John Guedel, 88; Early Radio and TV Producer


John Guedel, who produced three of radio and television’s most enduring programs--Art Linkletter’s “People Are Funny” and “House Party,” and Groucho Marx’s “You Bet Your Life”--has died. He was 88.

Guedel, originator of what may have been the first radio stunt game show and the first singing commercial on radio, died of heart failure Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

One of radio and television’s most inventive independent packagers in the ‘40s and ‘50s, Guedel created “You Bet Your Life” for Marx in 1947, including having a duck drop down and deliver a $100 bill whenever a contestant uttered the “secret word.”


“John really devised a program that allowed Groucho to do the thing he did best, which was improvise,” said Robert Dwan, who worked with Guedel for almost 20 years as a writer on “People Are Funny” and as a director on “You Bet Your Life.”

Guedel created “People Are Funny” and “House Party” with longtime partner Linkletter. The two men formed Guedel and Linkletter Productions in 1941, a business relationship that ended only a few years ago.

“We’ve been partners all those years, and it was a partnership distinguished by the fact that we never had a signed contract and never had a disagreement,” Linkletter told The Times Monday. “John and I were the perfect match for two people: We were both creative, we both had original ideas; he liked to produce, and I liked to star.”

Guedel was born in Portland, Ind., on Oct. 9, 1913. His father owned a factory that made dashboards for Ford Motor Co. After a tornado destroyed the factory, the family moved to Los Angeles when Guedel was 8.

The family moved into a home in Bel-Air, and Guedel’s father purchased various properties throughout Los Angeles, including the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.

A graduate of Beverly Hills High School, where he served as student body president and sports information director, Guedel enrolled at UCLA in 1931 but left after a year. By then, the family’s fortunes had disappeared in the 1929 stock market crash.


“His dad lost everything,” said Guedel’s wife, Valerie. “They even auctioned off their canned goods and his sister’s dollhouse.”

Guedel dug ditches for the New Deal’s WPA program, and worked as a door-to-door salesman while attempting to break into magazines as a writer. He amassed more than 100 rejection slips before going to work for the Hal Roach Studios in 1933 as a writer on Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang comedies.

Guedel was vice president in charge of radio for the Dan B. Miner Advertising Co. in Los Angeles in 1941 when he met a young man from San Francisco named Linkletter.

“I was an independent producer, writer and performer doing all my own work, selling ideas and shows in San Francisco, and he was selling shows down here,” recalled Linkletter. “We heard about each other through a mutual friend, the sales manager for the Mutual Network, who said, ‘You two guys ought to get together.’ ”

The first show to emerge from their partnership was “People Are Funny,” which debuted in 1942 and ran for 19 years on NBC, moving from radio to television in 1954.

“We’d take ordinary people and put them into extraordinary circumstances and see how they’d react,” Linkletter said.


Guedel first came up with the idea for a stunt show on radio in 1938; he thought it would be interesting to see how a woman would sing “Smiles” with an ice cube in her mouth. The result was a local game show called, “Pull Over, Neighbor.”

For “People Are Funny,” an audience member might be dressed up like a bum and sent to the Brown Derby, where he would order a meal, then say he didn’t have the money to pay for it. Or a woman would be sent out on Hollywood Boulevard in a mink coat to see how suspicious people were when the woman tried to sell the coat to them.

In 1945, Guedel and Linkletter borrowed the idea of an afternoon variety show for women that Linkletter had been producing and hosting in San Francisco and created “House Party.” The show ran for 25 years on CBS, having moved to television in 1952.

“John was a very creative guy,” Linkletter said. “He was always working. The two of us would go to a football game, and he’d have his pad there and we’d be talking stunts for ‘People Are Funny’ and ‘House Party.’ ”

Over a 25-year period, Guedel and Linkletter produced about eight different shows, including, Linkletter said, “some that will never be remembered because they came and went.”

That includes a summer replacement for the Jack Benny show called “Earn Your Vacation,” a game show starring a then-unknown Johnny Carson.


Guedel also partnered with bandleader Ozzie Nelson and helped launch “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” on radio in 1944.

In 1938, the same year he created his local stunt game show, he came up with the idea for the singing commercial.

“I figured,” he once explained, “that the melody would stick [and] would get the message across faster.”

Bud Goode, former public relations manager for Guedel and Linkletter Productions, on Monday remembered the giving side of Guedel.

He said Guedel created an anonymous bank account under the name of Santa Claus. Whenever he heard of someone in show business who was in need, “he’d send them a check signed Santa Claus, without anyone ever knowing who or where it came from.”

“He was just a generous, bighearted guy,” said Goode, who also remembered Guedel’s sense of humor: Everyone in the production office, including the secretaries and mail room workers, had the title of vice president listed on their business cards.


“If you had a job in television in the ‘50s, Guedel and Linkletter Productions was the place to work,” Goode said.

Guedel is survived by his wife, Valerie; son John K. Guedel of Moorpark; daughter Heidi Garafalo of Ocala, Fla.; a granddaughter, and a great-grandson.

No memorial service is planned.