Our survey says: Famed TV game show hosts started small

NEW YORK (Reuters) - If you boiled down television to its purest essence, you might end up with a game-show host.

Jeopardy television game show host Alex Trebek speaks on stage during the 40th annual Daytime Emmy Awards in Beverly Hills, California June 16, 2013. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

People like Alex Trebek of “Jeopardy!” have become such a part of the culture, and appear in our living rooms so often, that it feels as if they are part of the family.

In this installment of our monthly “First Jobs” series, we talk to some legendary U.S. game-show hosts about their first gigs.

Bob Eubanks

Former host, “The Newlywed Game”

First job: Doorman

“I was a doorman at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, and I used to open the door for celebrities like Red Skelton and Cary Grant. I remember seeing the movie ‘Oklahoma!’ for 26 weeks in a row, twice a day. I could recite the whole movie to you.

“One day I was asked to clean the marquee, and I’m very afraid of heights. There I am, up on a ladder with wheels, pulling myself along, when a bunch of tough guys came walking up. They hit my ladder, and I started rolling down Hollywood Boulevard, scared to death.

“Then I see them coming back for more, and just as they got to my ladder, I slid down, grabbed a broom, and whacked one of the guys in the back of the head. At that very moment the manager walked out of the box office, seeing the whole thing. He said, ‘You’re fired.’

“So when I was eventually nominated for the Hollywood Walk of Fame, I said, ‘I want it right in front of the Egyptian Theatre.’ And that’s where it is today.”

Alex Trebek

Slideshow ( 2 images )

Host, “Jeopardy!”

First job: Bellhop

“My first job was as a bellhop at the Nickel Range Hotel in Sudbury, Ontario. My dad got me the job at the hotel where he was the chef. On my first day of work, I was four hours late. Not a good start.”

Vanna White

Co-host, “Wheel of Fortune”

First job: Soda jerk

“My first real job was when I was around 13, and back in those days it was called a ‘soda jerk’. It was a drugstore with a soda fountain in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, called McElveen’s. I worked at the counter making things like lemonade, egg-salad sandwiches and hamburgers.

“I don’t remember what I made per hour, but I’m sure it was minimal. This was in the mid-‘70s, so I think I spent all my salary on 8-track tapes. That job taught me to show up on time and do my best - although once I really screwed up, and put eggshells in the egg salad.

“That job also taught me basic social skills. That’s because of all that time standing behind the counter. After you give the customer a burger, you start talking to them and learning about their lives. I started feeling more confident about dealing with people.

“It was a very small town, and I was born and raised there. Everybody knew everybody, so I’m sure my dad put in a good word for me to get that job. He’s 90 years old now, and still lives there. I still go back a couple of times a year.”

Wink Martindale

Former host, “Tic-Tac-Dough”

First job: Morning deejay

“In 1953 I was hired by WHBQ in Memphis as their morning man, which was my dream job. That’s because my hometown of Jackson, Tennessee, was not far from Memphis, and all of my buddies listened to WHBQ.

“So one night in July of 1954 I just happened to be at the station, showing around some friends from my hometown. I heard a big commotion in the control room, where Dewey Phillips had his show ‘Red Hot & Blue’ from 9 to 12.

“He was handed a recording of ‘That’s All Right Mama’ by a truck-driving singer called Elvis Presley, and Dewey put it on the air. The switchboard lit up. Since I was there, they asked me to see if I could get Elvis to come down to the station. So I called up his mother.

“She said that he was so nervous about his record being played, he went to a double-feature Western down at the movie theater. So she drove to the theater, walked up and down the aisles until she found him, brought him to WHBQ, and we put him on the air.

“It was his first interview ever, and the first time his record was ever played. And I just happened to be there.”

Editing by Lauren Young and Matthew Lewis