Dennis James (b. August 24, 1917 - d. June 3, 1997), born Demie James Sposa, was an American television personality, actor, and announcer. He is credited as the host of television's first network game show, the DuMont Network's Cash and Carry in 1946. James was the first person ever to host a telethon and to appear in a television commercial.
Game show career[edit | edit source]
In the 1953-1954 season, James was the announcer of the quiz program Judge for Yourself, which aired on NBC, with Fred Allen as the emcee.
James gained his greatest fame as the host of numerous game shows. Before 1956, he and Bert Parks hosted the ABC musical game show Stop the Music.
In 1956, James co-created and hosted the short-lived High Finance on CBS, in which contestants answered current-events questions to build up a jackpot for prizes. James was responsible for the NBC daytime revival of Name That Tune (1974–1975) and his last game show, the weekly syndicated nighttime version of The (New) Price Is Right (1972–1977). James and producer Mark Goodson co-hosted a promotional film, selling stations on the 1972 revival of Price, which was originally hosted by James's fellow TV pioneer Bill Cullen. He appeared with Bill Leyden in the 1962–1964 NBC quiz program Your First Impression. James's game-show hosting duties spanned the better part of four decades, presiding over shows such as The Name's the Same, High Finance (which he co-created), Haggis Baggis, People Will Talk, PDQ, and the talent shows Chance of a Lifetime and Your All-American College Show. James was also the official commercial presenter of the one-episode flop You're in the Picture, and appeared on the subsequent "apology" episode as well. He was also Ted Mack's announcer on The Original Amateur Hour.
James was a regular substitute host for Monty Hall on Let's Make a Deal during the late 1960s and early 1970s, and it was during this time that he caught the attention of Mark Goodson, who at the time was putting together The New Price is Right for syndication; the new format would incorporate the original format from 1956–1965 with elements from Deal. James was Goodson's first choice to host both that version and a daytime version commissioned by CBS, but the network insisted on Truth or Consequences host Bob Barker for the daytime show. Barker took the daytime show, which he hosted until 2007, while James hosted the nighttime version which aired in the "access period." James hosted the nighttime Price from 1972 to 1977, and also filled in for Barker during four daytime episodes that were taped on December 2, 1974, and aired from December 24 to 27 of that year, becoming the only substitute host in the CBS version's history; the subsequent practice became to postpone tapings in cases of the host's inability to appear at those tapings.
Unfortunately for James' career, sometime in 1976, when the Cliff Hangers Game was played (and lost) on a syndicated night-time episode, the contestant playing the game lost as the mountain climber tumbled over the cliff which prompted Dennis to shout out "There goes Fritz!". He was not aware of the heartbreaking and personal crisis model Janice Pennington was facing as her then second husband, Fritz Stammberger, had disappeared while mountain climbing in Afghanistan. Pennington, distraught and devastated by Dennis' remarks, ran off and remained backstage crying as she did not appear on camera again for the remainder of that show, and some fans later speculated that James' blunder was what led to him being dismissed from his hosting duties in favor of Bob Barker taking over as he now did double duty with the syndicated version as well as the daytime version.
This unfortunate incident is also to be believed why Janice was never present onstage with the game, modeling the 3 smaller prizes, on the daytime version, except one time in November 1993.
Surviving work[edit | edit source]
James was known to have kept tapes of shows he had hosted (mostly those from his guest-hosting stints) in his library as a supplement to his résumé; one such clip from Let's Make a Deal appeared in the pitch film for The New Price Is Right. The status of the other tapes is unknown. Due to his work mostly being within the earlier years of television, most of James' shows (both as host and celebrity guest) were destroyed, with the exceptions of The Name's the Same and his tenure on Price, plus a few scattered episodes of the other programs mentioned above. A single kinescoped episode (July 18, 1950) of his live DuMont daytime program Okay, Mother did survive in its entirety and became available on video as well as in the Paley Archives.
James' episodes of Price, however, frequently featured fur coats as prizes. Due to the wishes of Bob Barker, who prohibited any episodes featuring furs from airing on Game Show Network and was executive producer of the show at the time the network aired reruns (giving him great authority over most aspects of the show), all but approximately 50 episodes of James' tenure were included in this prohibition. No episodes from the 1970s nighttime version were ever aired by GSN from 1996–2000, the time it held rights to the show. GSN has previously aired episodes of The Name's the Same with James hosting. The Christmas Day 1974 episode of the daytime Price aired in tribute after James' death.