Monty Hall got it.
Hall, who died today at age 96 according to his agent Mark Measures, was in on the joke. He was you, sitting there at home, clucking your tongue at the lengths to which people would go, the extent to which they would abase themselves, just to get picked to compete on a dumb game show.
Born on August 25, 1921, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, young Monte Halperin was a theater kid through-and-through. He starred in school plays, and in college musicals. He moved to Toronto, then to New York, and then to Hollywood, yearning for his big break.
It arrived in 1963. The setup of the game show Let’s Make a Deal was simplicity itself: Host Monty Hall (his screen name) would offer audience members modest amounts of money in exchange for the chance to secure a huge prize. The story the show sold you was that audience members wore costumes to attract Hall’s attention — but everyone was dressed as a chicken, or a clown, or a cowboy. That was some … divided attention.
It was a show dedicated to the idea that everyday folk — people like you and me! — would gleefully make themselves look foolish for a chance at a big cash prize.
Which is to say: It created reality television.
Hall would, for example, offer a woman a small amount of cash for the contents of her purse in exchange for the chance to receive what waited for her behind Door Number One, Door Number Two or Door Number Three. (Invariably, a brace of chickens, or a donkey, or some other booby prize awaited behind the wrong door. If she chose the wrong door, the audience would exult. The show served up public humiliation as a consequence of pure chance.)
But Monty Hall managed, always, to seem an advocate for the hapless contestant, even though he represented the show’s producers’ ruthless thirst for spectacle, for comeuppance. But the enduring, mystifying appeal of Hall was how much, how deeply, the contestants loved him, even though they shouldn’t have: He was a resident trickster god, a double-agent, always working against them to ensure the show would land, would have stakes, would get people talking.
In other words: He was a game show host. He hosted several, over the course of his career, but Let’s Make a Deal is what injected him into the cultural ether.
There’s something else you should know about him: He was the father of Joanna Gleason, the Tony Award-winning actress whose rendition of “Moments in the Woods,” from the Sondheim musical Into the Woods, is a thing that will make your life better.