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Saturday, May 15, 2010

You Bet Your Life


You Bet Your Life was an American radio and television quiz show. The primary version was hosted by Groucho Marx of the Marx Brothers, with announcer and assistant George Fenneman. The show debuted on ABC Radio in October 1947, then moved to CBS Radio in 1949 before making the transition to the NBC Radio and NBC-TV networks in October 1950. Because of its simple format, it was possible to broadcast the show simultaneously on the radio and on television. In 1960, it was renamed The Groucho Show and ran a further year.

The mid-1940s was a depressing lull in Groucho's career. His radio show Blue Ribbon Town, sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, had failed to catch on. (The show ran from March 1943 to August 1944, but Groucho left in June 1944.) During this period, Groucho was scheduled to appear on a radio show with Bob Hope. Annoyed that he was made to wait in the waiting room for 40 minutes, Groucho went on the air in a foul mood. Hope started by saying, "Why, it's Groucho Marx, ladies and gentlemen. (applause) Groucho, what brings you here from the hot desert?" Groucho retorted, "Hot desert, my foot, I've been standing in the cold waiting room for 40 minutes." Groucho continued to ignore the script, and although Hope was a formidable ad-libber in his own right, he couldn't begin to keep up with Groucho, who lengthened the scene well beyond its allotted time slot with a veritable onslaught of improvised wisecracks.

Listening in on the show was producer John Guedel, who got an idea. He approached Groucho about doing a quiz show. Groucho retorted "A quiz show? Only actors who are completely washed up resort to a quiz show." Guedel explained that the quiz would be only a backdrop for Groucho's interviews of people, and the storm of ad-libbing that they would elicit. Groucho said, "Well, I've had no success in radio, and I can't hold on to a sponsor. At this point I'll try anything."

John Guedel developed the show and found sponsorship. At that time Groucho was not making movies, and had not been successful on the radio. He convinced the skeptical Groucho to take the lead, and invest in 50% of the show, in part by saying that he was "untouchable" at ad-libbing, but not at following a script. Since Groucho and the contestants were ad-libbing, Groucho insisted that each show be recorded and edited before release.

Some show tension revolved around whether a contestant would say the "secret word", some common word revealed to the audience at the show's outset. If a contestant said the word, a toy duck resembling Groucho with a mustache and eyeglasses, and with a cigar in its bill, descended from the ceiling to bring a $100 bill.

Here is a  hilarious clip with Groucho and Jack Benny. On Jack's TV show, Jack Benny plays a contestant on Groucho's "You Bet Your Life" Program. That's Irene Tedrow in between the two masters.


  1. thank you!
    love Groucho...and he is keeping me company here in my little house on the Argentine pampa.

  2. Anyone remember seeing Patsy Cline as a contestant? I caught the show in Avon, North Carolina in 1986 but didn't really pay attention because I was playing Monopoly with my kids.

  3. There was a Patsy Cline on You Bet Your Life in 1957, That girl was 19 yrs old, and Patsy Cline the singer, who was born in 1932 would have been 25yrs old.



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References: Old Time Radio Researchers Group, Wikipedia, Frank Passage & Others OTR Logs, Archive.org, Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio by John Dunning, Australian Old Time Radio Group

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