Art Linkletter, Eternal Optimist

Tuesday, 01 Jun 2010 10:19 AM

By James Hirsen

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We recently lost a most beloved entertainer, Art Linkletter.

With more than his share of obstacles and tragedies in life, he remained optimistic, and through the course of personal hills and valleys, he climbed to the pinnacle of success.

Linkletter hosted the Golden Age TV shows of the 1950s and ‘60s, “People Are Funny” and “House Party,” the latter of which had Linkletter’s best-known segment called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”

A pioneer of a different kind of reality show, he had the uncanny ability to elicit surprise statements from ordinary folks, especially kids. He was brilliant at what he did, making children feel relaxed enough to be themselves and say whatever it was that was on their minds. The gift he had would produce consistently hilarious spontaneous programming.

Linkletter’s wholesome programs would have few venues in our present-day culture. Branson, Mo., might welcome him, but I’m hard-pressed to think of too many others. Can you even imagine a show today with a title that used the word “darndest” in it?

The intellectual elite and many of the television critics of his day hated Linkletter and his shows. But Middle America couldn’t get enough.

“People Are Funny” was on NBC on radio and television for a combined 19 years. The show was in the Top Ten for more than a decade. “House Party” had a combined 25-year run on CBS radio and television and stayed at the top of the daytime ratings for its entire run.

Linkletter’s real-life story sounds as if someone may have made the whole thing up.

Born on July 17, 1912, in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Arthur Gordon Kelly could have been a poster child for the “Choose Life” crowd, if there were such a dilemma back then.

His unwed mom put him up for adoption when he was just a newborn. A middle-aged couple that had tragically lost two children took him in. It wasn’t until he was 12 years old that young Art, while rummaging through his father’s desk, would discover that Fulton and Mary Linkletter were not his birth parents.

Linkletter’s adoptive father was a one-legged street preacher. Neighborhood corners provided the family’s stage and pulpit. It’s where they all performed and prayed together. He would later say that the religious faith instilled by his dad had been a wonderful gift.

At 16 years of age, Linkletter became what used to be called a “hobo,” hopping freight trains across the country and working odd jobs. He eventually took employment in a bank on Wall Street, right before the 1929 crash.

San Diego would later be the place where he would start his radio broadcast career. He and quiz show producer John Guedel would come up with an audition tape of a program with a rather generic title, “People Are Funny.” The rest, as we say, is television history.

Art and his wife Lois had five children. With his own kids, though, unlike his TV alter ego, Linkletter would have to deal with a tremendous amount of heartache. In 1969 his daughter Diane leapt to her death from her sixth-floor flat. Drugs were said to be involved. In characteristic form, Art used the tragedy to become an anti-drug advocate.

Linkletter’s son, Robert, died in a car accident in 1980. Another son, Jack, died of lymphoma in 2007.

“Life is not fair . . . not easy,” he said in an interview. “But I'm an optimist. Even though I've had tragedies in my life, and I've seen a lot of difficult things, I still am an optimist.”

No doubt he still is.

James Hirsen, J.D., M.A. in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, commentator, media analyst, and law professor. He is admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court. Hirsen is the co-founder and chief legal counsel for InternationalEsq.com. Visit Newsmax TV Hollywood. 



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