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Whatever Works / Bob Eubanks

A Talent at Having Fun With the Newly Wed

July 12, 1999|ELENA NELSON HOWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Perennial television game show host Bob Eubanks has been on the air pretty consistently since the mid-'60s. But it's not from "Card Sharks" or "Trivia Trap" or even "Family Secrets" that most viewers know his name. It is, of course, "The Newlywed Game" that's made him a television icon. And why not? The show that gets new couples to embarrass themselves and turn on each other (all in fun, naturally) has been on the air in one form or another for three decades, including the current incarnation shown daily on KCAL-TV.

Question: Tell us about your early career in the 1960s and '70s. You seemed to have quite an interest in music.

Answer: I was a disc jockey on the No. 1 (Los Angeles) rock station, KRLA. I was there for seven years, which led me into the concert business. In the '60s, I produced the concerts of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Cream, Bob Dylan, the Supremes, the Who, the Beach Boys. I also launched a string of nightclubs for young adults called the Cinnamon Cinder, showcasing such artists as Stevie Wonder and Ike and Tina Turner.

In the '70s, I produced concerts for Merle Haggard, George Jones, Tammy Wynette and Marty Robbins. And I managed the careers of Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell and the Lennon Sisters.

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Q: What was working at a radio station in those days like? I imagine a lot looser than it is today.

A: KRLA was one of only two rock 'n' roll stations in Southern California at the time. We owned the market and had more fun than you can imagine. I worked with Casey Kasem, Wink Martindale, Charlie O'Donnell. . . . Our station had ratings in the low 20s. I can remember getting lectured to for having only a 15 rating in the morning. If you had that now, you'd throw a party.

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Q: You promoted the Beatles concerts here. Did you meet the Fab Four?

A: Yes, I found them very bright. They were like a choreographed act--they played off each other so well. McCartney and Harrison were very friendly to me the first year. Just McCartney the next year. By the third year, their last actual concert, there was a huge amount of stress among them. They seemed tired of their music, tired of the road. And they were not making much money. I paid them $120,000, and they had to provide the opening acts, charter flights and some security. I'd be surprised if they made $4,000.

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Q: Were these jobs in the music industry concurrent with hosting "The Newlywed Game"? The two tracks seem very divergent.

A: The TV show is only shot 35 days per year, so I had the time to be active in other businesses.

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Q: In your experience with young couples over the years, what kinds of changes have you noticed?

A: During my first season in 1966, brides would blush over questions about "making whoopee." I didn't think references to making love were appropriate for television at the time. By the mid-'70s and '80s, the shyness of the wives gave way to outspokenness. As women grew stronger in the workplace and demanded equal partnerships with their husbands, the men typically reacted in one of two ways. They either welcomed the relationship, or their testosterone rose to new macho levels, creating some of the biggest babies ever seen on TV. These were the ones I had the most fun with on the show. Now, I've noticed couples seem to be more loving and seem to have developed a greater bond of trust. And now, husbands as well as wives blush if I use the term "bedroom boogie," but I think that's more out of embarrassment for me.

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Q: What's the funniest moment you can remember from the show?

A: I guess my most memorable answer was when I asked a lady what was the one thing her husband told her not to talk about. She answered that her husband and her cousin were going to kill her uncle for the insurance money. I was shocked, but even more taken aback when the husband returned and matched the answer.

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Q: How much of your banter with the contestants is ad-libbed?

A: Other than reading the questions, everything on the show is ad-libbed. Networks spend millions of dollars per half-hour for situation comedies. I go out there with four couples that have never been on TV before and deliver a half-hour of comedy for very little money. And it's genuinely funny.

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Q: What's the worst job you've ever had?

A: I worked at Lockheed Aircraft for three days. On the third day, a guy dropped dead from a heart attack right in front of me. I picked up my toolbox and headed for show business and never looked back. My next job was as a doorman at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Later this year I will get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and I want my star to be in front of the Egyptian. It's a great feeling to know that I used to open limo doors for big stars and now I'll have my own star at that very same location.

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Q: If you couldn't do what you do now, what would your fantasy job be?

A: I love to rope, and I love horses. I would raise cattle, rope and sit around the coffee shop telling stories with other cowboys. I'm a cowboy at heart.

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Q: What do you love about working on the game show?

A: The greatest joy is knowing that the four couples will talk about the show for the rest of their lives--it means so much to them. I also feel very creative when I can deliver a funny show.

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Q: What's the hardest part of the show for you?

A: There truly is no hard part. It's pure joy. I can't sing, because God didn't tune me. I can't act, so I have become a "professional rascal." If I have any talent at all, it is extracting humor from couples without them knowing it.

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Whatever Works runs every Monday. Send e-mail to socalliving@latimes.com.

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