EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS
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JOHNNY GILBERT...AND MORE!
John L. Gilbert, III was born in Newport News, Virginia on July 13. His parents had no background in the theatrical world, though his grandmother had once been a church singer. That's the way Johnny started...as a choir boy in the Lutheran Church in Newport News.
When Johnny decided upon a professional singing career, he was still in high school and took lessons from an opera teacher. Though Johnny never sang any opera himself, he became the regular vocalist with Shelly Harmon and His Orchestra, a group that played all over the Virginia area. A few years after graduating from high school, Johnny heard about an audition as vocalist for the Dean Hudson Orchestra. The audition was held in Jacksonville, Florida. Unfortunately, Johnny got his dates mixed up and when he arrived, the position had been filled. However, a local agent in Jacksonville needed an emcee for the Sky Way club there. He asked Johnny if he was an emcee. Johnny didn't know what an emcee was because in Virginia there were no clubs at the time and he'd never been out of the state. While he was trying to figure it all out, the agent told him he had the job. Johnny remained in Florida for 3 months. He received on the job training, and learned to walk on stage, talk, tell jokes and stories, etc.
The famous "Dead End Kids" (Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Gabe Dell, etc.) were organizing a revue. Johnny joined the group and played up and down the southwestern portion of the United States for 16 weeks. When they played Norfolk, he even got special billing - Hometown Boy Returns!
Johnny then joined the army, and found himself cast as the lead in an original military musical comedy based on Marco Polo's trip to China - "Xanadu". The company toured all of Western Europe, playing to both service and civilian audiences. In the photo to the right, Johnny is the fourth from the left - in the outfit with the diamonds on the coat.
After his stint in the service, Johnny returned to the states and continued singing and hosting in clubs until one night when he was appearing in Philadelphia, the manager of a well-known group appearing on the same bill asked Johnny if he was interested in auditioning for television. You bet he was, and Johnny was off to New York where he was quickly signed with the William Morris Agency and soon after landed his first job on TV: hosting the game show, Music Bingo.
Music Bingo was an instant smash and ran for nearly two years first on NBC and then on ABC. Johnny not only was the host, but the format of the show allowed him to also sing through a good portion of each half hour, so he had the best of both worlds. So great was his popularity that he recorded his first record album as a result. This record album has recently been digitally remastered on CD and is available once again after over 45 years.
Hollywood called next, and Johnny found himself working at KTLA channel 5 hosting another musical game show, Words and Music. The program was part of a "4 game show block" that replaced syndicated reruns and movies each night on the station, and proved to be a vital testing ground as well as a comeback for game shows, which took a mild beating as a result of the Quiz Show Scandals two years earlier. Words and Music involved telephone audience participation for cash and prizes, and Johnny once again proved an affable master of ceremonies. Following Words and Music, Johnny returned to New York, where he found new, steady work not as a host, but what would ultimately become the mainstay of his career, as a game show announcer. He worked with Bert Parks on Yours for a Song and with Don Morrow on Camouflage.
Johnny's next assignment proved to be one of his favorites. The original version of The Price is Right with Bill Cullen was moving from NBC to ABC, and the show's longtime announcer Don Pardo was on staff at NBC and did not want to give up his seniority there. Johnny received a call from Mark Goodson, the show's producer, and was invited to replace Don Pardo as the show's announcer and audience warm-up host. So Johnny spent the next couple of years working along side a man who Johnny considers one of the best ever in the business...Bill Cullen. Johnny's announcing and warm-up skills were so admired by both Cullen and Goodson that it was decided whenever Bill was on vacation, Johnny would take over as host!
When The Price is Right left the air in 1965, Johnny had heard about a 5-day-per-week talk/variety show that Avco Broadcasting was producing out of Dayton, Ohio. This was the traditional program in which there was a host, a live band, an audience, and guest stars who would fly in to Dayton to plug their latest movie, TV show, or record album. The idea at the local station was to hopefully launch another program similiar to what Mike Douglas was able to accomplish with his talk show and eventually go into syndication. The syndication idea intrigued Johnny, and so he flew to Dayton to host a week of test shows on the air. These shows proved to be the most popular with not only the viewers, but the station executives and the local sponsors as well. For the next two years, Johnny hosted The Johnny Gilbert Show on channel 2 in Dayton every weekday morning. The show featured top name guest stars like John Forsythe and Barbara Eden, and showcased Johnny's interviewing skills and of course, lots of music and singing. Because this was a live show, no complete video tape exists today. However, lots of photos do, and you're invited to visit The Johnny Gilbert Show photo gallery right here. The popularity of the show led Johnny to record his second album, Johnny Gilbert Sings For You, which also enjoyed a successful run in the local Dayton music stores. This album has also been recently remastered and has been combined onto one CD with the Magic Melodies from Music Bingo album, and is available for purchase here.
While in negotiations for a third year of The Johnny Gilbert Show, producer Howard Felscher called Johnny and asked him if he'd like to return to New York to host a new game show called Fast Draw. Johnny's first love in television had always been game shows, and quite honestly, he was tiring of the daily grind of doing a live 90-minute talk show every morning five days a week. The prospects of syndicating The Johnny Gilbert Show outside of Dayton were proving more difficult than had been hoped due to the cost of having a band, and paying both talent and behind the scenes personnel to keep the quality of the show fresh and top notch. Johnny decided to head east and host Fast Draw. In the meantime, the local Dayton station needed a new show to replace The Johnny Gilbert Show, one that would not send their budget skyrocketing. They eventually found their man. His show would not be so much entertainment-driven as it would be issue-oriented, and would simply feature the host and his guest going one-on-one discussing topical points of interest, with a little bit of audience Q&A thrown in for good measure. It would also cost next to nothing to produce. So the man was hired. His name? Phil Donahue.
Following Johnny's run on Fast Draw, he was back in Hollywood to host yet another game show, this one produced by Bing Crosby Productions. It was called Beat the Odds. The show was led by Bill Carruthers and proved significant for both Johnny and for a devilish little character who made his television debut on this game show...the Whammy. Years later, Carruthers brought the Whammy back in another game show, the ever-popular Press Your Luck. Beat the Odds was significant for Johnny because following its run, he was hired as the permanent host for the live local weekday program, Dialing for Dollars, a position he held until the show ended in the mid 1970s. Yes, Johnny was back doing live local television again, but the fact that he was now permanently based in Hollywood gave him the opportunity to expand his game show announcing career like it had never been before...and it lliterally soared! At one time, Johnny was doing 5 different game shows each week! His voice was heard on such popular game shows as The Joker's Wild, Tic Tac Dough, The Movie Game, Sports Challenge, Dream House, The $25,000 Pyramid, Every Second Counts, Anything for Money, The $1,000,000 Chance of a Lifetime, Love Connection, Supermarket Sweep, and many more. In addition, Johnny became Dinah Shore's announcer for her popular syndicated daily talk show, a gig that lasted from 1973 through 1981. To this day, Johnny remains truly grateful to Dinah and the entire experience remains one of the greatest highlights of his life.
But the show that today's TV viewers mostly associate with Johnny is the one in which he immortalizes those three words..."This is JEOPARDY!" Johnny became the show's announcer when it returned to the airwaves in 1984, and both the show and he are still going strong over two decades later. Johnny takes his job at Jeopardy! very seriously. He is meticulous when it comes to pronouncing contestants' names correctly, and he treats each taping day with the same enthusiasm that he had for the show the very first time it taped. He still loves doing the warm-up and chatting with the audience during commercials. He is especially close to program host Alex Trebek and executive producer Harry Friedman.
Johnny and his wife Sharee have been married over 22 years. They are proud parents and grandparents. Johnny is an avid golfer, and both enjoy boating.
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