LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Art Linkletter, the genial radio and television host who specialized in getting kids to say “the darndest things,” died on Wednesday at age 97, his assistant said.
The Canadian-born Linkletter, a mainstay of American broadcasting in the 1950s and ‘60s with long-running shows like “People Are Funny” and “Art Linkletter’s House Party,” died of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles’ upscale Bel Air community, assistant Jennifer Kramer told Reuters.
His programs sometimes featured conversations with celebrities but emphasized man-in-the-street interviews, interaction with audience members and comic conversations with children.
Linkletter also served as master of ceremonies for opening day at Disneyland in 1955, and returned decades later to officiate at the 50th anniversary celebration of the theme park on his 95th birthday.
Linkletter’s famed interviews with youngsters were popularized as a regular segment of his weekday series “House Party,” which debuted on radio in 1945 and ran on CBS television from 1952 until 1970.
Playing on the natural guilelessness of his young subjects,
Linkletter became a master of eliciting completely candid, occasionally insightful and often hilarious responses from children on topics ranging from history and religion to family relationships and manners.
The produced a number of classic TV moments, such as the 8-year-old boy who told Linkletter, “My mom is going to have a baby but my father doesn’t know.”
“My art,” Linkletter once said, “is getting other people to perform ... People are more interesting to me than anything else.”
Decades later, the format was turned briefly into its own prime-time CBS show, “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” hosted by Bill Cosby with Linkletter making appearances to present vintage clips from his old “House Party” broadcasts.
“House Party” overlapped for parts of its run with several other Linkletter-hosted shows, most notably the weekly series “People Are Funny,” which originated on radio in 1942 and aired on NBC television from 1954 to 1961. It featured members of the studio audience taking part in on-stage gags or stunts.
In 1969, after the suicide of his daughter Diane was linked to LSD use, Linkletter campaigned against drug abuse. He also traveled the world on behalf of World Vision, a Christian charity, and served as a leader of Goodwill Industries, the Arthritis Foundation and the Los Angeles Orphanage.
He was born Arthur Gordon Kelley on July 17, 1912, in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, but was abandoned by his biological family and adopted by the Linkletter family. His new father was an evangelist who moved the family to California.
He attended San Diego State College with the intention of becoming a teacher but drifted into radio. In 1942, Linkletter moved to Hollywood and launched “People Are Funny” on radio.
He also found wealth as a businessman and investor, becoming involved in oil drilling, copper mining, an Australian sheep ranch, the Hula Hoop toy and the board game “The Game of Life.”
With his wife Lois, whom he married in 1935, Linkletter also had two other daughters and a son, Jack, who produced TV programs, and a son Robert, who died in a 1980 automobile accident.
A neighbor and longtime friend, music producer Quincy Jones, remembered Linkletter as “one of the brightest, funniest inspiring and profound people that I have ever known.”
“Art would always say, ‘Quincy, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans,’ and he was right.”
Editing by Bill Trott and Cynthia Osterman