Classic television personality Bert Convy would have celebrated a birthday today. Convy was a staple of television when I was growing up and my crush on him was no laughing matter. Who could forget those dimples?
Bert Convy was born Bernard Whalen Convy on July 23, 1933 in St. Louis, Missouri. His professional aspirations always leaned toward show business although he was signed as a teenager by the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team. Convy attended UCLA’s film school with the likes of Carol Burnett and remembered, “The [UCLA] dean told the 500 of us, ‘if you are very, very lucky, one of you will make his living in this business . . . one!’ I remember walking out, feeling sorry for the other 499.'”
Convy had some success in several mediums of entertainment including a hit single, “Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots” in 1955 when he was part of the pop group, The Cheers. The musical talent also served him well on the Broadway stage in productions of “Cabaret” and “Fiddler on the Roof.
There were a few feature films in Bert Convy’s horizon as well including Roger Corman‘s A Bucket of Blood (1959), Dore Schary’s Act One (1963) where he plays Archie Leach, and Hal Needham‘s The Cannonball Run (1981), which stars his long-time friend and business partner, Burt Reynolds. But Bert’s medium was television, it’s where he would spend three decades and become one of its most recognizable faces.
Bert Convy got the opportunity to star in several TV series, but none would yield him the popularity of his dozens of TV movies, numerous guest appearances and the game shows that made him a household name. I remember him popping up everywhere. Check out this Prell commercial. Bert was such a desired guest star on popular TV shows during the 1970s that during one of his appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson the topic of Bert’s guest spots came up. That same week five shows in which he guest starred aired. Incidentally, Convy made 39 appearances on The Tonight Show with a few of those as guest host.
I enjoyed seeing Bert Convy in anything. The charm meter instantly rose on whatever show I was watching the moment he showed up. His permanent gig, however, was as one of the premiere – and most entertaining – game show hosts on television. Bert’s greatest gift, in my opinion, was his easy, almost shy manner and quit wit, which was also charmingly corny at times.
My favorite Bert Convy game show was Tattletales, which I assume is the same for everyone. Tattletales, touted as “The game of celebrity gossip,” aired from 1974 to 1978 on CBS daytime. The show’s premise involved questions asked of celebrity couples about their personal lives and once in a while you’d get a dirty little secret revealed. There were two different versions of the game. My favorite, which I believe was the original, was where the three couples were asked a question while the other partner was off-screen and unable to hear. The couples would then win money for the studio audience, depending on how many questions they got right – or that matched. I always thought the other version a bit convoluted. Bert would ask a general question and whichever (husband or wife) was on stage would buzz in and answer. When the partners were brought back on the ones whose wife/husband gave the answer had to guess according to a clue. Or something like that. In both versions each couple sat in a colored section, which corresponded to a “rooting section” in the studio audience. The amount of money won by the couple would be divided among each audience member in that section, which is some cases must have been pennies.
You can watch a few episodes of Tattletales on YouTube and on the Game Show Network I believe. It’s still a good time.
Besides watching Bert Tattletales also had the added attraction of Hollywood stars and you got to see them as themselves – candid. Back then even a B-list celebrity had a hell of a resume so chances were these people were favorites from fantastic shows on television or from the stage. I was fascinated by getting to know people like John Astin and Patty Duke, Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows, William Shatner, Ross Martin, Chad Everett, Harvey Korman and Eva Gabor in a setting unlike anything else on television. Other popular game show hosts of the time like Gene Rayburn of Match Game, Richard Dawson of Family Feud and Allen Ludden of Password – and their respective wives – were also frequent guests on Tattletales. Needless to say Ludden and Betty White were always special treats. Bert and his wife Ann were occasional panelists themselves. I remember Richard Dawson, Gene Rayburn and Bob Barker all playing host on different occasions as well as frequent guest Bobby Van when Bert Convy was a contestant.
An example of the fun had on the show came from one of Bert’s own memories. He said that the show’s most embarrassing moment happened when Zsa Zsa Gabor was a panelist. Zsa Zsa appeared on Tattletales three times, each time with a different husband. On her third appearance, Convy recalled, she forgot the name of the current husband who accompanied her on the show.
Bert Convy was awarded a Daytime Emmy Award for hosting Tattletales in 1977 with the show receiving a nomination for “Outstanding Game or Audience Participation Show” the same year.
They just don’t make ’em like that anymore.
Bert Convy (July 23, 1933 – July 15, 1991)