Price is Right, The (1956-1965)

The original version of The Price is Right was a big hit, owing mainly to the twinkling hostmanship of emcee Bill Cullen. It was basically a giveaway show: Four contestants, apparently chosen primarily for their excitability, would “bid” on various items, trying to guess the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. The one who got the closest without going over would win the item plus (usually) an array of bonus prizes.

The show had three main appeals. One was that you at home could play along, seeing how close you could come to guesstimating the prices. The second appeal was watching the winners going through fits of ecstasy and hysteria to score a free refrigerator or trip to the Bahamas. And the third appeal was Cullen, who was easily one of the cleverest, most congenial hosts to ever preside over a game show.

William Lawrence Cullen was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1920 and broke into radio there during his teen years. By 1946, he was the host of the radio game show, Winner Take All, starting an amazing run of game show jobs both as host and panelist. On radio and television, the list included Act It Out, I’ve Got a Secret, Bank on the Stars, Professor Yes ‘n’ No, The Joker’s Wild, Sports Cavalcade, Blankety Blanks, The Love Experts, The $25,000 Pyramid, Blockbusters, Three on a Match, Chain Reaction, Meet Your Match, To Tell The Truth, Child’s Play, Name That Tune, Where Was I?, Down You Go, The Name’s The Same, Who’s There?, Eye Guess, Why?, Give and Take, Hot Potato, Pass the Buck, Winning Streak, How Do You Like Your Eggs?, Place the Face and You’re Putting Me On.

The Cullen version of The Price is Right aired on NBC in daytime from 1956 until 1963, then shifted to ABC where it lasted until 1965. A weekly prime-time version aired from 1957 until 1964, also traversing both networks. As you can see from the above tickets, they moved around. The first ticket is for the Ziegfeld Theater, which NBC acquired in 1955. It had previously housed musicals including the original Kiss Me Kate and Show Boat. (The last legit offering there was an original musical by Lumpy Brannan, who went on to portray Mr. Green Jeans on the Captain Kangaroo TV show.) A few years before NBC sold the theater and it reverted to Broadway fare, The Price is Right moved to the Colonial and then when the show migrated to ABC, to the Ritz, which is now known as the Walter Kerr Theater.

In 1972, the production company (Goodson-Todman) decided to try and revive The Price is Right. It only took a few run-throughs for Mark Goodson to decide that the format was hopelessly outdated and that a major facelift was in order. The game that had been the core of the Cullen version was pared down to a quick pricing round, via which audience contestants earned the right to come up on stage and play the real game. And the rest is history…