William Lawrence Francis Cullen (February 18, 1920 July 7, 1990) was a 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 '30s to The '80s (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".
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 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 has mentioned on multiple occasions (including a late-2012 episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!) that the time 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, however, and in fact told Brooks that he was actually 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, and strategic directing and editing. (Similar accommodations were made for him on shows where he appeared as a panel member.) 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 2007 WNBC slideshow of the top twenty game show emcees that managed to omit Bill entirely (much to the chagrin of the station's then-chief anchorman Chuck Scarborough, who shares a birthplace with Cullen) and a 2013 WatchMojo.com "Top Ten Hosts" video that relegated Bill to an uncredited clip at the very end, after the main list and honorable mentions.
Game Shows hosted by Bill:
- Meet Your Match (1949; local WOR series that was canned after two episodes)
- Winner Take All (1952; originally a standalone series, but later became part of the even shorter-lived Matinee In New York that same year)
- I've Got a Secret (1952-67 as regular panelist and occasional host; also helmed a brief 1976 version)
- Professor Yes 'n' No (1952; 26-episode WFIL series that was repackaged for syndication in 1953-54)
- Place the Face (1954-55)
- Bank on the Stars (1954)
- Name That Tune (1954-55)
- Down You Go (1956)
- The Price Is Right (1956-65)
- Eye Guess (1966-69)
- To Tell the Truth (1969-78 as regular panelist and occasional host)
- Three on a Match (1971-74)
- Winning Streak (1974-75)
- The $25,000 Pyramid (1974-79)
- Blankety Blanks (1975)
- Pass the Buck (1978)
- The Love Experts (1978-79)
- Chain Reaction (1980)
- Password Plus (1980; hosted four weeks as a fill-in for Allen Ludden)
- Blockbusters (1980-82)
- Child's Play (1982-83)
- Hot Potato (1984)
- The Joker's Wild (1984-86)
- 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 23-24 and 30-31, 1977; four pilots aired to promote the interactive Warner QUBE system)
- Fantasies Fulfilled (April 27, 1979; produced by Stu Billett, who went on to do The People's Court, and one of the players on this pilot was Doug Llewellyn)
- 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:
- Game Show Appearance: Surprisingly, never with one of his legit shows.
- 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.
- 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 featuring bird trainers.Bill: Well, you know we have a rule on this show that, if we have seen some of the people on this show, whether theyre right or wrong, we can question but not vote. Well, I have to disqualify myself because I met one of those gentlemen in the men's room.
Panelist Kitty Carlisle: What has that got to do with this?
Bill: Well, I want you to know where I met the man!
Garagiola: How do you answer Kitty's question?
Kitty: How did you know he was the real one?
Bill: He had his bird in his hand!
- From the Hot Potato premiere (January 23, 1984), a line mocked by the hosts 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..
- Urban Legends: According to the reference book 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.