In the early 80's CBS produced and aired Celebrity Family Feud as a prime time special. It was Celebrity contestants instead of real families playing Family Feud for charity. I performed on the show as a part of the SOAP Family/Cast. Of course, Richard Dawson was the host. I liked working with him. I always thought he was a talented guy and great raconteur. I secretly coveted the chance to replace him one day with dreams of being a TV host myself. Richard was spontaneously funny, intelligent and a gracious guy. He was an actor and comedian which made him more than just a comic. He really knew how to be inclusive with his humor. I liked him. But working with him is not the story I remember most when I think about Richard Dawson. Here is what I remember:
I was watching Family Feud on a television in a hotel bedroom. I neither remember the city, the hotel nor the club I was working at the time. None of that is important to the story. The only important fact is that I was alone in a hotel room when I yelled out at Richard Dawson.
If you do not know how Family Feud is played I am not going to explain. In my mind I can still here the bells and buzzers that tagged the answers in the game.
Richard - We asked one hundred people this question and their top Four answers are on the board. Ready hands down, here is the Question: Name a ventriloquist.
BUZZZ - The Gillis Family -
Show us Edgar Bergen--- DING DING DING the top answer turns to Edgar Bergen.
What was background television in my room has not grabbed my full attention. There is no doubt Edgar Bergen would be first on the list of ventriloquists. But there are three more answers on the board and the Gillis Family has decided to play. What did the survey say about ventriloquists?
The Gillis Family's second guess is Shari Lewis and Lambchop, DING DING DING the number three answer turns to Shari Lewis. I have an idea of who I would guess next but the Gillis Family says, Ricky Lane - BUZZZ strike one. Two strikes left.
At some point I began to yell the names of my favorite ventriloquists to the Gillis Family as they struggled with the next few names. One of the Gillis nephew's says Willie Tyler and Lester as I scream Paul Winchell. BUZZZ....strike two. One strike left.
At this point Richard Dawson begins to show his talent as host. He jokes with the contestants, keeps the game moving and reminds the Gillis's if they miss one more time the Troy Family will have a chance to steal. As I look at the next Gillis to answer it doesn't look good.
Richard - "Thirty seconds... Name a ventriloquist......"
I continue to scream Paul Winchell, Paul Winchell.... and at the very last second cousin Gillis says...Paul Winchell DING DING DING... the number two answer... Paul Winchell...
Now there is one more strike and one last name of a Ventriloquist on the board for all the money. I have a vested interest in this game. I connect with the Gillis Family and do not want the Troy's to steal. I am sure I know name four on the survey.
Richard- "There is one last name on the board. You have one strike left, this is for the entire game. If you don't get this then the Troy's can steal it with the right answer, are you ready?"
It is back to the Gillis who knew Edgar Bergen would be number 1. There is a moment while Gillis is thinking that I softly say, "Jimmy Nelson and Danny O'Day"... it is going to the wire and I say... "Jimmy Nelson". Finally I hear the Gillis Family head say, Jimmy Nelson and Farfel...
I wonder if the character has to be specific. Would they allow Jimmy Nelson and Farfel as an answer if it is suppose to be Jimmy and Danny? If they just say Jimmy Nelson they will win. Richard is very cool and corrects the possible conflict by saying, "Show us Jimmy Nelson." BUZZZ the last strike and all hell breaks out in the studio and my hotel room. The Troy's have a chance to steal, they need one answer and they will win.
Richard goes to the first Troy in line. He reminds her that they have thirty seconds, he needs one answer. The contestant thinks for a moment, then seems to light up. "Oh I know, the guy on Soap, the ventriloquist, the guy...
Richard-" Ten seconds I need a name..."
Troy - "The guy who does Bob... Bob and... they guy, you know on SOAP"
Richard - "Five seconds I need a name..."
I start screaming my name. Jay Johnson, Jay Johnson...
Troy - "The Bob guy.... uh... Bob.... uh Chuck and Bob"
Other members of her family clap and say "Good answer". I am thinking terrible answer. But at the same time I am thinking... wow.. this lady thinks I am fourth in line. I am honored but I know they will strike out with the answer, "Chuck and Bob" that is the name of the character I played on SOAP. Jay Johnson might be that fourth card but they will lose with Chuck and Bob. I scream my name one more time to the television.
Richard - "Chuck and Bob is your answer.... I think who you mean is the ventriloquist who plays Chuck and Bob..... his name is Jay Johnson... right"
The Troys clap and say "Good answer...". I am thinking holy crap Richard just threw the game to the Troys. He said my name. Dawson said my name because he knew it was up there. He corrected Senior Troy with my name so there would be a big finish to the round. There would be a DING DING DING as a finish.
Richard - "For all the money and the game we need to see Jay Johnson on that survey...(Tension....lots of it particularly in room 1704 .... Show us Chuck and Bob on SOAP... show us Jay Johnson....(Time becomes slow motion as I want to savor this moment....) BUZZZ wrong.... Not there, neither name... no se llama.
Richard - The survey says....... "Senor Wenches" ... Of course. My ego had hijacked the survey. I was not there on the survey. But Richard Dawson said my name on the air.
The Family Feud goes to commercial, and I go off to the comedy club. I may have tried to tell that story at the club. If I did it didn't stay in the act.
Now Mr. Dawson is gone but those two memories remain. His talents will be missed.
As you were,