Q&A With Bob Levey
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, March 13, 2001; Noon EST
"Levey Live" appears Tuesdays at noon EST.
Your host is Washington Post columnist Bob Levey. This hour is your chance to talk directly to key Washington Post reporters and editors, local officials and people in the news.
Bob Barker, come on down, you’re the next guest on “Levey Live!”
Bob Barker is in his 29th year as host of “The Price is Right,” the longest running game show in television history. Although he’s graced our screens for over four decades, his career continues at full throttle. “But,” Barker hastens to add, “I was very young when I started.”
Barker has won a total of 14 Emmy awards, more than any other performer. He made his motion picture debut trading punches with Adam Sandler in “Happy Gilmore.” His television debut came in 1956 as the host of “Truth or Consequences,” which ran until 1974. He hosted the Miss USA and Miss Universe Pageants for 21 years, but resigned after producers refused to remove fur coats from the prize packages. He remains an avid advocate of animal rights.
The transcript follows.
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over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Bob Levey: Bob, we're very grateful to you for taking time to be with us today. Let's get straight to the question that has had Washington, D.C., in a tizzy for months. Do Bob Barker and Bob Levey look alike?
Bob Barker: Yes, I'm flattered that so many people think that we do look alike because I think that Bob is a fine looking fellow. But I'm told that he is considerable older than I am.
Washington, D.C.: How do you manage to stay so tan all year round?
Bob Barker: It's very simple. If the sun is out, Barker is out. Actually my office is beside my swimming pool. I read, write and make telephone calls with my dog, cat, and the sun.
Washington, D.C.: This is a comment instead of a question -- I just wanted to commend you for your stance on animal rights. Hopefully more people will look to your efforts as proof that it is not okay to tolerate senseless murders of animals.
Bob Barker: Thank you very much for making note of my efforts on behalf of animals and remind your friends and relatives to have you pet spayed or neutered.
Schaumburg, Ill.: Bob (Barker, that is) --
Can I tell you that you brought a level of dignity and humor to the Miss USA pageant that has never come close to being equalled? Your gentleness, spirit, language-skills, and temperament were perfect. Any thoughts on the current pageant? IMO, those scores flashing on the screen give it a complete meat-market atmosphere.
Bob Barker: Well I have been out of the pageant world since 1988 and I must confess that I have not watched any beauty pageants in recent years, but I know that pageant ratings are much much lower than they were when I was involved. Incidentally, I resigned from the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants because the production company at that time refuse to stop awarding fur coats as prizes.
Washington, D.C.: Exactly how HEAVY is "the big wheel"? I've always wondered.
Bob Barker: I don't know the weight of the wheel, but it is adjustable. And on some days, when it's too loose, it spins forever and "Young and Restless," which is the show that follow us, have to adjust to three or four less minutes than they had planned to have. Other days, the wheel is too tight and little old ladies have been know to faint from the exertion.
Bob Levey: My son (age 14) thinks that Adam Sandler is the funniest human on the planet, and he loved your bit with Sandler in "Happy Gilmore." He insists that I ask you when we will Bob Barker in another movie?
Bob Barker: The reason that I haven't been in more movies is that I refuse to do nude scenes. Hollywood producers want to capitalize on my sensuality, and I refuse to be just another body.
Bob Levey: Game shows seem to be surging in popularity, especially "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." What do you think of that show?
Bob Barker: I've only seen it briefly, but it is very well produced and as a result, it has been a smashing success in every country on which it has been on the air. In fact, it may be only a few levels below "The Price is Right."
Bob Levey: There's some gossip in the industry that some of "Barker's Beauties" on The Price Is Right will soon be male. Any truth to this?
Bob Barker: We have talked about having a male model on the show, but I'm afraid that if there is a handsome young man in swimming trunks on the stage with me that I will be totally ignored. So I'm giving it a lot of thought.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Bobs,
This question for the silver-haired Bob -- oh, wait, that doesn't clarify things does it? Anyway, Mr. Barker, what was the reason that "Price Is Right" contestants stopped dipping into your sportsjacket pocket to claim their $100 bill for getting the opening bid exactly right? Too controversial?
Bob Barker: I received letters of complaint from feminists who said that they thought I was exploiting women by asking them to reach into my pocket for the $100 bill. Frankly, I thought it was a privilege for them
New York, N.Y.: Mr. Barker:
How do the producers pick the contestants? Does each audience member fill out a questionnaire? Are the producers watching the audience members file in and noting which would be fun contestants? Does having a fun, personalized t-shirt up your chances?!
Bob Barker: One of our producers interviews every member of the audience while they're in line waiting to come into the studio. Basically, this producer is looking for people who seem to be in a good mood. They can be tall, short, fat, thin, old or young. We want a complete cross section. We have black, white and brown on every show. Our country has become a melting pot and we want The Price is Right to reflect that. I think our wide diversity of contestants is one of the reasons that our show has been so successful. People of all colors, all religion, and all sections of the country are able to watch the Price is Right and identify with it.
Bob Levey: Bob, I know less than nothing about TV programming. But I think a prime-time "Price Is Right" would be a huge winner. Have you ever proposed this?
Bob Barker: I began trying to get CBS interested in a prime-time "Price is Right" in the early 1970s. On three or four occassions, it looked as if it were going to be a go, but invariably, something interfered. Today, I think that it would be a tough sale in prime-time because all of the networks are looking for reality game shows. And there is nothing real about "The Price is Right" -- it's all in your imagination.
C'ville, Va.: Bob, I grew up watching you on "Truth or Consequences." I just loved that show and you were always so kind to the people (even the slightly ditzy ones). Do you ever think that they will revive it? Or are we too above that?
Like the others, I do commend you for your work with animal rights.
Bob Barker: First, thank you for your kind remarks about my work on behalf of animals. Interestingly enough, Pearson Television, which owns "The Price is Right" now, has just bought "Truth or Consequences" from Ralph Edwards Productions. So I think we can expect to see "Truth or Consequences" back on television in the near future.
Bob Levey: The numbers that you've run up during your career are absolutely astounding: 3,524 consecutive performances of "Truth or Consequences," 21 years as narrator of the Rose Parade, more than $200 million worth of prizes given out. Do you ever think about retirement?
Bob Barker: I've thought about retirement, but so far I haven't done anything about it. My problem is retire from what? To do what? In short, I'm having so much fun that I've had trouble quitting.
Annapolis, Md.: My husband used to tease me because it's my life's ambition to be a contestant on TPIR -- until he realized that that is a very common dream among Gen Xers like me! Do you think your popularity has increased even further in recent years as the first generation of viewers to grow up on TPIR become parents themselves?
Bob Barker: Interesting question in that we have reached a point with TPIR at which we have, in our audience, frequently three generation who have watched TPIR, mother or father, grandmother or grandfather, and son or daughter. And about three weeks ago, we had four generations in the audience, all of whom had watched TPIR.
Chicago, Ill.: Mr. Barker,
I vividly remember watching "Truth or Consequences" as a youth growing up in the '60s. Two questions sir, how did you get the audiences to laugh at the opening of the show and am I correct in remembering that you are a WWII vet?
Bob Barker: During WWII, I was a naval aviator. I flew fighter planes. I did my qualification landings on the carrier, and I was awaiting orders to join a sea-going squadron when the enemy heard that I was coming out into the Pacific, they promptly surrendered. It was the end of WWII. You've probably read at length about the atom bomb, but now you know the whole story.
Bob Barker: So far as the opening of "Truth or Consequences" is concerned, we started every show, and Ralph Edwards, who preceded me as host, started every show with what was called "the suitcase race." Each of two men from our studio audience, were given a suitcase filled with women's clothes and just as we went on the air, they were putting these clothes on. It may not sound very funny, but audiences of every description found it hilarious.
Bob Levey: You were invited to speak at Harvard University last year. Your topic: The effect of game shows on popular culture. What did you tell them?
Bob Barker: My remarks included a review of the growth of game shows. And I made certain points about what I thought had made the genre so popular, and used clips from TPIR to demonstrate my points. It was a rousing success when the film equipment worked. When it didn't, I had to call upon all of my tricks of the trade. Probably, out of sympathy, I got a standing ovation at the end of the evening.
Baltimore, Md.: Bob --
Whenever you get a ridiculous bid during the Showcase at the end of the show, or when someone passes on the Showcase with the car, do you ever feel like saying, "Is that your final answer?"
Bob Barker: No. I never steal material from anyone.
Bethesda, Md.: Hi Bob,
Big ((HUGS)) for protecting animals and advancing spay/neuter programs. Would you tell us about your pets please?
Bob Barker: I have a wonderful little cat name Dulce, which means sweet in Spanish. She doesn't sleep with me, she sleeps on me. And I have a wonderful black labrador named Winston. I named him Winston because when he is sitting on his hind quarters looking away from me, he looks just like photographs of Winston Churchill sitting at his easel painting.
Bob Levey: Since we both have such full heads of gray hair, can I ask a beauty question? Do you use a special shampoo to make your hair shine? If so, please tell me which brand. I want to glow like Barker!
Bob Barker: If my hair glows, it's not what I put on it. It's what I drink.
Winchester, Va.: Hi Mr. Barker:
Did you know Gene Rayburn? I loved "Match Game" as a kid and now on the Game Show Network I am an even bigger fan of it now. Was he as fun and funny off camera as he was on?
Thanks! [edited for space]
Bob Barker: I knew Gene Rayburn just casually. I was at dinner with him on a couple of occasions, and I found him very bright and very funny.
Bob Levey: Bob, you had heart surgery here in Washington two years ago, at the same hospital where Vice President Cheney was treated last week. Do you think he's doing enough to rest and take care of himself? After all, you didn't go back to work the day after your procedure.
Bob Barker: I didn't have heart surgery. I had a carotid artery that was blocked. And I consider myself very fortunate that the emergency occurred in Washington, D.C. and that I was taken to George Washington University Hospital. Doctor Anthony Caputy took care of my problem and I come back to Washington annually for a check up by Dr. Caputy.
This blocked artery had prevented me having enough blood reach my brain. Dr. Caputy said that I would feel much better than I had for months or even years before I had the operation. And he was right. I do feel better. He also said that I would be more intelligent, but that hasn't kicked in as yet.
Baltimore, Md.: Mr. Barker: My memory may be faulty, but did you once give away a submarine on "The Price is Right"? What is the largest prize value you've ever awarded?
Bob Barker: We did indeed give away a submarine. The next day, the winner drowned off Santa Monica. Just kidding. Just kidding.
As a matter of fact, the biggest prize we gave away so far as price is concerned, is probably one of the biggest so far as size is concerned. It was a mobile home that was so big that we had a very difficult time getting it into the studio. As a matter of fact, the winner is living in it now in our studio. Just kidding again. It was $72,000 or $73,000.
Bob Levey: You're often compared to Dick Clark, since neither of you shows any sign of slowing down. Have you ever considered guest-hosting "American Bandstand" and letting Clark have a try at hosting "The Price Is Right?"
Bob Barker: Being tone deaf, I think I am completely unqualified to be the host of American Bandstand. On the other hand, with music being what it is today, I may be more qualified than Dick Clark. So far as TPIR is concerned, I've had Dick Clark barred from the set. He's too good a host to have around.
College Park, Md.: Bob,
Do you ever spin the giant wheel when no one else is around?
Bob Barker: The giant wheel is kept in a warehouse behind CBS. And unbeknownst to anyone, on weekends I sneak in and enjoy an orgy of spinning.
Alexandria, Va.: I'll ask this question in a shorter fashion:
After so many years of watching people spin the Big Wheel, are you able to predict from the moment they spin the wheel, whether or not they'll hit $1? I've always been curious.
Bob Barker: I have discovered that it is impossible to make any prediction about how a contestant will handle something so simple as spinning the big wheel. I have had countless contestants literally spin themselves into the floor. I've had contestants spin the wheel and bend over and the wheel has then come down and hit them on the head. I had one otherwise intelligent-looking contestant grab a handle and spin the wheel backwards. One lady didn't let go of the handle as she spun the wheel--she went shooting under the wheel on her stomach, she shot all the way across the hall and ended up on "Young and Restless." They thought she was an extra and paid her scale for the day.
NW D.C.: I remember, as a child, the woman running down the aisle and her tube top falling down. Do you still have these kinds of incidents on the show?
Bob Barker: Unfortunately, no. That was the most talked about incident in Price is Right history. An encore would be great for our ratings.
Silver Spring, Md.: I used to watch "The Price is Right" when Bill Cullen was host. Did you know him? How is your approach to the show different from his?
Bob Barker: Yes, I knew Bill. He was, I think, one of the finest hosts who ever worked. The show that he did and the show that I do are completely different. His was a panel show of four contestants seated at a table bidding on various prizes. The only resemblance to the show that I do is the four contests who bid in contestants row.
Pomfret, Md.: Hi Bob! My sister-in-law was a contestant on your show. She said that when she hugged you, you smelled great! What cologne do you wear?
Bob Barker: I don't wear cologne. That wonderful scent was pure Barker.
Bob Levey: The 30th anniversary of "The Price Is Right" is fast approaching. Can you give us a hint about what the 30th anniversary show will include?
Bob Barker: No. Not because it's a secret, but because it is in only the talking stage. However, you may be assured that it will be yet another in a long line of smash hits.
Washington, D.C.: Hello Bob, Are you still dating -- and if so, what do you look for in a woman?
Bob Barker: Yes, I'm dating. I have a special friend with whom I share common interests and with whom I have been going out for many years. So far as what I look for in women, I quit looking when I found Nancy.
Falls Church, Va.: Mr. Barker,
I can remember 20 years ago when game shows dominated week-day mornings. Now there's only TPIR and talk shows. What happened to your competition? or perhaps it's better to ask, how did you all survive?
Bob Barker: I think that TPIR has survived because of a variety of things. One, the basic premise of the show is so powerful. Everything we do, is based on priced. And everyone identifies with prices. When we show something for bid, a viewer immediately has an opinion. The viewer becomes involved. And view involvement is what every game show is seeking. So far as the other reasons for the success of the show, my agent says it's the host.
Washington, D.C.: Will you ever bring "The Price is Right" show to the Washington, D.C. area for a special week
Bob Barker: We will never travel TPIR anyplace. There are so many electronic devices, so many props, so many prizes, that is would be second only to the Normandy invasion to try to take TPIR on the road.
In closing, I'd to like to remind you to help control the pet population have your pet spayed or neutered.
Bob Levey: Many thanks to the young-at-heart Bob Barker. Be sure to join us next Tuesday, March 20, when our guest on "Levey Live" will be Ted Leonsis, majority owner of the Washington Capitals. That show will begin, as usual, at noon Eastern time.
© Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company