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Candid Shots

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Anyone older than 25 probably can break out into the “Candid Camera” theme song. But even if you don’t remember all the words, you certainly remember the series’ famous catch phrase “Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!”

Candid Camera has had almost as many lives as Shirley MacLaine.

“Candid Camera” was the brainchild of Allen Funt, who is creative consultant on the syndicated show of the same name that airs today. While in the Army during World War II, Funt came up with the idea of hiding cameras and dreaming up crazy situations to catch people “in the act of being themselves.” A former independent producer and a gag writer on “Truth or Consequences” before the war, Funt was doing a radio show about servicemen’s gripes. When he realized the soldiers got nervous when asked to speak in a microphone, he decided to hide the mike and record them without them knowing it.

After Funt left the service in 1946, he joined ABC Radio and introduced “Candid Microphone.” The first TV version, also called “Candid Microphone,” premiered two years later. The title officially changed to “Candid Camera” when the series moved to NBC in 1949 for a few seasons. During the mid-'50s, “Candid Camera” aired as a local program in New York and was also part of the commercials within “Pontiac Presents Playwrights ’56.” It was briefly a segment within the 1959-'60 “Garry Moore Show.”

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“Candid Camera” premiered as a national program on CBS in 1960 and was one of the Top 10-rated shows its first season.

During the show’s seven-season run, Funt shared the spotlight with co-hosts Arthur Godfrey (1960-61), Durward Kirby (1961-66) and Bess Myerson (1966-67).

Semi-regulars, including Dorothy Collins, Betsy Palmer and Fannie Flagg, often set up the crazy situations, such as reading a newspaper over someone’s shoulders and then slowly taking it away from the person. Typical “Camera” gags included talking vending machines and cars without engines. The show featured occasional celebrity guest stars, including Buster Keaton, Carol Burnett and even Lassie.

Funt went so far as to travel to the Soviet Union, without the permission of its authorities, to try his favorite stunts on the unsuspecting Soviets.

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CBS canceled “Candid Camera” in 1967 and Funt returned with “The New Candid Camera” (1974-78), with Phyllis George, Jo An Pflug and John Bartholomew Tucker as his co-hosts. Reruns of that syndicated series now air on cable’s Comedy Central.

Since the mid-'80s, Funt has produced 13 one-hour network “Candid Camera” specials for CBS and NBC. And the latest incarnation, a syndicated “Candid Camera” that premiered this season, is hosted by Dom DeLuise. The series often includes classic clips from the original.

“Candid Camera” has made people smile in more than 40 foreign countries and has spawned eight record albums, three books, 40 short movies and nine home videocassettes. In 1970 Funt directed and hosted a spin-off feature film, the X-rated 1970 comedy “What Do You Say to a Naked Lady?”

“Candid Camera” airs Tuesday-Friday at 7:30 p.m. on KABC and Saturday and Sunday at 11:45 p.m. on KGTV. “The New Candid Camera” airs Monday-Friday at 12:30 p.m. on Comedy Central.

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