When I was in grade school, we had no school cafeteria so options for lunch included eating uptown in a restaurant or running home, scarfing down food and running straight back to school. We had an hour. Most of the time, I'd hang out at the chili parlors a few blocks away feeding quarters to the jukebox for more Blood, Sweat and Tears. For a period around 1971, however, I'd rush home to watch PASSWORD.
PASSWORD was that rare animal--an intelligent game show. You could tell because host Allen Ludden had glasses. He had also been the host of a college game show before that and if you looked closer at his background, he was a Phi Beta Kappa with a Masters in English from the University of Texas. And a former school teacher himself!
It was a simple premise. You had two teams, each with a celebrity teamed with a non-celebrity. One person on each team was shown a word and their goal was to get the other person to say that word by "passing" them another word. Example. If the word to guess was "insane," the word given might be "crazy." Or if the word was "lightning," one might say, "thunder."
Although not necessarily meant to be educational, PASSWORD was a great source of new vocabulary words for a sixth grader!
Beginning in the early sixties, PASSWORD ran through many incarnations up through host Ludden's death in the eighties and even then there were a few attempts to revive it on a grander scale with lots of bells and whistles.
But PASSWORD at its peak wasn't grand. It didn't need to be. There were no flashing lights or fancy music. Just smart TV and movie stars and lightning rounds. It was funny because of the silly guesses sometimes made. It was tense because you could see these people's minds working as they tried to piece together the word clues or worse, as they clearly failed to do so! It was simple and fun.
One of the biggest sources of fun on PASSWORD was Elizabeth Montgomery. To my mind, the BEWITCHED star, so pretty and funny, was also the single best game show contestant I ever saw and PASSWORD was her best showcase. She appeared often over the years and was always a treat.
Originally aired from 1961-1967, if I saw any of those on first run, I don't recall. What I loved was the 1971-1975 revival, now considered all but lost. Produced by the Goodson-Todman team that also presented my mother's favorite classy panel shows including TO TELL THE TRUTH and WHAT'S MY LINE?, PASSWORD was apparently recorded over by episodes of FAMILY FEUD. Only a few episodes and clips are known to survive.
A few years ago, a friend gave me as a birthday gift THE BEST OF PASSWORD, a 4 DVD set of episodes from the sixties nighttime and daytime runs. Great fun all around! Guests include Dick Van Dyke, Carol Burnett, Jack Benny, Peter Lawford, Robert Preston, Steve Allen, Lauren Bacall, Jimmy Stewart and Nancy Sinatra. And, of course, Elizabeth Montgomery!
Probably Allen Ludden's favorite contestant was Betty White whom he met in summer stock not long after PASSWORD began. The two got married soon afterwards and became one of Hollywood's favorite couples for many years. Betty was legitimately one of the show's best contestants and so probably appeared more than anyone else over time.
In 1981, Allen Ludden died and every other attempt at reviving PASSWORD has been lacking because of that. It's a good premise and it will probably be back again at some point but sometimes everything just falls into place and the magic just works. One can't create that on purpose. I can't imagine kids today running home for lunch to catch a game show.
But me? I'm watching a PASSWORD episode right now with GILLIGAN'S ISLAND's Bob Denver and Carole Wells from PISTOLS 'N' PETTICOATS. And wishing Allen Ludden was still with us. Seemed like such a nice man.
Come back and see us tomorrow. Until then, this is your host saying the password for today is PASSWORD!