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‘Smiling’ Jack Smith, 92; Singer and a Host of TV Show ‘You Asked for It’

Times Staff Writer

He was known as “the Man With the Smile in His Voice.”

“Smiling” Jack Smith, a singer and recording artist who had his own radio show in the 1940s and early ‘50s and later took over as host of the popular “You Asked for It” TV show, has died. He was 92.

Smith died of leukemia July 3 at his home in Westlake Village, said Dorris Halsey, a longtime friend.

Smith, who launched his singing career at the Cocoanut Grove in the early 1930s, may be best remembered for “You Asked for It.” He took over as host of the ABC series for its final season in 1958, replacing Art Baker, creator of the show, which first aired in 1950.

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“You Asked for It” invited viewers to send in suggestions for unusual things that they wanted to see on the air -- such as people with uncommon talent or getting a look inside the vault at Ft. Knox, where viewers were shown $1 million in $1 bills.

Smith, who bought the rights to the show from Baker, returned as host of a syndicated version of “You Asked for It” that ran in the 1971-72 season and was produced sporadically until 1977. On “The New You Asked for It,” a syndicated version that impressionist Rich Little was the first host of in the early ‘80s, Smith introduced clips from the old shows and later succeeded Little as host.

Smith was born on Bainbridge Island, Wash., near Seattle, on Nov. 16, 1913. His brother, Walter, became a character actor known as Walter Reed.

Smith’s father was a Navy captain who transferred to the Army and was stationed in Hawaii when Smith was 5. Five years later, they moved to California.

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As a student at Hollywood High School, Smith dreamed of becoming an architect. But that changed in 1931 after a high school friend told him that the Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel was looking for a trio to replace the Rhythm Boys, Bing Crosby’s popular trio.

Smith had sung in the high school glee club, and he and two friends, Marty Sperzel and Al Teeter, were known to imitate the Rhythm Boys at school, but Smith had never considered singing professionally.

“We went over and tried out, and they gave us the job!” he said in an interview with Classic Images magazine. “We started the following Monday. I’d never made more than maybe $5 for mowing the lawn a couple of times a week for my dad. Then, all of a sudden, they were going to give us $100 apiece a week! -- and that was big money then.”

The young trio, with Jack as soloist, became known as the Three Ambassadors.

In addition to a long stint at the Cocoanut Grove with the Gus Arnheim Orchestra and then the Jimmie Grier band, they sang at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco and did uncredited chorus work in films before returning to the Grove in 1933 to appear with Phil Harris’ band, with which they toured.

They also sang in films and on the radio as part of the Swing 14 on “The Philip Morris Show,” as part of the Hit Paraders on “Your Hit Parade” and as part of the chorus on “The Kate Smith Hour.”

Smith, a baritone with a tenor lilt, went solo in 1939 and later recorded songs such as “I’ll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time,” “Jack, Jack, Jack” and “Civilization.”

He worked for the government, teaching aircraft instrumentation during World War II and was a regular on the radio show “Glamor Manor,” starring comedian Cliff Arquette, in the early ‘40s.

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He picked up the “Smiling” Jack Smith moniker after stepping out of the chorus and becoming a solo performer on “The Prudential Hour,” a popular musical show on CBS.

A flurry of fan mail from listeners, many of whom commented that Smith sounded as though he was smiling when he sang, led host Deems Taylor to dub him “The Man With the Smile in His Voice.” To avoid confusion with a singer named “Whispering” Jack Smith, who had been popular in the ‘20s, Smith soon became known as “Smiling” Jack Smith.

Smith landed his own 15-minute, five-nights-a-week radio show on CBS in 1945. Regulars on “The Jack Smith Show,” which continued into the early ‘50s, included Dinah Shore, Margaret Whiting and Ginny Simms.

Smith, who appeared as himself singing in the 1949 comedy-musical “Make Believe Ballroom,” had a supporting role in the 1951 comedy-musical “On Moonlight Bay,” starring Doris Day and Gordon MacRae.

Smith, who received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his radio work, was a three-time president of Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters, an organization of radio and television professionals.

Jack McQueen, who also served as president of the organization, remembered listening to Smith’s radio show as a young man in Monrovia in the 1940s.

“It was ‘up’ music,” he recalled. “If you can put a smile in your singing voice, he had it, which made people feel good.”

Smith’s wife of 67 years, Victoria, died in 2003. He had no immediate survivors. At Smith’s request, there will be no funeral service.

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