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Monday, 21 August
A Wink And A Smile

From child to man I have grown, and he has always been there. He has, in a way, been there from nearly the beginning, and it stills me to think that he might be with me towards the end. He is eternal; he is good; he abides; and I will always revere him.

You must know that I am speaking of Wink Martindale.

As a child, I must confess: I really liked game shows. Though I eventually outgrew such fripperies, growing up, I was charmed by any and all game shows, from the sublime (Joker's Wild) to the banal (Sale of the Century) to the incomprehensibly deranged (Let's Make A Deal). And there, early on, was the ageless Wink (born Winston Conrad Martindale in 1934), hosting a tepid little nothing called "Tic Tac Dough," a suck-o cousin of the gruesome "Hollywood Squares" where contestants answered trivia questions while playing the most boring game ever invented outside of the card game War. But I watched it, all the time. What was it about Wink? Was it his unswerving professionalism? His irremovable high-wattage grin? His . . . brown suit? No, I think I first fell in love with Wink Martindale one evening when my father referred to him as "Stink Fartindale," which was at the time, the funniest fucking thing I'd ever heard. For months, I would see him, and I would instantly think, Stink Fartindale! and then dissolve into helpless giggles. This would be, it should be obvious, the beginning of my interest in sophisticated comedy.

(To further illustrate my immersion in classic comedy from early on, my father scored another palpable hit one night while we were watching the hopeless show "That's Incredible!", featuring a thrillingly dismal trio of wildly mismatched hosts: the vaguely vampiric John Davidson, the hellishly perky nonperson Cathy Lee Crosby, and, most inexplicably, the unbelievably homely Minnesota Viking QB Fran Tarkenton. My father referred to these ghastly humans as, respectively, "White Bread, Hagged-Out and Potato Nose.")

(It also occurs to me that an entire entry could be composed in this space devoted to nothing but "That's Incredible!" but I just don't have it in me.)

After the demise of the miserable Tic Tac Dough, I was later delighted to find Wink taking over the show High Rollers, replacing Alex Trebek. Wink hadn't changed one bit. He still grinned like a seasoned pro, and he wasn't starting to go gray like that show-your-age puss-bag Trebek. Fuck no! He was all man, all game show host man. I felt, at the time, that Wink had rejoined my life, and would serve as a kind of life-guide. Wink was telling me: "I will never leave you." It also delighted me that Wink had moved from one awful, dull game show that relied on hoary gameplay--tic tac toe plus weak trivia--with another, only worse. High Rollers married weak trivia with dice rolling. There is an excellent reason why televised craps has never found an audience, and this show was far, far removed from craps. This show was simply crap.

But I watched! How could I not watch my life guide Wink? Wink was so devoted to me that he took this terrible job on this insulting game show! He was watching out for me. Not like that creepy fucking tool Dick Clark and his countless Illuminati-backed Pyramid shows. Did Wink do any fucking shows with obvious Masonic plants like Nipsey Russell or Michael Gross? I don't think so. He may be boring and kind of "Man in the Gray Flannel Suit"-ey, but at least his terribly tedious game shows are apple-pie American. As long as there are pork chops and electrical storm-related power outages in this country, there will always be citizens listlessly tossing dice, unhappily playing tic tac toe.

Wink is turning 72 this year, and he's still not letting me down. He's not on a game show any more (as far as I know), but he could be: he still looks exactly the same as when I first saw him back in the seventies. These days, he's doing ads for the lousy travel search engine Orbitz--but he's playing a game show host! So that's okay.

Well, it's mostly okay. He's got this recent spot out that kind of makes me think that he's unsteady on the beam. In the most recent piece, it's a pretty lame sell: Orbitz is pushing $200 discounts for travel to Mexico and the Caribbean. Whatever. Good old Stink is paired up with a racky brunette, which is nice, but at the end of the ad, something very alarming happens: Wink, still in his omnipresent suit, taglines to the camera, "And always remember to use protection!" The racky girl applies suntan lotion to her lovely frame, and then Wink, who has apparently become unhinged, applies the same to the arm of his suitcoat, rendering the sleeve a lovely cumshot sheen of white.


But really, that's not the most damaging aspect of the ghastly scene. What's really crushing is hearing Wink talk in any way about "using protection." Now . . . look. Does Orbitz really want its potential customers to be in the frame of mind, when contemplating travel arrangements, to be thinking of a Methuselian game show host elliptically referring to rubbers? In the words of I. I. Rabi, who ordered that?

In the end, though, I forgive Wink everything. I want him to be with me forever. And I'm certain that he will be.

Note: Comments are closed on old entries.


Thank god the entertainment industry has moved on since those days of Tick Tack Dough and That's Incredible. Those obviously pale in comparison to the Lingos and America Has Talents of the modern age.

Comment number: 007922   Posted by: i, squub on August 22, 2006 05:22 AM from IP:

I have to say that being from the other side of the pond, I havenít a breeze about any of the above but itís nice to see that the golden days of your youth were filled with such passion and devil-may-care.

Comment number: 007923   Posted by: Lung the Younger on August 22, 2006 05:31 AM from IP:

I had college roommates who would watch Tic Tac Dough every day. They'd try to outdo each other answering the questions, and would "ROAR" in anticipation of the dragon's appearance on the game grid.

After a hit o' the bong, I would enjoy it too.

Comment number: 007924   Posted by: ryan on August 22, 2006 08:05 AM from IP:

That's Incredible makes me think of the even lower rent Real People, which had a phalanx of hosts. I only remember two of them though, Skip Stephenson and Byron Allen...

Comment number: 007926   Posted by: beige on August 22, 2006 10:03 AM from IP:

SARAH PURCELL! You philistine.

Comment number: 007927   Posted by: Skot on August 22, 2006 10:05 AM from IP:

Your Dad sounds like a riot. The roots of your sense of humor are all too obvious now.

And why is it I can only think of Wink's alter ego in the voice of Snake from "The Simpsons"?: "All riiiiiight! Stink Fartindaaaaaaaaaaale!" I guess TV really is bad for your brain.

Comment number: 007928   Posted by: Andrew on August 22, 2006 10:53 AM from IP:

I'm pretty sure Real People was first, and That's Incredible was the hastily slapped-together knock-off. All "reality shows" since then have basically been standing on the shoulders of those two giants. Well, that and The $1.98 Beauty Pageant.

Comment number: 007929   Posted by: flamingbanjo on August 22, 2006 02:38 PM from IP:

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