LOS ANGELES – Art Linkletter, who as the gently mischievous host of TV’s “People Are Funny” and “House Party” in the 1950s and ’60s delighted viewers with his ability to get kids – and grownups – to say the darndest things on national television, died Wednesday. He was 97.
Linkletter died at his home in the Bel-Air section of Los Angeles, said his son-in-law, Art Hershey.
Linkletter had been ill “in the last few weeks time, but bear in mind he was 97 years old. He wasn’t eating well, and the aging process took him,” Hershey said.
Linkletter was known on TV for his funny interviews with children and ordinary folks. He also collected their comments in a number of best-selling books.
“An amazing fellow, a terrific broadcast talent, a brilliant businessman. An all-around good guy,” CNN’s Larry King said about his friend and frequent guest.
“Art Linkletter’s House Party,” one of television’s longest-running variety shows, debuted on radio in 1944 and was seen on CBS-TV from 1952 to 1969.
“On ‘House Party’ I would talk to you and bring out the fact that you had been letting your boss beat you at golf over a period of months as part of your campaign to get a raise,” Linkletter wrote.
“All the while, without your knowledge, your boss would be sitting a few feet away listening, and at the appropriate moment, I would bring you together,” he wrote. “Now, that’s funny, because the laugh arises out of a real situation.”
Linkletter’s programs – like many of today’s reality TV shows – often relied on ordinary people sharing too much information on national television.
But his shows were far gentler than today’s often mean-spirited productions. His guests experienced, at most, mild embarrassment instead of utter humiliation. When Linkletter elicited an all-too-revealing remark from a guest, he did it with devilish charm, not malice.
Though “House Party” had many features, the best known was the daily interviews with schoolchildren.
Linkletter collected quotes from children into “Kids Say The Darndest Things,” and it sold in the millions.