Allen Funt, 84, the merry prankster who created and hosted the television program "Candid Camera," which featured everyday Americans laughing at themselves, died Sept. 5 at his home in Pebble Beach, Calif.

His death was attributed to complications of the 1993 stroke that forced him into retirement.

"Candid Camera," which aired on and off from 1948 to 1990 with Mr. Funt as its host, secretly filmed people confronted with talking mailboxes or trick coffee cups. "Smile! You're on 'Candid Camera'!" was the victim's tip-off.

Startled bowlers would see balls returned minus finger holes. A car would roll down a hill and stop, and passersby who were asked to check on the trouble would find it lacked an engine.

The show was a precursor of reality-genre television shows such as "Cops" and "World's Most Dangerous Animals."

"People toss around the word 'pioneer' all the time, but Allen Funt was really one of those rare people who was a pioneer. He created what has become an entire programming genre," said Michael Naidus, a spokesman for CBS television.

CBS now airs "Candid Camera," with Mr. Funt's son, Peter Funt, and Suzanne Somers as hosts, on Friday evenings.

The elder Funt himself appeared in many of the gags, along with such regulars over the years as Dorothy Collins (in the 1960s) and comedian and author Fannie Flagg ("Fried Green Tomatoes") in the 1970s. A young Woody Allen appeared in some early shows.

The TV program was born of Mr. Funt's "Candid Microphone," a radio show the New York native originated after his service in the Army Signal Corps in World War II. He was working as an artist for an ad agency but looking for a different job.

"I learned the power of radio watching Eleanor Roosevelt do her show," he recalled in a 1987 interview with the Associated Press. "I used to go up to Hyde Park and hold her papers. I was just a messenger, but it planted the bug of radio in me.

"I got my hands on an old wire recorder that was the forerunner of tape recorders," Mr. Funt said. "That's how it began. In those days, we had to lug around these enormous recorders and camera equipment and find a place to conceal them."

The show had its television premiere, still called "Candid Microphone," on ABC in 1948. It bounced from one network to another in its early years, eventually getting picked up by CBS in 1960 for a seven-year run. During the 1960-61 season, it was the seventh-highest-rated show in the nation.

A syndicated version ran from 1974 to 1978. In the 1989-90 season, CBS aired a number of "Candid Camera" specials featuring Mr. Funt and son Peter as co-hosts. In 1991, Mr. Funt produced a new version with comedian Dom DeLuise as host.

In addition to his work for television, Mr. Funt produced feature-length films, movie shorts, three books and seven record albums, nearly all centering on the concept of the hidden camera. He went on to see archives from "Candid Camera" used in college sociology courses, business training and even medical research.

"In an age when TV shows are considered successful if they survive 13 weeks, it's unheard-of for a program to still be pleasing millions of people after 51 years," Peter Funt said.

Throughout the years, Mr. Funt was never trapped by a hidden camera.

"When I'd travel, a location station might try it," he told the AP. "But it's awfully hard to catch someone who does this for a living. . . . No, nobody ever really turned the tables on me."

Mr. Funt, who was born in New York, the son of a diamond merchant, graduated from high school at age 15. He later received a bachelor's degree in fine arts from Cornell University.

After his stroke, Mr. Funt remained an inspiration to his family, Peter Funt said.

"He endured many hospitalizations and treatments, yet did so with good spirit and a ferocious will to live," he said in a statement.

Survivors include four other children and four grandchildren.

CAPTION: Allen Funt started his show as "Candid Microphone" on radio and made the switch to television in 1948, hosting it until 1990.