer early in life?

Peter Marshall: Yes, from the age of eight. I made my first appearance singing and dancing at the Capitol Theater in Wheeling, West Virginia (laughs). Yes. That’s the only thing I ever wanted to do. So I was very lucky to be able to do it and make a living at it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your older sister, Joanne Dru, was a very talented actress.

Peter Marshall: And the most beautiful thing you ever saw.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Were you two close?

Peter Marshall: We were about as close as you can get. She passed away in my arms. I loved her so much. She was so wonderful to me, and I miss her every day. Yes. We were very close. She was a wonderful actress and the most beautiful thing you’d ever want to see. She was beautiful in film, but to see her in person was amazing.

I would walk into restaurants with my wife Laurie and sister Joanne when she was in her 70s, and people would turn around and look. I can remember Danny’s Hideaway, a restaurant in New York, and there seated was Elizabeth Taylor. I walked in with Joanne, and that’s who everyone looked at. She was just an amazing thing, and she never pretended to be beautiful. She was a wonderful human.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What has been the favorite part of your career, Peter?

Peter Marshall: Singing with the big band. That was the most wonderful thing to do, and that’s how I started. I still do it. I’m 92 years old, and for some reason, I still have my voice, and I still sing with the big bands. I shot a salute to Perry Como for PBS with Nick Clooney, George Clooney’s dad. We do a series of big band stuff. I’m sort of an authority of that era and so is Nick. Nick is wonderful. He was a big broadcaster out here. He grew up in Maysville, Kentucky, and his wonderful wife Nina is quite beautiful. He’s Rosemary’s brother and has had a wonderful life.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Would you ever want to give it up and retire?

Peter Marshall: Gosh, no. As long as I can work, I would never give it up. Where are you located, dear?

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m in Birmingham, Alabama. I’d probably have to hire a voice coach for a game show gig, don’t you think? (laughs)

Peter Marshall: (laughs) Yes. You do have a little bit of an accent. For some reason, I can imitate how the West Virginians speak. I’m a West Virginia boy, but I never had much of an accent. My grandmother helped raise me. My dad died when I was 10, and my mother took me and Joanne to New York, but I spent every summer with my grandmother. I had these wonderful women in my life. I had a great mother, grandmother and sister. My wife Laurie is just so beautiful and wonderful. But my mother never had an accent either. She’s a West Virginia girl, but my grandmother was German, and so she never had a southern accent (laughs). She was from Bavaria.

So for some reason, I never had an accent, but I can imitate it. (In southern dialect) “Everything’s going to be fine. We’re going down to the park today. It’s going to be good.” I never had the accent, but I love West Virginia, and I love West Virginians. It was lovely speaking to you, my dear.

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