History Of Television -- TV Game Shows of the 1940s

Groucho Marx and his famous cigar were a hit on a radio and TV game show.
Groucho Marx and his famous cigar were a hit on a radio and TV game show. | Source

1941 at CBS.

Game shows began on television as early as 1941 on the CBS Network. The first decade of network broadcasts produced the following shows:

CBS Television Quiz. 1941 - 1942

This was the first regular game show on television, from July 2 1941 through July 1, 1942. It was hosted by Gil Fates and Frances Buss.

High school students have done parody episodes using Legos and Lego Figures and posted them on YouTube.

Face to Face. 1946 - 1947

Hosted by Eddie and Bill Dunn and the mysterious Sugar (a woman), the object of the show was for an artist to draw a person's portrait form only verbal clues given by a panel.

Eddie Dunn was the interviewer that helped bring out clues by questioning participants who could see the person sitting for the portrait, while Bill Dunn was the sketch artist, who could not see the person.

The person being drawn was usually in another room or on the stage, separated from the artist by a curtain, similar to The Wizard of Oz. At the end of the show, a comparison was made of the sketch and the portrait sitter.

Groucho Marx charicature
Groucho Marx charicature | Source
Groucho marx
Groucho marx | Source

Prizes and Cash

Break the Bank. 1948 - 1957

TV Hosts: This show was hosted by many people, including Jack Barry, Joe Farago, Bert Parks (who also hosted the Miss America Pageant for decades), Gene Rayburn, Tom Kennedy, and Bud Collier.

Changing Networks with Break the Bank:

  • ABC: 1948 - 1949, 1954 - 1956; New version in 1976 only.

  • NBC: 1949 - 1952, 1956 - 1957

  • CBS: 1952 - 1953

ABC's 1976 Edition of Break the Bank was a Big Hit, but ABC Cancelled It.

In this show, two men and two women competed by using a giant grid of 20 boxes. It was a little like Hollywood Squares of the future.

Across the top of the grid were seated five celebrities and along the side, four more celebrities to make a coordinate field of human star points.

The 20 boxes were full of questions like this:

$100, $200, or 300 in a box-: Each question was asked of the two stars on top and to the side of the box. After several joke answers, one star gave the real answer, while the other gave a false-but-possible answer. The contestant had to say which answer was true in order to win the money attached to the question. There were also Wild boxes, Blank boxes, and a "Money Bags" extra cash decision option.

Players won by amassing three correct answers and if they acquired 3 Money Bags, they BROKE THE BANK to receive cash or prizes of $5,000 (which could buy a car back then). The jackpot prize could increase to $20,000. People loved the show and the sponsors' products, but ABC cancelled it to increase soap operas from half an hour to 45 minutes.

Break the Bank - New 1985 Version with Gene Rayburn

Say The Magic Word

A Duck of A Different Feather

You Bet Your Life!

You Bet Your Life. December, 1949 - 1961; Live and Taped before a studio audience.

  • The Saturday night show starred Groucho Marx, his cigar, George Fenneman, and the Duck with the Magic Word.
  • This show was nominated for Six Primetime Emmy Awards, but never won.
  • The title came from a famous phrase used in the 1940s - 1960s: You bet your life!

This game show was the graduation of Grouch Marx's radio program of the same name to television. You can view part of the pilot show featured with this section.

Sets of two contestants would come out on stage and Groucho would have an unscripted humorous conversation with them. After that, players chose question categories from which to win money.

The Duck (with mustache and cigar) would come down from the ceiling when the Magic Word was said, indicating an additional prize of $100.

Celebrities would sometimes compete on the show and they included such people as a teenage Candice Bergen, Crash Corrigan, and Jack Benny (in disguise), as well as Harpo and Chico Marx.

One contestant was on three times in a row, From Finland, Tuulikki Woods impressed Groucho and he had both her and her husband back on to win sizable amounts of money.

Below are the Pilot Episode from 1949 and a few clips from other entertaining episodes.

1949: You Bet Your Life - TV Pilot Episode

Jack LaLanne on You Bet Your Life

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Comments 3 comments

Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 6 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

I reckon You Bet Your life is the most popular and well known of the shows you have mentioned. There was a lot of what looked like ad libbing from Groucho which boosted the show. You Bet Your Life and Candid Camera have elements of 'Reality' television before there was such a thing as 'Reality' television. All up a nice roundup.


iamaudraleigh 4 years ago

I like hubs like this that go back to a cool era like the 1940's! I hear about a lot of these shows growing up! Nicely done! Voted up!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

Thanks! I remember Groucho in 1960, and I remember my parents talking about many of these old shows.

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