Wednesday 12 June 2019

The Price is Right . . . But What Next?

When did Bill Cullen find time to sleep?

There was a period in the 1950s where he was up at dawn to go on the radio in the morning then, after he finished, moved to another studio for The Price is Right an hour later, and appeared on television in the evening twice in a week on a quiz show and a panel show. (Whether he was on Monitor on NBC radio on weekends at this point, I don’t know).

Let’s go back to 1959 and see what United Press International had to say about Cullen. The quiz show scandal was still burning but Cullen and The Price is Right weren’t even singed. Cullen’s show didn’t involve huge cash jackpots, in fact, someone might win five sheep (yes, that was a prize). Perhaps the winner could have given them to Cullen to count so he could get some shut-eye.
‘Price Is Right’ Host Gets Quiz of His Own
Bill Cullen Has Hectic Schedule But Says it's Easy; He Uses Different Personalities

NEW YORK, July 25 (UPI) — Just every time Bill Cullen gets into a taxi cab, the dialogue goes something like this:
Cabbie: Hey, I know you. You're Bill Cullen.
Cullen: That’s right.
Cabbie: (Chuckling) Is the price right?
Cullen: I'll let you know when I see the meter.
Cabbie: Tell me, Bill do those winners on ‘Price Is Right’ have to pay taxes on what they win?
Cullen: Yes. They add the fair trade value of the prizes to their income.
Cabbie: How do I get my wife on the show?
Cullen: Tell her to send away for tickets. We pick all our contestants right out of the audience.
"I get the same questions every time," said the boyish-looking host of NBC-TV’s "The Price Is Right." "And not only from cab drivers. When I’m walking along the street, I sometimes get stopped and that's the conversation.
"I think we’re in a rut," said Cullen, whose rut also finds him serving as a panelist on CBS-TV’s "I’ve Got A Secret" and chief waker-upper on a four-hour early-morning NBC radio show.
His "on the-air" schedule keeps him around the mike for 25½ hours each week and gets most hectic on Wednesday when he does "Price" and, a half-hour later, "Secret.
It sounds hectic, but Cullen says it’s all very easy. “There is no rehearsal required for any of my shows. ‘Price’ runs itself. I come in 45 minutes before, learn where learn where I'm to stand, the names of the models, the prizes and the commercial cues. The radio show? No work at all. I just talk," he said.
"I use completely different personalities on the different shows. On radio, it’s early morning so I'm quiet. If any humor is there, it's in a low key. On daytime TV, I work about two pitches higher. On night-time TV, I'm another pitch higher. For ‘Secret,’ I'm in between.
"Sometimes," said Cullen, “I catch myself starting too high, so I adjust. I guide myself by the studio audience. I think I've developed a sixth sense that enables me to tell how the audience feels about the contestants, the prizes, or me. I can adjust to meet their feelings."
That sort of perception comes with experience, and Cullen has it.
Born in Pittsburgh in 1920, he started out to become a doctor, decided It was too tough and went into radio. After serving an apprenticeship in Pittsburgh, he came to New York with CBS radio in 1944. Two years later, he took over the "Winner Take All" show, his first quiz. been running quiz and games shows ever since and insists that there's nothing else he'd rather do.
Many of his TV fans are unaware that Cullen walks with a limp, the result of polio when he was a youngster. Cullen makes a point of not walking around while on camera.
"Price," which offers its viewers a chance to win valuable prizes by guessing price tags, averages around 20 million postcards a week. "There's something about guessing prices," Cullen said. "Everyone thinks he can do it. I’ve seen sophisticated people—bankers, lawyers, professors—really get involved with our game."
Actually, the cab driver asked Cullen a pretty good question. Did winners pay taxes? And what is “fair trade value” anyway? For the answers, we go to this feature article from the Associated Press, also from 1959.
When ‘The Price Is Right,’ Uncle Sam Gets His Share
AP Movie-TV Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — What do people do with the prizes they win on television shows?
Usually they enjoy them. Positively they pay federal taxes on them.
Some prizes are sold — to friends or strangers — when the winner can't use them. There even are instances where an unusual prize has launched its winner into a new hobby or business.
These are among the things one learns from looking in on one of the most popular—and generous— of the giveaway shows, "The Price is Right” (NBC-TV, Wednesdays).
Although a winner must pay taxes on all prizes, none of the winners cited by the program reports any tax problems. Anyone who wins a new refrigerator, for example, is happy to pay the tax on it. When prize values rise into the thousands of dollars, the method is to sell some of the prizes to pay taxes on the others.
Winners pay on what is known as the fair market value of a prize—not its announced value. That is, articles are evaluated by an objective commercial appraising source acceptable to the Internal Revenue Service.
The program denies it helps winners sell superfluous prizes. “Winners don’t have to shop around to dispose of prizes they don’t want,” a spokesman said, "Instead, people contact them.”
When Paul Jones of Simpsonville, S.C., won an elephant, he was contacted immediately by an animal dealer who wanted it. Jones also won an airplane which he shipped home and tried to learn to fly.
"But after a half dozen lessons at the local airport, I decided I'd never make a flier,” he reports. "So I sold it to the airport and used the money for a house at the beach.”
Mrs. Jewel Blasinghame of Baytown, Tex., told "The Price is Right” what she did with a $6,000 swimming pool:
"I always wanted a house in a summer home development near Baytown. I sold my swimming pool to the owners of the development in exchange for a $2,000 lot and $3,000 cash. My new home now is going up right near the pool. It’s still my pool because the new owners are charging admission and I get a percentage.”
Among other things Mrs. Blasinghame won a 1928 Rolls Royce which she sold to an old car enthusiast from Middletown, Pa. "He had been looking for a '28 Rolls since the war, and finally saw just what he wanted when he watched me win it on the show. He phoned immediately and I sold it to him. That car had been sitting 12 miles away from his home all those years."
Speaking of cars, Michael Podrachi of Taylor, Pa., received a new $5,500 auto on the condition that he and his wife went directly from the stage of the show to Anchorage, Alaska. He also won a station wagon. A railroad worker, he has started an electrical contracting business on the side—enabled, he says, because he has that station wagon to carry his equipment.
And speaking of business careers, the aforementioned Paul Jones, a Simpsonville furniture salesman, won among many other things an ice cream vendor's cart. He has informed the program that he got a vendor's license and a stock of ice cream—and has a pleasant side business.
Other Joneses the program has kept up with include Mrs. Elinor Jones of Lawrence, Mass. Among her many prizes were 22 pieces of luggage. What do you do with 22 pieces of luggage?
"Luggage has become the family's favorite wedding and graduation gifts," she says. "Every time we have a major family gift occasion, we take out another piece of new luggage."
Like Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Hazel Varner of Columbus, Ohio, gets pleasure from seeing others use her "Price Is Right" boodle. Among her prizes was a $600, 12-volt, battery-powered toy truck. Although she has so children herself, the kids in the neighborhood get a kick out of riding it.
Bill Cullen has always been my favourite game show host, and he was the favourite of many, many others, including the people he worked with on The Price is Right. One of the show’s cameramen revealed in a 1961 newspaper interview that, normally, the stars give the crew a gift at Christmas. Instead, the crew gave Cullen a present. And I’ll bet he didn’t have to guess the manufacturer’s suggested retail price.


  1. Going back to my earliest years, Bill Cullen was the host I remembered first. I think Bill was just modest. A lot more goes into hosting those shows than what we see on the surface. Plus, with his schedule of juggling radio, and two games shows, he had a lot of natural talent that made it look easy. Dad pointed out to me that he was seated on camera because he suffered polio. He was a class act.

  2. I'm sure you've heard this before, but I couldn't resist linking to Mel Brooks' anecdote about Bill Cullen: