I knew who Chuck Barris was even before I saw him.
I was the kind of kid who watched shows right through to the end credits, and I noticed the Chuck Barris Productions logo was very similar to ABC’s and Dick Clark’s. That made sense, since both Clark (who employed Barris in the late ’50s) and Barris had relationships with ABC. (It’s hard to beat a Paul Rand logo.)
Game show geek that I was, I did watch “The Dating Game” and “The Newlywed Game,” though I didn’t understand any of the snickering double-entendres both shows wallowed in. But somehow I knew they were related to Barris, and that his shows were low-brow fun. (He also did “The New Treasure Hunt.”)
Then came “The Gong Show” and Chuck the smarmy host.
Oh, man, did I watch “The Gong Show.” I loved how they gave out $516.32 for the big prize. I loved the Unknown Comic. I had no idea who Jaye P. Morgan was, but I knew Jamie Farr from “M*A*S*H” and Gary Owens had that wonderful voice.
And then there was Barris, clapping his hands, making crude jokes, taking off his bow tie within five minutes of the show’s opening. Stupid? Absolutely. Fun? Of course.
Of course, “The Gong Show” quickly got mannered — what started out as something between a real talent show and vaudeville became a planned freak parade — and “The Gong Show Movie” was even worse. (Yes, I paid to watch it in the theater.) And “The $1.98 Beauty Show” never did it for me.
But Barris was always a fascinating figure. He liked us to think so, anyway. Who else would claim he was both a TV producer and a CIA agent?
Chuck Barris shuffled off the stage Tuesday. Much to his credit, he wasn’t gonged.
We’ll leave you with Gene, Gene, the Dancing Machine.