July 28, 2003
I consider myself wildly fortunate to have emigrated
to America in time to catch the tail end (and death throes) of one of
the most endearingly retarded shows ever to illuminate a TV screen.
I'm talking abut the '74-'79 golden era of Match Game.
Hosted by Gene Rayburn, a 70's geezer with a suspiciously
lush hairdo and a hauntingly long, thin microphone, Match Game
was a very accessible show because it was very silly and required no
The premise, for the uninitiated, was as follows: Two
contestants compete to fill in the blanks on a series of totally banal
questions, e.g., "My wife must be the world's worst cook...she
even burns ____." The contestants scored one point for every "match"
made with the celeb panel, all of whom were simultaneously filling in
the same doltishly unchallenging blanks.
The staggering pointless show was really a vehicle for
the sparkling, bawdy repartee that crackled between flamboyant, nelly
gay icon Charles Nelson Reilly and gravelly-voiced Brett Somers, an
actress perhaps best known for her turn on The Odd Couple as
the caustic ex-wife of slob Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman) - a role she
would go on to reprise in real life with Mr. Klugman.
I recently caught up with Ms. Somers, now a spry 79, at
Danny's Skylight Room on 46th Street, where her goofy and charming one-woman
show is deservedly playing to packed houses. The show is a blast, in
a Match Game-y amateurish sort of way. With much prompting from her
long-suffering musical director, Mark Cherry, a black-beaded, chiffon-pantsuited
Ms. Somers lurches through 15 mercifully abridged show tunes and assorted
ditties, e.g., "(I'll Be Glad When You're Dead) You Rascal You!",
sung to Mr. Klugman to the tune of "She'll Be Coming 'Round the
Mountain." Her random anecdotes about the likes of Ethel Merman
and Marlon Brando and her personal disclosures (post-Klugman, Brett
took up with a hunky 28 year-old when she was "somewhere between
40 and death") make for a highly diverting 55 minutes.
While Brett, now based in Westport, Conn., scarfed down
a horrifyingly butter-drenched post-show supper of grilled mushrooms
stuffed with crab meat (bletch!), I grilled her with 10 questions
delivered in the style of Match Game.
My first Match Game question naturally concerned her foulard-wearing
co-panelist, TV's unabashed poofter-king, Mr. Reilly:
Question 1: Working with Charles Nelson Reilly was
a ____ because he was such a screaming ____.
"Oh! Please don't make me say it!" replied the
ebullient Ms. Somers of her longtime friend, fellow attention-junkie
and oversized eye-wear devotee, while slicing an ersatz-looking mushroom.
"I adoooore him! We had sooo much fun,"
she growled in a voice not dissimilar to that of her former husband.
(F.Y.I.: Mr. Reilly, in his own recent one-woman show,
recalled the 70's as a super-busy period when, after having spent the
previous decade trying to break into the business, he spent much of
his time "trying to find the person I had to fuck in order to get
Question 2: Gene Rayburn's 12-inch mike was a ____
symbol which compensated for his ____.
"Oh, I couldn't do that to my dear, dead
Gene!" honked Ms. Somers in mock-theatrical horror. By now it was
clear to me that a fierce loyalty had accrued during those fortnightly
Match Game taping sessions. According to Brett, 10 Match Game shows
were recorded every other weekend. "We would do three shows on
Saturday afternoon - all in front of a live audience - break for dinner
and cocktails, and then do two more." she said. "Same on Sunday,
and then we were done for two weeks. It was the best job I ever had."
And that coming from a woman whose resume is chock-full of guest appearances
on Perry Mason, Ben Casey, The Fugitive,
Love Boat, Battlestar Gallactica, C.H.I.P.S.
and Love, American Style.
Question 3: Joyce Bulifant was a ____.
"Dumb blonde!" shrieked Brett, now a platinum
blonde herself, of the occasional Match Game guest who played
Murray's wife on the Mary Tyler Moore show.
Before we hit question No. 4, Ms. Somers unfastened her
black velvet and rhinestone choker and, dangling it provocatively in
front of me, broadcasted its provenance. "Westport! Tag sale! The
top's from Filene's, and the chiffon pants I found at the back of my
Question 4: Everyone on Match Game was having a blast
because they were totally ____.
"We weren't snockered, we were just crazy!"
replied Brett unconvincingly while quaffing Danny's house red, only
to contradict herself on question No. 5.
Question 5: Brett Somers' favorite on-air drink was
"O.K., it was vodka and soda," she confessed.
"I had to give up martinis - I enjoyed them too much."
Question 6: Brett Somers earned ____ for each episode
and her residual checks equal ____.
"Nothing! Zippo!" said Ms. Somers with a surprisingly
lack of bitterness, adding, "Once in a while, I get a check for
$300 if another network runs a clip. I can't remember what I got per
episode back in the 70's, but I was making about $100,000 per year,
which was pretty good for who I wasn't."
Question 7: ____ and ____ were doing it.
"Say 'Charles Nelson Reilly' and 'Gene Rayburn'!
Yeah! Go ahead, put that in your column! Ha!" cackled the naughty
grandmother. (During the show, Ms. Somers was never far from a framed
picture of her beloved granddaughter. She sang to it, kissed it and
fondled it in a manner that was endearing, but also a bit mental.)
Question 8: Brett nearly quit Match Game when
"Oooooooooooh! No, never," she said. "We
had so much freedom. There was nothing to complain about. I saw an old
show recently where I was doing push-ups, fer chrissakes!" (Very
proto-Jack Palance.) The energetic Ms. Somers gives every impression
that she could easily knock off a triathlon; during the course of our
interview, she confided that she is ready to move back to New York from
the 'burbs, "to be where the action is."
Question 9: Brett always wore ____ and never wore
____ when she went on camera.
"Back then, we wore our own clothes," Ms. Somers
said. "There were no stylists. I would wear the same pants with
different tops because nobody saw what I was wearing on the bottom.
Tops! Tops! Tops! And yes, I wore wigs! So don't ask me! And Betty White
Question 10: Brett's current fave TV show is ____.
"Seinfeld. I've never seen Sex in the
City, and I hate that new Larry David show. Now what the hell is
Brett's season at Danny's Skylight Room has been extended
to include the following dates: July 26, Aug. 1 and 8. If you miss it,
then you're a ____ing idiot! Call 212-265-8133 today.
Re TV: If you missed the golden age of Match Game,
you can catch it on the Game Show Network weekdays at 6:30 p.m., 9:30
p.m. and 12:30 a.m.; Saturdays at 12:30 a.m., 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.;
and Sundays at 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
The New York Observer