"There was no better host in the world ever than Gene Rayburn. ... He got more pussy than Frank Sinatra. He was a very sexy guy."
– Marcia Wallace
Guy MacPherson: Hello, Marcia Wallace.
Marcia Wallace: Yeah!
GM: This is Guy MacPherson in Vancouver calling.
MW: Hey, Guy. I'm sorry about yesterday.
GM: No problem.
MW: Big time confusion with the phone number.
GM: Oh. So were you sitting around waiting, too?
MW: Yeah. Anyway, it was just a mix-up and I'm very sorry that it took up your time.
GM: Are you okay to talk right now?
MW: Yes. Absolutely.
GM: It's great you're coming up here for Match Game. I saw the live version last year and it was one of my highlights of the festival. Of course, I was a big fan growing up watching it.
GM: How long were you on the original TV show for?
MW: The whole time. It had several incarnations, but the main decade was the seventies. And it was on during the day, it was on at night. I did about a quarter of them. I was on, like, about once a month.
GM: Was it as fun as it looked?
MW: Yes. More.
GM: Game shows were huge back then. And you must have done lots of others.
MW: Now, with the cross-marketing and everything... There was just a bunch of us who, if we were hot or if we were not so hot, if we played a good game they had you on. And now on celebrity game shows they want to be able to plug another one of their shows. Finding the best game players is not necessarily top of the list. There were a ton of celebrity game shows in the seventies and I did a lot of them. And my favourite, of course, was Match Game. And Brett Somers was my best friend. She just died last year. And she was my son's godmother. The story of how we met was pretty cute. My first time on that show they put me in her dressing room, which was very nice of her to share a dressing room. And I had just had my 30-year-ago nervous breakdown. Anyway, she said, "You'll have to excuse me, I'm not myself. I just separated from my husband." And I said, "Well you seem fine to me. I just got out of the bin." So it was love at first sight and we were fast friends for the next 35 years.
GM: You bonded over it.
MW: Yeah. We were very, very close friends. She was my best friend. I made a lot of friends there. She and Charles [Nelson-Reilly] were the heart and soul of the show. Their relationship just was magic. And then, of course, I think there was no better host in the world ever than Gene Rayburn. He was funny, he was sassy, he was naughty, he kept the game going, he made the contestants feel good, he set up the celebrities. He was perfect.
GM: And I hear he got a lot of pussy.
MW: Yes! (laughs)
GM: That's what Jimmy Pardo said you said.
MW: Yes, I did say that. I did say that. I think I said more than Frank Sinatra. He got more pussy than Frank Sinatra. He was a very sexy guy. Of course, in those days it was all euphemisms. Now when Jimmy Pardo does his, please, you can say anything. Anything! But there was something to be said for the euphemisms, too. I mean, they were pretty silly. But it made you be a little more imaginitive. I'm on every gag reel in the history of Match Game because I had a real lapse of judgment one day. The answer was obviously penis. I can't remember the set-up but the answer was obviously penis. But of course you couldn't say that. So people were saying all sorts of things. I don't know what they were saying. And I said, "I know, I'm going to go scientific." So I wrote down 'genitalia' and I showed it toRichard Dawson and he rolled his eyes and went, "Yeah, go ahead. Go ahead with that." And when I held it up, the screen didn't go dark but the card went dark and the alarms went off and everybody just went crazy. And Ira Skutch, who was the producer for all those years, came up and he said, "You get one of those." And I thought, "Whew!" But I really didn't do it to be provocative or anything. For some reason I really thought it was going to be okay to go scientific.
GM: You were going the other way.
MW: Yeah. I thought you can say genitalia, for heaven's sake.
GM: Apparently not.
MW: But apparently not.
GM: So when he said you get one of those means the next time you won't be coming back?
MW: Yeah. He was mad. He was real mad. Well, standards and practices were pretty strong in those days. But the answer was always either boobs or sex or Howard Cosell. One of those. It was always some variation, so you had to come up with euphemisms. Of course everyone knew what they were. It was a silly show but it was great fun. A party. People drank in those days.
"It was a silly show but it was great fun. A party. People drank in those days."
– Marcia Wallace
GM: I was going to ask if there was a lot of imbibing on set.
MW: Only at lunch. We had lunch halfway through the day. So the first two or three shows were [fine] and then we had some lunch, where there was definitely a couple of drinks. Nobody was ever falling down but certainly things got looser. They absolutely got looser. And Brett used to get fan mail from a whole new group of kids. A whole generation came home and watched Match Game after school or at night or whatever. They grew up and then came the Game Show channel and a whole new group discovered it. But it's a perfect show to be updated to where now you don't have to use the euphemisms.
GM: I had the Game Show channel for a while and Match Game was the only thing I watched on it. And it still holds up!
MW: Oh, I think it does, too. I think it holds up very well.
GM: The questions weren't topical.
MW: No, not at all. They were probably a little sexist and a lot of ugly women questions. It was the sensibility of that time, but it was not mean spirited ever. And it was damn funny.
GM: It must not have been like going to work.
MW: No! Oh, Guy. Oh, are you kidding me? It was as close as you get for being paid for going to a party as you'll ever find. It was wonderful. There was Brett and Charles. That first seat was often a stand-up comic. And then that fourth seat was like the ditzy blonde.
GM: Yes. Elaine somebody.
MW: Elaine Joyce did it. Joyce Bulifant. There were several. Theresa Denzel was one. And of course they weren't necessarily ditzy; that was their persona. And the sixth seat was the hard seat because many times all the answers had already been given, so you had to come up with the button otherwise you'd just be repeating. So of all the seats, and everyone said that, it was probably the hardest to come up with something.
GM: And that's where they put you.
MW: I was there and Betty White, who was the queen of all game shows and the queen of queens of queens of all game shows.
GM: And Fannie Flagg.
MW: And Fannie Flagg and Patti Deutsch and me. There were a couple of other people but we were the main four.
GM: A large part of its attraction and success is due to the camaraderie and the looseness. When you first started, was it at all uncomfortable?
MW: It took a while to find your niche, you know. You had to get comfortable and build relationships. Luckily I bonded with Brett and Charles. And Gene made everybody feel... And it's not like I didn't know a lot of these people, but you had to build your own dynamic. So there's no question you got more and more comfortable the longer you went. But really, anything went. And you could stop in the middle and turn around and say something to Brett or whoever. They encouraged all of that.
GM: The best part was when you were all writing your answers and just talking amongst yourselves.
MW: I know. Then Richard Dawson went on to do his own game show. Everybody always picked him because, well, he was a good game player and everybody picked him because they thought he would give the best answer. So then they decided that that had gotten too boring so they used a wheel and the person had to turn the wheel to see who they got to answer for the big money. I don't think the contestants were too thrilled and Richard certainly wasn't.
GM: I'm sure the women picked him because they wanted a kiss from him.
MW: No, he didn't kiss them. Or did he kiss them on the Match Game?
GM: He was very sexy, either way.
MW: Not like he did on Family Feud.
GM: The same thing with the live version that Jimmy Pardo does, all the panelists are friends and there's a very loose atmosphere. And it really helps.
MW: I'm not even sure. Does Jimmy emcee it up there?
MW: Well, I tell you, it's been the craziest gig. Logistics. I sometimes wonder if the universe is trying to tell me, "Stay out of Canada." Because anything that's gone wrong with paperwork, misunderstood and confused e-mails. Like yesterday. There's been a million of those in this thing. I've had more trouble with getting this job set up than any job I've had in like ten years. I'm almost afraid to come now. I think the universe is telling me something.
GM: Have you worked up here before?
MW: Yes! It's been about 15 or 20 years. I did a ton of dinner theatre and regional theatre up there so I've spent a lot of time in Canada. And it wasn't that hard to get in Canada then, I'll tell you that. And I loved my time in Canada. I was in Stage West in Edmonton and I worked in Calgary for quite a while and some in Toronto. I worked a lot. But it's been, you know, 15 or 20 years.
GM: Well, we're looking forward to having you back.
MW: Let's see if I make it. Let's see if I actually make it up there.
GM: We've got a lot of American comics coming up here for the festival.
MW: I hope they're having better luck than I am getting the paperwork done and numbers done.
GM: Don't you just say, "Don't you know who I am?!"
MW: Oh, no, no, no. It isn't that. It's like glitches. It's like misunderstandings and confusion. "You were supposed to do this." "Oh, I thought I was supposed to do that."
GM: Oh, man. Well, you've got one week.
MW: I'm supposed to go to Houston on Monday. It's hard to believe that's going to happen. I'm supposed to give a speech there but they've got to cancel it. They haven't cancelled it yet but it's hard to believe after what I read today. I don't think they have any power.
GM: Just fall back on your old theatre days and project.
MW: Yeah, but this is a fundraiser. I'm not even sure if they don't cancel it that people will come. I don't know. But you feel bad because people spend a year planning an event and put a lot of time and money into it.
GM: That's Mother Nature for you.
MW: I know. I know.
GM: How did you get involved with this live version of Match Game?
MW: Jimmy e-mailed me. I mean, if you know Match Game, you probably have seen me on it. So he e-mailed me. There's another incarnation here that's done at the Gay & Lesbian Center. A guy named Dennis Hennessy, who's pretty funny, too. We have some guy in drag playing Brett. But that's not done nearly as often; it's only done periodically. Jimmy has developed this into quite a show. He has a following, he has an audience. It's every other week, I think.
GM: He says this might be his last two.
GM: Because there's now a TV version of it and he's not doing it in L.A. anymore. He's doing a version of You Bet Your Life instead.
MW: Gee, that surprises me because it's been very successful for that theatre. It's always sold out.
GM: I don't know if there's politics involved because of the new TV show that's being done.
MW: They're bringing it back again?
MW: Oh. Yeah, it's ironic that I was known for my game show expertise. Many of us were and we couldn't get on any celebrity game show today. But that's show biz, hon! That is show biz.
GM: Well, I'm looking forward to the shows. And I hope you make it up here.
MW: Well, I do, too. It's not been anything dangerous. It's just where you're totally out of sync and people hear one thing and you do another. Like yesterday, I'm waiting for your call and you're calling another number. It's that sort of thing. So I've gotten very frustrated. And really, because I'm a Buddhist and I believe in karma, I think maybe the universe is trying to tell me something. Let's hope not. I'm supposed to go to Houston and then I'm supposed to come back and then go to Vancouver.
GM: Think positive thoughts.
MW: Yeah, easy for you to say. Anyway, I'm sure once I get this done it's going to be a ton of fun. So I'll meet you there?
GM: Uh, yeah.
MW: I mean, are you going to be at the show?
GM: I will definitely be at the shows. They're my must-sees for the festival. I think other panelists are like Andy Richter and Janeane Garofalo...
MW: Janeane Garofalo is one?!
GM: It's still Jimmy's people and people from Comedy Death-Ray.
MW: I've always been honoured to be part of it. And I certainly am one of the originals. It's always fun to have an original.
GM: How many are left?
MW: Unfortunately not a lot. I don't know if Richard Dawson... I just don't think he wants to go there. He's a pretty prickly guy. So I'm not sure.
GM: He's not still alive, is he?
MW: Yeah! Oh sure. Yeah, he's still alive. But he never talks or wants to be interviewed about Match Game. Which is a shame because it put him on the map. Well, Hogan's Heroes. He's a talented guy. But I don't think we'll see him up there. So there's him, me, Fannie. Fannie's a writer now.
GM: Yes, she's a big-time writer.
MW: She's a very hard woman to reach. I tried a couple of times. I bet she might even be interested in doing something like this. But she's a hard gal to reach. But anyway, it's nice talking to you and I apologize for your inconvenience.
GM: And I apologize for yours.
MW: Well, thanks. It wasn't your fault. It wasn't anybody's fault. It was one of those universal glitches.