Sunday 8 November 2020

Who is Alex Trebek?

If you look at the right side of the bottom row of this football team, you’ll see a head sticking out between two uniformed players. That head went on to great fame, but not in football.

The head belongs to Alex Trebek.

At the time, he was better known as Alexandre Trebek when he was going to school in the Ottawa area. The photo is from 1956.

Trebek did some acting in school but needed money. One place where actors could find some pay was at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which not only mounted TV productions but still had live radio drama. The CBC hired him. But not as an actor.

The Ottawa Citizen made Trebek the cover story of its TV Weekly magazine of Saturday, June 17, 1961, and also showed headline writers don’t always read the stories they’re captioning very well.
George Trebek Youngest Announcer
George Alexander Trebek is probably the youngest CBC permanent staff announcer in Canada.
Alexander, who is of Russian and French descent, was born in the northern Ontario city of Sudbury. He came to Ottawa seven years ago to attend the prep school of the University of Ottawa . . . and has been here since except for a few short stays in the United States.
Alex has just completed the Sedes Sapientiae where all his philosophy subjects were taught in Latin. This fall, he will receive two university degrees, a bachelor of arts degree with a major in philosophy, and a bachelor of philosophy degree.
Alexander began his announcing career quite by accident when he was hired as a summer replacement on CBO radio last year. He was again a replacement during the Christmas holidays, and then in February of this year joined the permanent announce staff in order to help pay his tuition at the University.
His main interests lie in the entertainment field in general, and drama in particular. During the course of his university stay he was first a member and then president of the University of Ottawa Drama Guild. Among his other interests are music and travelling.
There are some in the CBC who gravitate to Toronto to further their careers. That’s what Trebek did. By May 1964, he was Canada’s Dick Clark, hosting a TV show called Music Hop. Two years later, he hosted Championship Curling. It sounds like an SCTV sketch—two curling rinks competed for, well, I’m not really sure. Next he was paired with Canada’s Pet, Juliette, in a three-times-a-week mid-day live chat show. In the early ‘70s, he got a shot (as did many others) at being Canada’s Dick Cavett by hosting a late Thursday night talk show.

The CBC decided to put Trebek at the other end of the clock and made him the local radio morning host in Toronto in October 1971. The format was supposed to be information-based but one Toronto newspaper critic tutted it had too many records and commercials. It lasted until the end of 1972. The CBC decided to make a change.

The Globe and Mail profiled Trebek in its edition of November 25, 1972. By then, he was now Canada’s Allen Ludden. He was on local CBC-TV hosting the high school equivalent of the G.E. College Bowl called Reach For the Top—which WAS an SCTV sketch (at least a parody of it was). It’s evident Trebek’s number one priority was, despite talk about spending time “thinking,” advancing his career.
Trebek: cautious, eligible and ambitious

“Well, are you going to do a hatchet job?” Alex Trebek slips the question into our conversation as we walk from the CBC radio building on Jarvis Street to Yonge Street where he drops off a pair of ski boots he wants to sell.
That’s much the way the interview goes. Several hours later, he is still giving a lot of yes and no answers to questions.
Alexander Trebek is not about to show a bleeding heart—if he has one. He denies that he does. So does his producer, Fred Augerman. But the fact remains that both are unhappy about the CBC’s decision to drop them as host and producer of the 5-to-9 morning slot on CBLT [sic].
There’ll be a new host (as yet unnamed) and two producers, John Barberash and Mary McFadyen, in the new year. Trebek was invited to stay on until April but declined.
He’s not worried about the future. He’s got 10 weeks leave due and he just wants to relax, ski and work on the chalet he is building at Collingwood. At least for a while.
He has four offers for television shows and he still hosts Reach for the Top so that “hopefully” he won’t be spending much time back on the announcers’ roster filling in station breaks.
Trebek doesn’t mention more lucrative jobs in the United States but Augerman does. The producer believes that Alex Trebek is as good as the $85,000-a-year hosts on private U.S. networks.
The situation with the morning show is a paradox for Trebek. He was brought in 15 months ago because the CBC wanted to change the format. The former morning host, Bruce Smith, was moved to the afternoon slot. Now the CBC wants another change. Augerman says the decision was made by Ottawa.
“They’re just changing the format, that’s all,” Trebek explains. “They came up with a new format last year, a format I liked and felt reasonably sure I could operate in and now they’re decided that’s not what they should be doing. I think they’re wrong getting away completely from what they’ve been doing. They don’t really know what they’re doing.” And he admits “I was a little cheesed off. I supposed because I don’t think it’s the right move.”
Augerman, who is probably Trebek’s number one fan, says that “Alex doesn’t have to take a back seat to anyone. He’s New York, Chicago, Los Angeles. I think he’s probably the most underrated broadcaster. His versatility scares the hell out of me.”
Trebek’s experience ranges from acting as host of Swan Lake to the horse races. His detractors tend to say he is equally glib on them all.
As the CBC’s early morning man, Trebek has been getting up at 4 a.m. and dashing (it takes seven minutes) from his George Street home along the few blocks in central Toronto to the CBC. He usually carried his briefcase in one hand and often a can of pop in the other.
His three-story house, which is paid for, was bought “because I wanted to own something.” He restored it himself. It’s attractively—but for some tastes a little too carefully—decorated. A chess board is set up. It’s no casual bachelor’s pad thrown together with Crippled Civilian and Salvation Army furniture but it’s in the style of an Eaton’s College Street store window. Trebek has, and obviously cherishes, a fine collection of paintings, including some by a friend, John Gould.
There’s a handsome dining set where he can entertain up to eight dinner guests. The son of a Sudbury chef, he likes to cook and enjoys going to and giving dinner parties.
He grins (and for the first time in the interview he appears to relax) when he’s asked if he doesn’t agree that he’s a good catch. He agrees, modestly.
At 32, he’s handsome, and has plenty of ambition. “No, I’m not romantically involved,” he says. “I don’t have a big romance with any one girl.” He says he likes “attractive girls with something on the ball. I haven’t met the right one yet. It’s probably because I’ve been too busy pursuing my career to have a stable, emotional relationship with anyone.” He notes the divorce of his parents and many friends.
He complains with good humor when he explains that every time he mentions on air where he was the night before, the girls with whom he dates speculate who he was with. “That’s why I end up going lots of places alone.”
Some dates end by 10 p.m. “Any girl who dates me has time for two dates on the same night.” In 15 months of doing the early show, he’s never been late.
Trebek enjoys being a radio and TV celebrity. “It’s enjoyable being recognized. It’s good for your ego. Everybody likes being rubbed, petted, or whatever.”
Born in Sudbury, he moved to Ottawa as a child and stayed there long enough to study philosophy at the University of Ottawa and to establish himself at the CBC. He came to Toronto in 1963 [sic] to do Music Hop—“a rock ‘n’ roll teeny bopper show on TV. I was fairly young. I was all right. I suppose.”
He likes to clown around both on and off the air—a bit that led to his suspension for a few days recently. “Just make some vague reference to it,” he says. (An offhand remark offended some members of a religious group.) He admits that he finds few subjects sacred.
Is he ever serious? “I’m serious when I think about politics.” He has political ambitions, “Maybe federal politics eventually but a start at the local level. I like politics. It appears to whatever things like that are supposed to appeal to a person of my character. He says—and he does not seem to be kidding—that there should be a degree course at university for politicians.
He adds that if he ever does get to the House of Commons and has a say in the management of the CBC. “I’d make changes. I’d do a little house cleaning. I think the CBC takes up too much of the taxpayer’s dollar for what it gives out. But that can be said for the entire Government.”
Later, he says he would like to work in films either as an actor or producer. “Film is where it’s at. We’ve got a budding film industry in Canada.”
In the meantime he plays to take it easy. “I’ve been working pretty hard for a long time. Maybe I’ll do some reading and some thinking. I’d think to get away from the showbiz atmosphere for a while. But broadcasting is fun. And it sure beats working.”
The only change in the CBC that Trebek made was his employment status. Augerman called it. Trebek became Canada’s Monty Hall, making a Hall-esque jump from the Mother Corp to a hosting job in the U.S.A. Broadcasting magazine reported the following June 11th that Trebek would be emceeing The Wizard of Odds on NBC starting July 16th. “Does his job passively though unimpressively,” sniffed the Globe and Mail, whose columnist looked down on “the worship of possessions.” Another critic compared him to someone other than Hall. “Lacks [Gene] Rayburn’s real or manifested manic enthusiasm,” declared Variety.

Odds was replaced with High Rollers almost a year later but Trebek was on his way. When 1984 rolled around, syndicated show pushers dredged up a bunch of old game show ideas. One was Let’s Make a Deal. Another was Name That Tune. There was even a new edition of High Rollers. Trebek wasn’t involved in that one (Tom Kennedy hosted) because he landed a job on the biggest plum of all: a “high-tech” version of Jeopardy in spite of being labelled, as syndicated columnist Gary Deeb called him, “a thoroughly unremarkable fellow.” And despite critics initially complaining the new Jeopardy was less intellectual and more shallow than the old version, it stayed on the air.

And, in the process, Alex Trebek became the world’s Alex Trebek.


  1. I had read that Alex's one big regret was never having the chance to do some serious dramatic acting. Funny that Tom Kennedy was mentioned, we lost him on October 7th. I thought Trebeck was a man of many talents, and a class act. He will be missed.

  2. RIP. Don't forget that original JEOPARDY's host was the also great (and late,too) Art Fleming! (Merv Griffin JEOPARDY! "Think" music playing at the end.)

    PS In the 1982 sequel to the historic (and histronic and hysterical!) AIPLANE! , Mr.Fleming, still hosting JEAPORDY! , makes a cameo..according to the credits, the theme appears but it's never played, either cut from the film (like with 2001's Meg Ryan-Hugh Jackman time travel romcom KATE AND LEOPOLD where mixed race singer Vanessa Williams' big 1990s hit SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST is mentioned at the end, though the theatrical release doesn't favor yet, yet my extended DVD cut DOES have it,so maybe AIRPLANE 2! DID have the famous JEAPORDY music initally before its 1982 release..then again, it is AIRPLANE!, so maybe the end THINK MUSIC credit was a inside gag based on the fact that they (Paramount Studios) DID get Art Fleming and DID have that Jeaopardy!) GAG. The was, pilot Robert Hays talking to the great Loyd Bridges back at the airport, who says Hays (as "Ted Striker" from the first flick) is gonna put everyone on the plane in Jeapordy, and, so, guess what show and who makes a cameo..:)Contestat on show:"I'll take airline shuttle disasters for."(names price) Art Fleming, 2 years before 1984 when Mr.Trebeck took over "And the answer is.."the airplane name.."THE MAYFLOWER"(ironically, this AIRPLANE installment..the final one, despite what it says at the end! set in the future, considering it was still back when JEOPARDY! was Art Fleming's show LOL)

    Thanks for the article

  3. I mean, the gag was, Robert Hays (as Ted Striker, reprising his earlier character with Julie Hageerty likewise rehashing "Elaine Dickinson")