The recent passing of "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebec has sparked a flood of tributes for him and the game show itself. Former contestants and celebrities who've competed there have shared numerous stories about their successful or unsuccessful appearances on the show.
One of the most amusing was when Anderson Cooper of CNN recalled how glad he was when he found out he'd be competing against comedian Cheech Marin during one of his numerous "Celebrity Jeopardy" appearances over the years. He now regrets his initial assumptions about the comedian who beat him. "Cheech is really smart," Cooper now concedes with an ironic smile.
Alex Trebec started hosting "Jeopardy" 35 years ago. Because of that longevity, many current fans of the show are not even aware that Trebec's friend Art Fleming was the original host in 1964 and continued doing so for more than a dozen years.
The program back then was almost identical to today's shows. A contestant picked one of six categories and one of five dollar values. Art Fleming then read a clue in the form of an answer while the three contestants were simultaneously shown the same printed clue in one of the 30 rectangles on a big board facing them. Contestants were required to phrase their responses in the form of a question.
There were no video screens like today. A panel with the printed clue on it became visible to the contestants when a hidden stagehand raised a door on the appropriate rectangle as Art Fleming read the clue. Very crude by today's standards, but it worked just fine.
I was in college during Art Fleming's tenure and became a big fan of "Jeopardy". It was shown on a Denver television station at 12:30 each afternoon.
In addition to occasionally attending a class or two, I was working (I use the term loosely) at a sorority house on campus. I was one of nine guys who helped in the kitchen, served the meals to the lovely co-eds, and cleaned up the kitchen and dining room after lunches and dinners.
We weren't paid for our three hours each day but received a dozen free meals per week. There was never a shortage of applicants for those jobs. I've reapplied several times during the intervening decades without success. Bummer. Best job I ever had.
"Jeopardy" became a mania among the sorority women one particular year. They would eat the noon meal quickly and then race to the basement to get a good seat to watch the show at 12:30.
I shared an off-campus apartment at that time with a friend who also worked at the same sorority house. The previous tenant had left behind an innovative antenna setup which allowed us to watch programs on our small black-and-white TV from stations in other parts of the Rocky Mountain region.
One of those programs was "Jeopardy," which we watched each weekday at 8:30am. It was the identical episode which the Denver station would be airing that afternoon at 12:30pm. My roommate and I weren't on the Dean's List (the good Dean's List) but we finally figured out that even we could probably remember the correct responses to Art Fleming's clues for four hours.
What followed for several weeks was great fun for the two of us. We would go to the basement at 12:30 and stand in the back of the room while the sorority members watched the show from the couches and the floor. As Art Fleming started reading the clue, one of us would yell the correct response (in the form of a question, of course).
Sometimes the door that exposed the printed clue had only raised a few inches and Art Fleming had only read half of the clue before one of us demonstrated that we really could remember something for four hours. The groans from the exasperated sorority members in the room became downright hateful by the end of each show.
Occasionally, my co-conspirator and I would intentionally skip blurting out the correct response to a clue to make it all seem more realistic. Each time we did, the heads would turn to see if we'd finally left the room. We hadn't. We were just trying to seem more humble.
As time went by, fewer and fewer co-eds made the daily trip to the basement at 12:30. I've often wondered why they didn't seem to enjoy the half hour as much as we did.
The highlight of our ongoing caper still makes me smile. It was when we overheard two sorority members talking in a hallway near the kitchen. "I don't understand why those two guys are on academic probation," one of them said. "I know," said the other. "They're geniuses."
I'll take "FUN MEMORIES FROM COLLEGE" for six hundred, Alex.
Editor's note: Jim Mathewson is just a poor dumb citizen of Sun City. (His words, not ours.) His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org