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‘Gong This Book! The Uncensored History of Television’s Wildest Talent Show’ (review)

Written by Adam Nedeff
Published by Bear Manor Media

 

When I was a kid in the 1960s, my mother would never miss Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour, which ran on television for 22 years.

I wasn’t that big a fan because often the acts weren’t very good. The show had at times, though, discovered such future talents as Gladys Knight, Connie Francis, and Raul Julia.

Over the years, as I developed an interest in old-time radio, I started to hear about a Major Bowes who had started The Amateur Hour over the airwaves decades earlier.

Then, in the 1970s, came The Gong Show, essentially a new and modernized version of The Amateur Hour…or at least that was sort of the original intent!

Gong This Book! by Adam Nedeff starts with a concise but very informative history of both Major Bowes and Ted Mack (whose real name, it turns out, was four times as long!) before introducing us to the controversial Gong Show producer and host Chuck Barris.

Adam Nedeff has cemented himself as THE authority on classic game shows with his books on, among others, Bill Cullen (new edition soon!), Gene Rayburn, and Allen Ludden and he certainly doesn’t disappoint here.

Before we go any further, let me point out that I dislike The Gong Show.

I have always disliked The Gong Show.

No, no. Wait. “Dislike” is too mild a word. I have always hated The Gong Show with a passion! Yes! That works!

That said, I have also always hated reading only books about things I like or agree with. Some of the most interesting books I’ve ever read have been about people, places, or things which I never particularly liked. Gong This Book! is now on that list.

I grew up seeing Chuck Barris’s name on The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game but I just naturally assumed he was a typical network “suit.”

I remember being stunned seeing him as the grinning goofball hosting The Gong Show back in the day. While I didn’t watch it regularly, one couldn’t avoid seeing it sometimes—or clips, commercials, talk show interviews. Barris was everywhere. How many other game shows get major motion pictures written about them?

Before we even get to The Gong Show, Nedeff paints a riveting portrait of a mightily insecure man with a modicum of creative talent, a mix of charisma and chutzpah, and a lot of luck.

When we DO finally get to The Gong Show, we get an equally intriguing story of all the behind-the-scenes goings-on involving various network execs, censors, and alternate hosts including John Barbour and Gary Owens, all before what we think of as the show actually became that.

After that, it becomes a tale of Barris increasingly unleashing his “Id” on national television five afternoons a week and also on a nighttime version.

Aided and abetted by a willing list of co-conspirators making up each episode’s celebrity panel—usually C-list celebs like Pat McCormick, Rip Taylor, and the once-popular singer Jaye P. Morgan—the show showcased and even made stars of the most bizarre sub-Vaudeville acts in the history of entertainment like The Unknown Comic (who would turn out to be the actually funny Murray Langston) and Gene, Gene, The Dancing Machine.

For every astonishingly inane act, though (like The Popsicle Twins. See YouTube.) there were genuine talents appearing as well, including such future stars as film composer Danny Elfman and a pre-PeeWee Paul Reubens.

As I was reading Adam’s thoroughly engrossing book, I felt I should give the show itself another chance after all these years so I watched multiple episodes on YouTube.

I’d still gong The Gong Show…but I really, really like Adam Nedeff’s Gong This Book! I give it a 10.

Booksteve recommends.

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