Hello, everybody. Merry Christmas to you all. I’ve been doing other things, yes, but I haven’t completely forgotten about this place. I attempted to get an interview with Jim McKrell, host of Celebrity Sweepstakes. I got hold of him via Facebook and we became friends. I sent him a lot of questions that were a bit redundant but I want to be thorough. I asked him a few days ago how he was coming along, and he sent me this response (edited by me for clarity, capitalization, and punctuation where necessary):
From: Jim MacKrell
I have been giving a lot of thought to your questions. Some prompt me to explore them even further. Just like anyone’s life the record of progress made in a chosen profession is fought with ups and downs, sorrow and joy, success and failure. If there is anything I would add to any questionnaire it would be, “ Just keep putting one foot in front of the other”.
I owe my entire career to the famed composer Henry Mancini. My career path was totally involved with radio. I happen to be active in the birth of “Top 40” radio and worked for some of the most famous Top Forty stations across the country. From KXOL in Ft Worth, Texas, where I worked with so many young people who went on to fame on the national stage, (George Carlin, Jack Burns, Bob Schaffer, Roy Eaton, Bill Ennis, just to name a few) to WMEX in Boston with stops at WNOE, New Orleans, WFUN Miami, KBOX Dallas along the way. WMEX changed my life in so many ways. I was the afternoon drive jock in 1963 when President Kennedy was killed. Nothing to that point in time affected me as much. I just couldn’t stand to play silly records…
Being the number one afternoon DJ in Boston led me to meet the head of promotion for RCA Records John Rosica. My wife, Cathy and I were beginning to be homesick for Texas and John offered me a job in promotion and Artist Relations back in Texas. It was at this period of my life I met Henry Mancini. I shared with him my deepest desire to be an actor and he advised me to look to New York and LA for that kind of career. Not only did he give me advice, three weeks later I got a job offer from him to work in his Hollywood office. That started a lasting friendship that shaped my outlook on performing and the business of show.
Henry made it possible for me to get the best of theatrical training at such places as the Film Industry Workshop at Columbia Pictures, all while working for him with plenty of time off.
When I got my first series, The Game Game, I left Henry with his promise that I could always come back. What a sense of security.
My agent, Cunningham and Assoc., sent me on an audition for the announcer job on this new Chuck Barris production. After a series of run thru’s I got the job of host. We did the pilot at the old Hollywood Palace and when the show was picked up we moved to CBS TV City since they were the syndicators. [Note from Me: I learned from Jim that CBS Enterprises (now CBS Television Distribution) originally distributed The Game Game.] The show only lasted one season due to contract difficulty between the network and Barris. We had good ratings and were successful but many times it’s the business and not the fault of the show that gets it canceled.
The one good thing is that exposure solidified my place as a game show host. From there offers came in and my career was off to a good start.
During the height of the game show popularity there were usually about 15 to 30 game show pilots made each season. You know that there are three major seasons for networks and one for syndicated shows, so if you don’t have a pilot you can get lost for a year. When you agree to do a pilot, there are a lot of ramifications involved between talent and agents and again between agents and producers. Since you know that, when you sign on for a pilot, you have a good chance of it never airing. So, you must somehow try to earn a living doing something else. In my case, it was acting and commercials.
That aspect of my career was extremely profitable and made me even more attractive to the producer market.
I was in New York and got a chance to audition for a NYC based game show produced by Al Howard. While that pilot didn’t sell, the network executive at NBC, Lin Bolen, liked my work and immediately the next quarter, put me in a show for one of the best producers I’ve worked for, Ron Greenburg. I learned so much from Ron, on how to be what he called an “On stage producer”. Such great advice allowed me to more completely understand the role of game show host and that fact built my reputation and led to my being placed by Lin on Celebrity Sweepstakes. I love each and every moment of CS, especially the friendships I made with the celebrity guests.
Dick Martin and Dan Rowen became long time friends as did Joey Bishop, Tina Sinatra, [and] of course our dear friend Carol Wayne. During the run of the show, the original producer, Ralph Andrews, ran afoul of NBC management and the show was sold to Burt Sugarman, and he remained owner for the run of the daytime and nighttime versions. I had a great relationship with Burt and, as you know, he married Carol Wayne. Her tragic death while on vacation was a shock to us all. With the nighttime version of the show, my agency changed and I was signed by Ray Sackheim. Ray shepherded my career from then on, expanding it into more TV series and movies. Ray was the second most important person in my career after Lin Bolen.
As the business changed I changed with it. Always keeping my self available for opportunities in the game show field, but not having to depend on it for my livelihood. You ask many times how or why I because involved with this show or that. There is a saying in Hollywood that you do what comes next. That is really the crux of my career. I did what is next and fortunately what’s next lead to a marvelous life time for my family and me. The answer to many of your questions about the length of shows isn’t really answerable unless you totally understand the business side of TV and movies. In other words…there is much more to the success or failure of show than is obvious. Your assumption about the demise of Celebrity Sweepstakes had nothing to do with Price is Right and everything to do with the in house politics at NBC. We were canceled with a higher rating than the entire NBC lineup has now. While Lin Bolin remains my dear friend and mentor, she had her detractors in house at NBC management and interior politics cost NBC the best programming executive they’ve ever had.
The good thing about my career is that it isn’t over. I just finished the lead role in Bo Brinkman’s feature production “ The Last Man Club” . We should start another movie early next year when he is through with editing and scoring this movie.
Lin Bolen is still active and planning a movie for next year of which she already has me cast. Life is good. Between movie assignments, I continue to write my successful novels. I have two available on Amazon, Falen Semper Fi, and Down from the Mountain.
I hope this answers your questions…I’ve enjoyed this little trip down memory lane..
Well, Jim, it answered some of them. As I told him, I should be grateful for whatever I get. This is an independent blog. I’m not like BuzzerBlog, I don’t have sponsors. I don’t have access to everything. (Although Sony Pictures Entertainment being hacked recently could bring new life into the blog.)
I’m still working on an interview with David Sparks of On a Roll fame, and we’ll see how that one goes. But first, I did learn some interesting trivia about him. Did you know Jim was in a Burger King commercial with Bert Convy’s wife?
Thank you for reading, and I’m sorry I wasn’t able to deliver.