Los Angeles Art Linkletter, who as the gently mischievous host of TV’s “People Are Funny” and “House Party” in the 1950s and ’60s delighted viewers with his ability to get kids — and grownups — to say the darndest things on national television, died Wednesday. He was 97.
Linkletter died at his home in the Bel-Air section of Los Angeles, said his son-in-law, Art Hershey, the husband of Sharon Linkletter.
“He lived a long, full, pure life, and the Lord had need for him,” Hershey said.
Linkletter had been ill “in the last few weeks time, but bear in mind he was 97 years old. He wasn’t eating well, and the aging process took him,” Hershey said.
Linkletter hadn’t been diagnosed with any life-threatening disease, he said.
Linkletter was known on TV for his funny interviews with children and ordinary folks. He also collected their comments in a number of best-selling books.
“Because of Art Linkletter, adults found themselves enjoying children,” said Bill Cosby, whose style interviewing kids on his own show in the late ’90s was often compared to Linkletter’s.
“An amazing fellow, a terrific broadcast talent, a brilliant businessman. An all-around good guy,” CNN’s Larry King added about his longtime friend and frequent guest.
Asked what made Linkletter so appealing to audiences, King said, “He had an unusual voice, a twang to his voice that was immediately recognizable. And he looked like your favorite uncle.”
“Art Linkletter’s House Party,” one of television’s longest-running variety shows, debuted on radio in 1944 and was seen on CBS-TV from 1952 to 1969.
Linkletter’s programs — like many of today’s reality TV shows — often relied on ordinary people sharing too much information on national television.
But his shows were far gentler than today’s often mean-spirited productions. His guests experienced, at most, mild embarrassment instead of utter humiliation. When Linkletter elicited an all-too-revealing remark from a guest, he did it with devilish charm, not malice.
The prime time “People Are Funny,” which began on radio in 1942 and ran on TV from 1954 to 1961, emphasized slapstick humor and audience participation — things like throwing a pie in the face of a contestant who couldn’t tell his Social Security number in five seconds, or asking him to go out and cash a check written on the side of a watermelon.
He is survived by his wife, Lois, whom he married in 1935, and daughters Dawn Griffin and Sharon Linkletter, as well as seven grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.
The family said no services were planned at this time.