Saturday, 17 August 2013

Concentration's Bob Clayton

Johnny Olson used to commute from New York City to Miami in the 1960s for a job announcing “The Jackie Gleason Show.” So, naturally, there had to be a counter-balance. And that counter-balance happened to be Bob Clayton, who commuted from Miami to New York City in 1960s for a job announcing “Concentration.”

Clayton was born on this day 91 years ago.

Programmers today who look at tapes of the old NBC game show would probably be stunned about how simplistic it is. There were no flashing or strobing lights, no jumbo monitors, no overbearingly loud sounds, no nutso screaming audience. Host Hugh Downs droned quietly. A small organ that likely had played themes and bridges back in the network radio days provided the music along with a celeste. There were two cameras, maybe three at best, one of which was swung around to pan across the fairly polite audience midway in the proceedings. But it didn’t need all kind of video histrionics (as if they’re needed today). It stayed on the air because viewers became engrossed in the task of seeing if they could solve the puzzle before the contestants. And when Downs left, order was followed and Clayton was promoted in his place, though network executives, as is their wonted custom, bollixed things a bit.

Clayton didn’t come up through the ranks of the NBC announcing staff, but he did start in radio. Broadcasting magazine announced in its issue of June 7, 1948 that he had joined the staff of WWDX in Paterson, New Jersey. How he ended up in Florida is outlined in a story in the St. Petersburg Times of July 17, 1956.

Bob Clayton’s Love Of The Theatre Started Him On His Radio Career

Faint strains of “Dixie” floated through the control room as Bob Clayton, WPIN disk jockey, informed your reporter, “I’m from Georgia, ma’am,” in a non-committal voice.
Certainly, to hear Bob’s familiar vocal chords exercising over the 680 spot on your radio dial you’d never guess he’s a Georgia cracker by birth. But sho’nuff, honey chile, he is!
The interview with Bob took me behind the scenes at the WPIN studio in the Royal Palm Hotel.
Nestled comfortably behind the mike, Bob shuffled his attention between talking to me, putting on platters, reading commercials and conversing with his “partner in music,” Dick Baker, who’s voice is carried down to Bob from the lower shores of upper Sawgrass Lake. Bob and Dick do two shows daily via the telephone. It’s a pretty tricky set-up they’ve got, and the fans really go for it.
A love for the theatre started Bob on the road to radio work.
He spent a hitch in the Air Force. Flying high in B-29’s, Bob kept alookin’ toward the fture. He set his sights on becoming an actor and decided first thing he’d do when Uncle Same handed him his walking papers would be to enroll in a drama school. Now came a problem of where to go . . . Bob selected a school in New York City where he spent two years. His secondary objective (besides learning to act) was to lose his thick Southern drawl. Ironically, Bob’s first acting job called for him to play a Georgia marine on the Ma Perkins show. Bob’s theatrical work took him to many more soap opera studios, but mainly to summer stock theatres.
In 1948, Bob went to work for Art Mundorff, (new owner of WPIN) in Patterson, N.J. When Mundorff bought WPIN in 1950, Bob followed close behind.
So for six years now, Bob’s been behind that mike at WPIN and all you have to do is tune in to either “Party Line,” “Requestfully Yours,” or “Sunday Matinee” to learn that he really likes his job.
Bob’s personal tastes in music have little influence on his shows, since he played mostly requested tunes. However, Bob does have an aversion to “most” rock and roll. He sifts the records he plays, choosing only the ones that are in line with good taste. He feels a line has to be drawn somewhere.
As for his favorite type of music, Bob is most emphatic on that subject. “Show tunes are my dish,” says Bob, who claims Ella Fitzgerald’s new album for Verve, “Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book,” is just tops. In it, Ella sings 24 of Porter’s best. Bob realizes show tunes are not always on the Hit Parade, but still thinks they’re the grandest. He’s an avid fan of such greats as Rogers and Hart, Porter and Gershwin. Perhaps his strong tendency toward show songs can be “blamed on his love for the theatre” and the many miles between St. Petersburg and New York City that keep him away from that branch of entertainment.
Bob’s a married man. His wife is Syd Clayton, a model, who recently opened her own modeling academy here. Syd shares Bob’s love for show business, too, and they have hopes of someday being able to work together.
So, that’s Bob Clayton, a cheerful guy with a happy voice, a crew cut and a real love for music.
(Note: If your TV set can pick up Channel 6 from Orlando, tune in Thursday nights and you’ll see Bob sitting in on the wrestling show from those parts.)

Clayton moved to WCKT-TV in Miami in 1958 and landed a break when he nailed a part in the Jerry Lewis film “The Bellboy” being shot there. Lewis liked him so much, he brought Clayton to Hollywood in 1960 to make a pilot film for a TV show Lewis was directing. Somewhere along the way, Clayton made the acquaintance of Hugh Downs, and that not only translated into an announcing job on “Concentration” in 1963 but earlier fill-in work for Downs as the announcer on Jack Paar’s “Tonight” show.

October 2, 1961, Clayton debuted as the host of the ABC game show, “Make a Face.” He took over as host of “Concentration” on January 6, 1969. But something was going on among the numerous vice-presidents of NBC. Ed McMahon had been hosting another game, “Snap Judgment” and someone must have remembered when McMahon emceed “Concentration” on a special anniversary edition in 1967 (Downs and Clayton played for prizes). Clayton was demoted back to his announcer’s job and McMahon took over as host on March 31st. McMahon is practically revered these days for his long career as Johnny Carson’s “Tonight” sidekick, but “Concentration” fans could have torn him into puzzle parts. They wanted the friendly Clayton and concentrated their lobbying on NBC to get him back. They did on September 29th (in a wonderful smokescreen, the network said McMahon “resigned” because his other business interests, suddenly and miraculously, got heavier).

Here’s an Associated Press column on Clayton and the show, dated July 1, 1972.

'Concentration' Highly Popular Game Show After 14 Years

NEW YORK — (AP) — A studio contestant, about to start playing "Concentration" during a recent taping, suddenly became very nervous. As host Bob Clayton moved with accustomed ease to simmer her down, the woman remarked plaintively, "I'd feel a lot more comfortable if I did this with my ironing board in front of me."
The remark helps explain what seems to, be a mystery to so many television viewers with 9-to-5 jobs; the continued popularity of daytime game shows, panel shows and, of course, soap operas. The daytime shows, for most women, offer companionship.
"I don't think any of us feel as though our show is the Holy Grail," Clayton said. "I believe we just hope it will please and entertain people.
"Concentration" is, quite simply, a memory game, with two contestants competing to match numbers on a board of 30 squares — an adaptation of a child's game involving a rebus. The remarkable thing about the game, which doesn't try for humor or even to stretch the viewer's intellect, is that it is now in its 14th year on the network. Some soap operas are older, but it is the dean of the game shows; an area in which a newcomer who survives for more than the first 13 weeks is counted as almost a hit.
Clayton, who has been with the program almost since its inception, was the central figure in a rare demonstration of the power and loyalty of the audience. Hugh Downs had served for the first ten years as quiet-mannered host of the show, with Clayton backstopping him as announcer and substitute, host.
Downs stepped but of the series in 1969 and for some three months Clayton temporarily took over the hosting chores. When NBC decided to put announcer Ed McMahon into "Concentration," letters poured in from viewers, outraged at what they considered unfair tactics. Worse, the ratings of the show started to decline.
"Of course I was upset and thought about leaving," Clayton said. "But I liked the show, and I like having a steady job. Anyway, after, about six months, I was moved back."
The five-a-week series now is perking away comfortably — somewhere in the middle of the daytime list to terms of popularity and without too tough competition: reruns of old situation comedies on CBS and local programming on ABC stations and affiliates.
While some game-show hosts consider their jobs a sort of rip-off and busy themselves with other projects, Clayton makes a full-time job out of his. He spends one day just answering his mail.
Six shows are taped each week, with "Concentration" using a studio two days and "Jeopardy," another NBC using it another two.
"That extra show each week builds up so that we can occasionally take a break," Clayton said. When he is not guiding contestants through their paces, Clayton is likely to be flying around making personal appearances, presiding over ribbon-cuttings, addressing groups — "I'll do almost anything useful if it gives me a chance to talk about "Concentration," he remarked.
The job of being shepherd to contestants, usually persons who have had no experience with either cameras or microphones, is more complicated than Clayton makes it look.
One problem often is keeping the studio audience from blowing the game.
"Most of the people who come to see our show play it at home," he said. "Naturally they continue to do that when they are here and, often unconsciously, call out answers."
Prizes on the show range from gags — on a recent game the gifts matched up by contestants included "a candy kiss" and "an old flame" — to large and expensive items including jewelry, wardrobes of clothes, 1,000 books, mink coats, vacation trips, cash. Most are gathered by the show staff in exchange for program credits, the normal procedure on programs of this kind.
Clayton himself has been interested in show business since his teens — "I wanted to be an actor but I was perfectly terrible."

The show left the air on March 23, 1973. It couldn’t compete against flashing lights, loud sounds and Johnny Olson shouting “Come on down!” on “The New Price is Right” on CBS, and was replaced the following Monday by “Baffle” with Dick Enberg. Ironically, “Price” moved to a new time slot that day as well. And ABC countered with a new programme called “The $10,000 Pyramid” featuring as its announcer one Bob Clayton. He died November 1, 1979 in New York.

Clayton isn’t remembered as well as the ‘A’ list game show hosts of the ‘60s, probably because his on-camera career was comparatively short. But he came across as affably down-to-earth, and deserves to be remembered on his birth date.

1 comment:

  1. Bob Clayton was great on "The Bellboy." Remembering the old game show brings back memories. This article is correct. The new game shows are too flashy. It's a shame Mr. Clayton died so young.