Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Playing With Dynamite and Other Games

If Aaron Ruben is remembered today, it’s for writing and producing “The Andy Griffith Show.” Like many writers in the first decades of television, Ruben came from radio. He’d written for Fred Allen and Milton Berle.

Ruben was brimming over with comic ideas, some of which wouldn’t quite work on radio or TV. So he sent them in as jokes to noted syndicated TV columnist John Crosby. Crosby wasn’t exactly a fan or quiz or audience participation shows, though there were a few off the beaten path like “You Bet Your Life” and “It Pays to Be Ignorant” that he reviewed favourably (a critic would be taking his life into his hands bashing Groucho Marx in print). So here’s Crosby’s column from March 22, 1954 where he passes on Ruben’s brainstorms and a funny exchange from the Groucho show. For whatever reason, Crosby didn’t reveal Ruben’s identity, though he must have known who Ruben was.

Readers Suggest Choice—Though Slighty Dangerous—New Shows
My waggish readers, who brood over the plethora of panel shows, have been writing in suggestions again. In case you think there aren't enough panel gimmicks on the air, here are some ideas that haven't quite got on yet.
A man named Aaron Ruben, who has a strong streak of Charles Addams in him, has suggested a fine ghoulish game called “Up You Go.”
“This is a program in which you have a permanent panel of dynamitologists and bomb experts. A contestant is chosen from the audience and asked to disassemble a bomb. As the contestant goes about his task the members of the panel observe carefully and call out instructions. If the contestant ignores the instructions—‘Up You Go!’”
In case that game isn't exciting enough, Mr. Rueben has another one called “Out You Go” played in a studio at least 20 stories high. The contestant is shown a series of windows—one of them, the real thing, the others papier mache. If he is unfortunate enough to dive through the real one, the next of kin pay for the broken window. If he doesn't, he gets many handsome prizes.
Mr. Ruben, for the more intellectual crowd, has another on called “In You Go,” a thoughtful game in which lawyers and income tax experts closely quietly question the contestant about his personal life. If the experts are any good at all, they should be able to pin a criminal rap on him in no time. He gets to choose the federal pen he prefers.
Then someone else—I forgot who—submitted “Name You Mate.” This would be a rather highly specialized fame in which the contestants would be selected entirely from such folks as Tommy Manville or Barbara Hutton or other much-married folk. The idea would be to see whether they could identify some of their earlier mates, three or four marriages back. This one ought to be jolly fun, especially if—as is highly probable—they can't.
If you think these games are a little rough on the contestants, you just don't realize how durable contestants are these days. Not so long ago, for example, on the “People Are Funny” program, they pitched a contestant in a tank of water, threw live crabs in the water, and then threw lighted firecrackers at him. Just good clean fun. And down in Philadelphia, on a program called “Stop Look Listen,” Tom Moorehead, the emcee, just as a gag gave a startled woman contestant a live 4-foot alligator.
It's awfully hard to find anything a contestant won't do these days.
The surface has barely been scratched in the capabilities of contestants to bare their souls or their bodies to public gaze in order to win the free cruise to Bermuda where presumably the sun will heal any wounds left by the firecrackers.
And, of course, you just never know what a contestant is going to bare when he starts unlimbering his life story. Not long ago, Groucho Marx stumbled on 97-year-old Ed Ryan, a contestant on “You Bet Your Life,” who confessed that he was a technical survivor of Custer's last stand.
He had, he said, been left behind on that historic occasion to care for a sick buddy. Disgusted at being left behind and thereafter having avoided massacre, he deserted the Army and never went back.
“In other words,” said Groucho, “you've been AWOL for seventy-five years.”
Mr. Ryan allowed that this was true.
“If I were you,” Groucho told the white-bearded ancient, “I'd sneak back into that camp and keep my mouth shut. Of course right at this minute 200 colonels in the Pentagon are getting dizzy thinking of your back pay.”

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