Legendary Game Show
host who appeared on more games than anyone else in American television, and whose career spanned across many shows on radio and television from The Thirties
to The Eighties
(including his own 15-minute Thursday-morning variety show, The Bill Cullen Show
, on CBS
in 1952). He died in 1990 from lung cancer, and is often called
"The King of Game Shows" or "The Dean of Emcees".
Bill suffered from polio as a child and was badly injured in a 1937 motorcycle accident; as a result, he had great difficulty walking for the rest of his life. Mel Brooks
once said (and retold on a late-2012 episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live
) that the time that he imitated Cullen's jerky walk after an appearance on Eye Guess
, without knowing he was legitimately injured, was the most mortifying moment of his life. Bill graciously took it in good humor, and in fact told Brooks that he was very grateful for the mimicry as up until then, he felt that others were being too pitying of him.
On-air, Cullen's limited mobility was largely obscured by the design of his shows' sets, which tended to have him stay behind a podium with as little movement as possible. However, this was not
why he wasn't chosen to host The Price Is Right
again when it was revived in 1972 — Bill, who hosted the original 1956-65 run, was in negotiations, but this fell through and Dennis James was chosen for the upcoming nighttime series (it was only by about mid-Spring 1972 that CBS expressed interest in a daytime series and Bob Barker got involved). It should be noted that James was chosen for Price
about six months before most of the revival's details were ironed out.
During a 2007 countdown of the "Top Ten Hosts" by GSN
, Cullen was listed as #7
despite the narration and commentators all but outright saying he deserved top prize. Still, it was better than a subsequent list by WNBC of the top twenty
game show emcees that managed to omit Bill entirely, much to the chagrin of the station's lead anchorman Chuck Scarborough (who shares a birthplace with Cullen).
Not to be mistaken for Peter Cullen
(who has a very different fandom) or any of these guys
who are also named "Bill Cullen".
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- Winner Take All (1946-50)
- Catch Me If You Can (1948)
- Hit The Jackpot (1948-49, 1950)
- Beat The Clock (1949; quiz show unrelated to the stunt show)
- Quick As A Flash (1949-51)
- Fun For All (1952-53; co-hosted with Arlene Francis)
- Walk A Mile (1953-55)
- Stop The Music (1954)
- Quick As A Flash (1952; taped for NBC, but went to air without Bill on ABC)
- The Choice Is Yours (November 28, 1970; Bill's only show for Hatos-Hall)
- Equal Partners (August 3, 1976)
- How Do You Like Your Eggs? (March 23-31, 1977; four pilots aired to promote the interactive Warner QUBE system)
- Decisions Decisions (1979; two pilots, one of which featured David Letterman)
- Punchlines (December 30, 1979; revival of Eye Guess)
- Also appeared as a celebrity panelist on many, many pilots produced by his best friend, Bob Stewart.
Tropes invoked by Bill:
- Adorkable: Bill's early work, in the "just so darn sweet" mold.
- Deadpan Snarker: More often directed towards himself and whatever show he was hosting, but contestants would get their share as well.
- Game Show Appearance: Surprisingly, never with one of his legit shows.
- Late 1975/Early 1976: "The Bottom Line", probably the most bizarre example of this Trope ever.
- March 8, 1978: An appearance on Captain Kangaroo as host of "The Baking Game", where Bunny Rabbit appeared. Bill then visited the Clubhouse.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Bill loved to do this.
- One prize on Price was a breakfront with a built-in stereo, record player, and fold-out bed.
Something like this probably took a lot of thinking, didn't it? That's amazing, it's a complete entertainment
(cue New York audience laughing their hearts out, and Bill acting very coy
- A famous one from Joe Garagiola's tenure as host of To Tell The Truth (taped May 18, 1977), when Bill explained why he had to disqualify himself during a game with a contestant who trained birds.
Bill: It was an accident. Before the show I walked into the bathroom, and there was [the contestant] with his bird in his hand.
- From the Hot Potato premiere (January 23, 1984), a line mocked by the jerks of GSN's Faux Pause:
Bill: Diane, I couldn't see your nametag there. It was facing away from me for the best reason in the world.
- The Short Guy with Glasses
- Urban Legends: According to Total Television, Bill replaced Dennis James as host of the syndicated game PDQ (1965-69) later in its run. No other reference book supports this, and the existence of an episode taped October 3, 1968 with James as host effectively ruled this false. Cullen may have filled in, but there is no evidence of this, either.
- Written-In Infirmity: Nearly every show he hosted made accommodations to cover up his limp.
- As a celebrity partner on Password Plus and various versions of Pyramid, he and the other celeb were seated at their desks (with their respective contestants on Pyramid) instead of doing the traditional walk-on. If Bill was part of the winning team, he usually wasn't shown walking to the Winner's Circle or Alphabetics before the commercial break.