Monty Hall, the original host and co-creator of “Let’s Make a Deal,” the long-running game show that debuted in 1963, making kooky audience costumes and carnival-style bartering an institution on daytime television, has died, according to the Associated Press. He was 96.
One of the most popular TV game shows of the 1960s and early 1970s, “Let’s Make a Deal” featured Hall as a fast-talking auctioneer-trader who randomly pulled people from the audience to trade for prizes that could be valuable – or relatively worthless “zonks,” gag gifts such as a barnyard animal or a giant jar of peanut butter.
“People had gotten excited on game shows before, but never to the extent that they did on ‘Deal,’” according to the 2006 book “Rules of the Game,” which featured Hall on the cover.
“Let’s Make a Deal” originally aired for 13 years, first on NBC and then ABC, and it has been revived in various daytime and prime-time incarnations since.
Over more than two decades, Hall hosted about 4,500 episodes and became wealthy co-producing it. When CBS revived the show in 2009, actor-comedian Wayne Brady stepped in as master of ceremonies. Hall served as a consultant and made the rare guest appearance.
As he roamed the studio, Hall would barter with various contestants, giving a woman $5, for instance, if she could remember her driver’s license number then tempting her to trade for what was behind a door or box.
When the show premiered, contestants wore business attire for about a month until a woman got Hall’s attention with a sign that said, “Roses are red/Violets are blue/I came here/to deal with you.”
“The next week, everybody had a sign. Then came the crazy hats,” Hall told USA Today in 2001. “Three weeks after that came Jolly Green Giants, gorillas, sailors, pirates.”
NBC raised a corporate eyebrow over the outbreak of zany ensembles, but Hall said they would stay because “it lends quite a flavor to the show,” he said in a 2002 interview with the Archive of American Television.
Hall compared hosting Deal to competing in a decathlon because he constantly had to ad-lib based on contestants’ choices, he later said.
A native of Canada, Hall moved to Los Angeles from New York in 1961 – the year he turned 40 – hoping to change his luck in broadcasting, he later said.
For five years, he had tried to break through on TV in New York but ended up mainly appearing on what he called “fringe stuff” that included narrating the NBC western anthology “Cowboy Theatre” in 1957.
He finally broke through hosting the CBS game show “Video Village,” which emcee Jack Narz left early in its run in 1960. When production of the weekday game show moved west, so did Hall.
In 1962, he sold “Your First Impression,” a game show that involved identifying a mystery guest, to NBC and met his future business partner, Stefan Hatos, a network employee.
Over lunch at a deli at Sunset Boulevard and Vine Avenue, Hatos and Hall came up with the idea for “Let’s Make a Deal.” It was inspired by “The Lady, or the Tiger?” the Frank R. Stockton short story about a person choosing between two curtain-draped tents, and “The Auctioneer,” a radio show that Hall had hosted in Toronto.
“During the tryout phase, we would call people who had clubs and offer to provide entertainment,” Hall told the Toronto Star in 2009. “Once we did the show at 8 a.m. for 16 women who belonged to the Latter-Day Saints knitting society in the Valley.”
The show’s signature closing gave two contestants a choice between prizes hidden behind door no. 1, 2 or 3. It spawned a controversy in the 1990s that became known as “the Monty Hall problem”: Why is it better for a contestant to switch choices after the contents of a door that was not picked are revealed?
Books were written about the probability puzzle that continues “to perplex world-class mathematicians,” according to “The Guide to United States Popular Culture.”
When interviewers questioned whether the show glorified greed, Hall invariably insisted it was about “gambling” or “risking.” “It was just people coming with nothing, and going home with something, whether a dining-room set or a goat,” Hall told the Jerusalem Post in 1993. “It had great entertainment value, that’s all.”
The show’s 50th anniversary was marked at the 2013 Daytime Entertainment Awards, which gave a spry 91-year-old Hall a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Hall raised almost $1 billion for charity, according to a biography by his alma mater, the University of Manitoba.
A sickly child, he spent months bed-ridden and upon recovering knew he wanted to help others, he later said. He was also influenced by his mother, who raised money for those in need even though we “didn’t have two nickels to rub together,” he often said.
He traveled extensively, often serving as toastmaster at events for Variety Club, a children’s charity with chapters around the world, and raised money for universities and hospitals in Israel.
The son of a butcher, he was born Monte Halparin on Aug. 25, 1921, in Winnipeg, Canada, to Maurice and Rose Halparin. His Jewish grandparents had emigrated from Russia.
After skipping a couple of grades, he graduated from high school at 14. Unable to afford college, he spent two years as a delivery boy for his father before his family cobbled together $150 to pay for a year at the University of Manitoba.
Halfway through his sophomore year, he ran out of money and was back home working at a clothing factory when the largesse of a stranger changed the course of his life.
A local businessman offered to pay his college tuition if Hall maintained an “A” average and promised to do the same for someone else someday.
Hall returned to Manitoba as a pre-med student and earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and zoology in 1946. He failed to gain entrance to the college’s medical school, which limited the number of Jews accepted and twice denied him admission, according to the university biography.
As president of the school’s student body, Hall helped lead a protest that eventually quashed the quota system, the biography said. But by then he had discovered show business, acting in university theater productions and hosting student variety shows.
In the early 1940s, Hall emceed Canadian Army shows. After World War II, he started out at a Winnipeg radio station before moving on to Toronto, where he met his future wife, actress Marilyn Plottel, his first night in town. They married in 1947.
At a Toronto radio station, his boss told him “Halparin” was too long so he shortened it to “Hall.” When his first name was misspelled as “Monty” in advertising, he “went with it,” Hall said in the 2002 archive interview.
Although he developed and hosted “Who Am I,” a radio quiz show that was a syndicated success in Canada, his early years in the business were largely a struggle. At one point, his younger brother, Robert, suggested Hall give up entertainment to practice law with him.
Hall once aspired to acting and could sound wistful about his side-tracked ambition.
“It has to be OK,” Hall said of his game-show success in a 2003 UPI interview. “It was my ticket to fame and fortune. But it also gave me the opportunity to do something really important, raising funds for charity. … That’s more important than three doors.”
Hall is survived by two daughters, Sharon Hall, a producer, and Joanna Gleason, an actress; a son, Richard Hall, a producer; and five grandchildren. His wife Marilyn, an Emmy-winning producer, died June 5, 2017.
Nelson is a former Times staff writer.