When Brett Somers died, legions of fans BLANKed

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First, an apology. If you’re younger than 35, this post may be meaningless to you (unless you’re a big GSN aficionado.) But perhaps you’ll find it interesting anyway.

During the ’70s, there was a cohort of actresses who were, at the time, best known as game show panelists. There was Kitty Carlisle Hart on To Tell the Truth, Jaye P. Morgan on The Gong Show, Patty Deutsch on Tattletales and my favorite, Brett Somers on The Match Game.

Unfortunately, Brett Somers died from stomach and colon cancer last weekend, and she will be missed by game show fans everywhere.

If you used to watch the show, you probably remember that The Match Game, unlike The Price Is Right or Wheel of Fortune, was all about the celebrity guests. The format of the show was that contestants would be presented with statements with a missing word, e.g., “Dumb Dora is so dumb, she tried to ______ her birthday suit.” (Dumb Dora showed up a lot in the questions.) The contestant would offer an answer such as “dry clean” and hope that her answer matched the answers provided by the six panelists. The main point of the show, however, was the banter between the panelists — particularly between Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly, who also died earlier this year.

(The timing of their respective deaths kind of has the feel of a widow who dies soon after her recently departed spouse. Of course, he was gay and she was married to Jack Klugman, but still.)

The show was one of the most popular game shows of the ’70s, mostly thanks to the way the questions often incorporated sexual innuendo. And the banter, apparently, got racier as the day’s taping went on. There are stories that the panelists were not just sipping water throughout the day. That may have played a role in Somers’ flipping off the audience when they booed an answer of hers.

Of course, Somers was not only known for her Match Game work. She was a character actor who did a fair amount of television work. Personally, I remember her as Oscar’s ex-wife on The Odd Couple and as Aunt Rose on Rhoda. And, although her run on The Match Game ended in the early ’80s, she continued to perform until a few years ago. In 2003, she had a one-woman show, An Evening with Brett Somers, that I’m very sorry I missed. Here’s what she had to say about it.

“It never occurred to me in a million years that I’d be doing a cabaret show. I was standing backstage, and I thought, ‘You’re an older person. You should be lying down somewhere in a nice cool bed watching TV!’ And I went out there, and I just had a great time.”

Happily, Somers can be seen in all her glory on DVD.

And this Saturday, GSN will run a Match Game marathon in Somers’ honor. The marathon will be followed by the Match Game documentary The Real Match Game Story: Behind the Blank. And check out The Match Game Wallpaper Factory for some heady Match Game nostalgia.

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote of hers, “You know, I’m a television personality. It’s not like I’m a famous hooker or something!”

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