Thursday, February 19, 2004


Wink Martindale Got Me Laid, Part 2

You're nineteen years old. You're in Canada, where drinking is legal at nineteen, it's your first time out of town without your parents, your huge hotel suite is free, and you're being paid a per diem. Too bad I was such a geek; that first night in Vancouver, a single beer with my pizza was as wild as I got.

I arrived on a Thursday night; the tapings would begin Friday morning. The Last Word would tape for three days at a time, five shows a day (three weeks worth in all), every three weeks. This, it turned out, was to accommodate Wink Martindale.
What can be said about Wink that hasn't already been said? He's the legend. The consummate. The name itself is synonymous with "Game Show Host." My first glimpse of Wink in person was in the green room. I didn't recognize him at first, in his street clothes, and without that famous game-show host grin, the one that seems to extend beyond the boundaries of his actual face. Let me tell you something; the man is ' huge. At least six-foot five. Not counting the hair--his coif is a marvel of modern engineering, made of a miraculous space-age polymer. During one of the shows, he put on a hat presented to him by the celebrity guest, Magnum P.I.'s Roger Mosley, and when he took it off, his hair kept the shape of the hat for a moment--and then literally popped back to its regular shape like one of those Swedish plasma-beds.
Oh, yes, the celebrity guests. They were our partners in the game, for better or worse. The best, gamewise, was Paul Kreppel, the sleazy pianist from Making a Living, the mid-80s Ann Jillian sitcom about waitresses in a swanky rooftop restaurant. He was actually a fun guy; during a break in shooting we broke into an a capella rendition of the Beatles' "Girl," not recognizing our mics were still on. I'll be charitable and not name the worst of my celebrity partners; I'll just say she was a Cruella DeVille-esque old floozy from Falcon Crest, who looked like Skeletor, as made over by Tammy Bakker. My most embarrassing moment, celebrity-wise, was when I asked Days Of Our Lives' Gloria Loring, "so, you're married to Alan Thicke, right?" not realizing they had gone through an apparently messy divorce. Well, shoot me for not keeping up on Alan Thicke's love life.
The producers called a dozen or so potential contestants up for each taping, selecting each new challenger by random draw. There was no guarantee that we'd get on that weekend, but as luck would have it, I was called up for the next-to-last show of the second day. As I said before, my stage experience helped me out immensely. Not only did I start winning big right out of the gate, I got off a few good wisecracks. My favorite was when one of the prizes was an assortment of bikinis. "Boy, I can sure use some women's swimwear, Wink."
Looking back now, as a slightly world-weary 33-year-old, I know now how dorky I came across (especially watching the tape, with my assortment of sweaters from the Wesley Crusher Collection), but at the time, with the lights, the cameras, and the fact that I was kicking ass, I felt like the shizzit.
And I was kicking ass; I won three games in a row, racking up the prizes each time, which qualified me and my celebrity partner for the bonus round. I soon found out that nobody had won the bonus round for three weeks, in show time, so the prize pot just kept building and building.
I went to the bonus round twice that weekend, narrowly missing it both times. But by the time I went home Sunday night, I had won over five grand in prizes (though I would soon find out that amount bore little resemblance to the actual value of the merchandise), and was the reigning champion, meaning I--and my pal Wink--would be back in three weeks.

Copyright 2004 Rich Bowen

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