Dennis James; Pioneering TV Host, Commercial Spokesman


Dennis James, a familiar television game show host and commercial spokesman who touted products from cigarettes to cereal and raised millions of dollars for charity, has died. He was 79.

James, who held the dubious honor of being the announcer for television’s first commercial, died Tuesday of cancer in his Palm Springs home, his son Randy James said.

As part of his extensive charitable fund-raising efforts, James had been the master of ceremonies for the Bob Hope Celebrity Tournament Gala for the last five years. He helped raise $200,000 at the 1997 Frank Sinatra Tournament and in 1996 hosted his own Dennis James Celebrity Golf Tournament to benefit United Cerebral Palsy.

For 47 years, he was host of the United Cerebral Palsy telethons, and over his life raised more than $1 billion for charities. Besides United Cerebral Palsy, he campaigned for ChildHelp USA, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Assn. and Variety Club.


Trained at Carnegie Hall’s Theater School of Dramatic Arts, James was hired in TV’s infancy by the Dumont Television Network as a talent who could “do it all"--announce, sell, provide commentary or act. That contract garnered him about 25 firsts in the new medium. Among them, he was the first to: do a TV commercial (for Wedgwood, in the 1940s), provide sports commentary, host a variety show, emcee a game show and star in a TV drama.

In the mid-1970s, James hosted an NBC revival of the game show “Name That Tune.” His other TV game shows included “Chance of a Lifetime,” “The Price Is Right,” “Stop the Music” and “Name’s the Same.”

His TV acting jobs included “Kraft Theater” and “The Dick Powell Theater,” and guest roles on series like “Batman,” “77 Sunset Strip” and “Fantasy Island.” He also was in a few films, including “The One and Only” and “Rocky III.”

In addition to his son Randy, James is survived by his wife of 47 years, Micki; two other sons, Dennis Jr. and Brad; and four grandsons. The family asks that any donations go to United Cerebral Palsy.