My interest perked up when I read about the To Tell The Truth contest, because in the 70’s I wrote an article about—yes—To Tell The Truth. Though purchased by a magazine the piece was never published, for various reasons, so now I’m pleased to hand over bits and pieces of it to OLLI Connects.
“I think we’ll need a sunlamp for the two-headed turtle.”
“We thought the turtle was unique, but the owner says that there may be one in Alabama.”
That there may be another two-headed turtle in the United States doesn’t seem to greatly concern Bruno Zirato, Executive Producer of the nationally syndicated TV show, To Tell the Truth, who’s meeting in his Goodson-Todman office with the three women responsible for searching out ideas for the show.
The meeting has started with a discussion of last week’s taping during which two show cats got into a big fight. Now new ideas are being tried out on Zirato, a smartly dressed man wearing tinted glasses.
“How about the youngest Black Belt holder in the world?” says one woman. “He’s only 10 and weighs 81 pounds.”
“I found another animal trainer. He has a 26-year-old raven, a rat who won a Patsy Award, and a racoon who plays the piano and shoots baskets.”
”Does the raven say ‘Nevermore’?”
To Tell the Truth has survived for 16 years, one of the oldest game shows on television. The format remains the same: Four celebrity panelists face off against three contestants—a
“central character” and two imposters—and try to guess who’s the real deal.
The week’s five shows are taped on Tuesday in the Rockefeller Center NBC building before a live audience.
The day I attended Garry Moore was the host; the panelists, Orson Bean, Kitty Carlisle, Peggy Cass, and Gene Rayburn.
Once the “central” character has been selected, the hunt for imposters begins, headed by a plumpish, peppy woman named Val Krider. “We especially search for people who don’t look New Yorky, with that gray pallor. The hardest to cast are lady athletes, and we’re always up the creek for Southerners and Westerners.”
An assistant interrupts to ask if the salutation on a letter should read “Dear Chief Lame Deer” or “Dear Mr. Lame Deer.”
“I’m always asking people on the streets if they’d like to be on the show,” continues Krider. “By habit, I check out everybody on buses and subways. Bruno won’t go to lunch with me anymore he gets so embarrassed.”
Occasionally panelists recognize contestants. In an airport Peggy Cass once introduced herself to a man with a penguin. A few months later she had to disqualify herself when the man appeared on the show with the penguin, a roller-skating performer.
One of the morning’s “spots” features the Captain of the SS France. The imposters are an executive from Tiffanys and a wine salesman, both French. The executive is worried he hasn’t been in the sun enough. The salesman is just worried. “I thought this was a rehearsal—how can you lie if you don’t know what to lie about. Mimi was supposed to send me all this material.”
The two imposers are gathered in a conference room for a briefing conducted by a personable man named Richard Craven. He goes over nautical terms and key facts about the France, while they busily take notes. This is what Craven does full-time, trains people to lie—a curious job description, to say the least.
“It’s amazing how competitive the panelists are,” says Craven during a break, “especially Peggy Cass, she hates to lose. I once kept a chart on the show, and the imposters fooled the panelists 48 percent of the time.”
In the waiting room, scheduled to go on next, is Pokie Bookless, president of the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes Alumni Association. A man turns to her, “How are the Rockettes these days?”
“You’re asking the wrong person. I’m an imposter. I’ve never even been to the Music Hall.”
The man looks crestfallen, “You should play along.”
In her dressing room Kitty Carlisle is being touched up and powdered over by three possessive-looking ladies.
“Pardon all this. I feel like a racing car in the pit at Indianapolis. It’s not hard to do five shows in a day as long as I get my nap during lunch break. I have a cot, and I put on my dressing gown, close the door, turn off the lights, and sleep soundly until someone says ‘Good morning, darling.’”
The Captain of the France arrives and meets the imposters. He looks the part exactly—ruddy, handsome, bearded. The Tiffany exec draws Craven aside. “I knew it, I won’t fool anyone, I look washed out.”
The audience of 200 or so is let in at 10:45. Garry Moore and the panelists are introduced, and then the contestants are seated: #1 the wine salesman, #2 the captain, and #3 the Tiffany exec.
Peggy Cass asks the wine salesman which port is the hardest to negotiate. “Rio de Janero,” he answers assuredly. Orson Bean questions the Tiffany exec: “What’s the displacement of the SS France?” “66,000 tons,” he replies, without a pause. And so it goes
Orson Bean casts his vote for the wine salesman: “He looks like he could run a tight ship.” Same with Kitty Carlisle: “I wish he were blue-eyed, but I think he’s the one.” Peggy Cass chooses the real captain: “He’s so jolly looking.” So does Gene Rayburn: “It was between him and number one. Number three looks too pale.”
Garry Moore, sporting his signature bow tie, echoes what others have said about the show. “Everybody really gets into it,” he says. “One time when the moment of truth arrived, one imposter—an elderly man—got carried away and stood up.”
At the end of the interview I ask Moore if he’s ever lost his composure on air. “Just once,” he says, “I started laughing and couldn’t pull myself together. We had a famous and very pompous French chef on, who was bragging about his accomplishments: ‘I’ve prepared meals for royalty, served duck l’orange to Mme. Pompidou—why General DeGaulle has nibbled my macaroons.’”
— Bob Strozier
Now that Bob has set the stage, let’s welcome our first contestant, Peter Terzian!
Although I’d been an educator for 30 years, I had some experience on TV, radio, stage and screen too. So, I thought it would be fun to work as an entertainment technician at a large theme park summers and evenings. I’m glad I did this, but there was this one time…
I was working late one night running the technical aspects of a large scare house. Imagine a huge warehouse building with a lot of stage flats arranged in a twisted path from one end to the other and back again. You walk through various scenes of a theme, be it a haunted toy factory, a psycho circus, or a vampire’s mansion for example. Each room offers up odd sights and live-actor scares as a loud soundtrack fills the venue, punctuated by the occasional special effect of fog, an unexpected burst of air, or water, or other unseen stimulants.
I was walking the path repeatedly, as was the routine, to check on the technical elements, to help the actors with their scares, or to help guests that might find themselves overcome by the experience.
This was a dark and rainy night, so I was glad to be assigned to this house. Some of my friends were working the outside scare areas, which they didn’t seem to mind, but I liked staying dry inside. At least I thought that would be the case. Every time I passed through a room in the middle of the walkway, I felt a few drops of water on my head and arms. And one of the scare lights was flickering. I thought this could be something new that was added to this scene, but it could also be a concern. Water and electricity don’t mix. That would be a real scare.
I immediately went backstage to investigate! The light fixture was dry. There was no sign of water anywhere. So, I continued my walk. Another room, another drop of water, another investigation. Still no sign of trouble. What was going on?! I asked my partner Tech if she had experienced any odd water effects. Nope. Hmm, what was it? I had a hunch.
I worked my way backstage to an area staffed by a scare actor that I had known for years. And what should I find but a spray bottle next to him. I grabbed it without him seeing, as he was busy scaring guests and probably waiting for me to appear on my routine walk-through. I used a tech access door to get back onto the scare path, spray bottle in hand. As I entered his room he jumped out to scare me and POW, a mist of water to his face! Ha ha! Revenge is sweet. Good times.
Reminder: after you read our authors’ Bios, scroll down to the Comment Box and tell us whether you think Peter’s story is True or False. — Editors
Robert Strozier’s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in numerous publications including Atlantic, Esquire, The New Times Magazine, and The NYT Book Review. He’s had plays produced in NYC, and a musical he wrote (book and lyrics) has had five concert readings. He also helped launch five national magazines, then served as Editor-in-Chief of two and a senior editor at the others.
A school media and technology teacher since 1980, Peter Terzian started brewing beer a few years ago as a hobby. Now retired, he also enjoys volunteering for arts, media, and technology projects.
As a writer, poet, and technologist, he fills several online volunteer roles for OLLI-USF.