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Mike Stokey, 84; Quiz Show Host Won One of the Original Emmys

September 12, 2003|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Mike Stokey, whose pioneering 1940s television show "Pantomime Quiz" brought Hollywood stars to the small screen and earned one of the six original Emmy statuettes, has died. He was 84.

Stokey died Sunday in Las Vegas following a long illness, said his daughter, Suzy Stokey.

" 'Pantomime Quiz' literally introduced Hollywood to the TV industry," Stokey told The Times in 1998, half a century after he first hosted the show. "I had star after star make their TV debut -- Marilyn Monroe, Jack Webb. People were totally fascinated. They had never seen these big, tall figures [except] in the theater, and here they were actually laughing and joking."

The program, renamed "Stump the Stars" in the 1960s, began locally on KTLA in 1948 and a year later went national on CBS. It remained in production on various networks -- NBC, Dumont, ABC -- and in syndicated form until 1970.

When the Emmy Awards were launched, nominees were limited to programs produced in Los Angeles County and carried on one of the area's four stations. Only six trophies were handed out, including one for best station -- KTLA -- and a special one for Louis McManus, who had designed the Emmy statuette.

Stokey, as host of his show, was nominated for outstanding personality, but lost out to a KTLA colleague, ventriloquist Shirley Dinsdale and her puppet Judy Splinters. But he did receive an Emmy for producing the most popular program, "Pantomime Quiz," which won out over nine other nominees.

"Being presented the Emmy gave me an honor that can never be taken away," Stokey told The Times in 1988. "I felt great, and I still do. At the time, the beautiful thing was that they said with great ceremony, 'Here is the first Emmy,' and I read [the inscription] and it said, 'Most popular television show, Mike Stokey, Pantomine Quiz' -- they misspelled the name of the show. They got red-faced and said, 'My God, give it back to us,' and I said, 'Never.' And I never did. And I never will."

At the time of the 50th anniversary of the Emmy Awards, Stokey conceded that he remembered little about the first presentation, staged at the Hollywood Athletic Club before 500 people, including Gov. Earl Warren and Mayor Fletcher Bowron but few celebrities.

"But I remember the time, because it was so great to be alive," said Stokey, who served in the Army Air Forces during World War II. "You came from the war that seemed so bleak. After years of fighting, we were victorious. We came back and went home again. Your jobs had been guaranteed, which I still think is remarkable."

Stokey began his show modestly -- with a $300 budget for each installment, which had to cover fees for his staff and eight guest stars and rental of a stage. After he won the Emmy, KTTV offered him $800 a week, and he moved.

The show's format was simple. Two teams, with four celebrities each, played charades suggested by home viewers. One team member acted out the charade, and his three teammates had to describe it within two minutes. The team identifying the charade in the shortest time won.

Among the stars who appeared with Stokey over the show's intermittent run were Carol Burnett, Stubby Kaye, Tom Poston, Sebastian Cabot, Hugh O'Brian and Paul Brinegar.

Born in Shreveport, La., Stokey graduated from Los Angeles City College and began his career as a staff announcer for NBC radio. As television developed, he worked his way into local and then network production.

Stokey was an early president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

In addition to "Pantomime Quiz," he produced the 1949 television program "The Christmas Carol" and such series as "Armchair Detective" and "Guess Stars." He also had minor acting roles in more than half a dozen motion pictures during the 1940s and '50s.

Stokey retired to Las Vegas about five years ago.

Twice divorced, he is survived by four children, Mike Stokey II and Barbara Mangano, both of Las Vegas, Suzy Stokey of Thousand Oaks and Skip Stokey of Redondo Beach; and three grandchildren.

Services will be private.

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