- Historic Sites
Who Wants To Be A Mid-two-figures-aire?
How luck, television, and a saintly lurker on the Internet combined to let the author visit 1953 for half an hour.
July/August 2001 | Volume 52, Issue 5
One day, K. visited the same “WML?” Web site I had. He also surfed over to the message board, found Sandy’s request for her aunt’s show, and contacted her. Fortunately, Sandy had saved my e-mail and passed my address on to K. Once I sent him my dad’s name and occupation, he cross-referenced that information with his show logs and came up with the date of the telecast. He searched his tape archive, found the broadcast, dubbed it, and sent it to me—free of charge.
“I’ve only sent a handful of tapes to folks like yourself, the relatives or friends of those who were contestants,” K. wrote. “The mother lode of my dubbing has been for the families of the show’s panelists, producers, and directors,” most of whom, he says, never received copies of their old shows.
I thanked him, of course, and told him my brothers and I wanted to send him something in return. He would not accept. “I think sharing the honor of having these programs with those who would most enjoy them is just plain good karma,” he wrote me. “I only wish I could offer this sort of beau geste in other areas of my life. My mother and father are long gone, and I’d trade this entire collection of shows to simply have the opportunity to have three minutes of kinescope of them like the one of your dad. This ‘generosity’ on my part is not so much largess as it is a way for me to fill an empty part of my soul through giving to people like yourself.”
“Is that right, sir?” Daly means, did he Say my father’s name properly. Of course he did. A man like Mr. Day would know to ask how to pronounce a name correctly, and he would remember, when my father told him, that it’s with a long i , to rhyme with wine , and not the more common “Leveen.”
“He’s so cute!” Kimberly shouts. And she’s right. He is cute. I recognize him from old pictures. His body is taller and thicker than it is now, the body of the athlete who earned a college scholarship to play football at Butler University. I have vague memories of this body, which got heavier and softer as I got older, then trimmed down to the slim 190 pounds he has maintained for about 25 years. His hair is jet black, parted on the side and thick as steel wool. (He still parts it that way, though it’s now fully silver and only as thick as 70-year-old hair could be expected to be.) He wears a smart suit of undetermined color, a white shirt with rounded collars, clasped by a collar pin, and a simple necktie. And he’s got a megawatt smile; I can see the lady-killer his sister, my aunt, says he was back then.
“ Mr. Levine, would you tell us where you are from. ”
“ Rochester, New York. ”
It’s a young man’s voice, soft-edged but strong, almost musical. It’s several pitches higher than the voice I remember from my youth and completely different from the raspy, breathy voice that now shows the effects of 40 or so years of cigarettes.
“ Would you take a small hike down in front of Manhattan there for a moment ,” Mr. Day commands him. After the sign-in and the brief introduction, contestants must go up and back past the panelists, as if in some kind of weird beauty pageant.
“That’s his walk,” Kimberly says. “Definitely.” He bends slightly forward at the waist as he moves. I’ve never noticed it before.
Next the panelists get a free guess, as if they can somehow glean his profession just from his promenade. They are prompted in rapid fire by Mr. Day:
“ Miss Kilgallen? ”
“ Professional football star. ”
“ Mr. Allen? ”
“ He has a voice like a radio announcer. ”
“ Miss Francis? ”
“ Professional basketball. ”
“ Mr. Cerf? ”
“ Everybody in Rochester works for Eastman Kodak. ”
My father grins a wide, toothy grin. I don’t remember that grin.
They are all wrong. He sits next to Mr. Day, and on the screen his occupation is flashed in front of him, so the Studio audience and those watching at home can be in on the mystery.
Bridal consultant .
The studio audience now erupts into applause. The fact that they also erupted into applause for the lifeguard and the worm breeder means nothing to me. They are cheering my rather, the bridal consultant.