'Hollywood Squares' host Peter Marshall explains why the iconic game show ended

Peter Marshall never let the end of his successful game show “The Hollywood Squares” stop him from staying busy. That was back in 1980 and the former host, 91, is still happily working in Hollywood.

His latest gig? He's the narrator for the documentary “Wait For Your Laugh,” which tells the story of actress Rose Marie, who transformed from child star to beloved show business personality with a career that has stretched for over 80 years.

Fox News spoke with Marshall about how he almost turned down “Hollywood Squares” and what really caused it to end.


Fox News: How did you land the role of host for “The Hollywood Squares”?
Peter Marshall: I was doing a Broadway show with Julie Harris called “Skyscraper.” The show ended after about a year or so. So I went back to Hollywood. And then the second day I was here, I got a call and was asked if I would be interested in doing a game show. I’ve never done a game show. I didn’t know anything about game shows. But I went over and filmed the pilot. I thought it was a very funny show, but I didn’t particularly want to do it.

"The Hollywood Squares" became a major hit on television.

"The Hollywood Squares" became a major hit on television. (Courtesy of Rose Marie)

I was missing New York. I was going to do the show “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” I [also] had a girlfriend in New York. So, I wasn’t that interested in “Squares.” But, I did it. I figured if it’s just 13 weeks, that’s all it is. A 13-week job. Of course, it turned out to be a 16-year job! But I wasn’t really that interested in doing a game show. But once I did, it became established that I loved doing it. It was just one of the highlights of my career, really.

Fox News: Looking back, what do you believe was the secret behind the show’s success?
Marshall: I have no idea. I wish I knew because then I would go out and develop [another] one! But it had a lot of ingredients. It was different, had stars, the questions were clever, it was funny… I think I did it fairly well. So it just worked.

Fox News: Which celebrity guest surprised you the most?
Marshall: I would come in and see Gloria Swanson, who was on the show. Or Ginger Rogers. George Sanders. That surprised the heck out of me!

Fox News: Who was the biggest diva?
Marshall: There were several divas, but I rather not say.

Fox News: Who were the best and worst player?
Marshall: Oh, there were many factors. Paul Lynde was probably the most popular…. But if you were to ask who really was the star of the show, it was Paul Lynde.

Fox News: Burt Reynolds wasn’t really well-known when he first appeared on “Hollywood Squares.”
Marshall: He was doing a TV show that wasn’t doing that well. And Bill Armstrong, who was the producer, was a friend of his. And he found him very funny. He put him on the show and he was very funny. And then he did the Cosmopolitan nude thing. That got a lot of publicity.

And then “The Tonight Show” started watching him and said, “Here’s a very funny guy!” And they put him on “The Tonight Show.” That was really the beginning of Burt and his popularity. The sweet thing about Burt was that a lot of people came on "Squares" and they were non-entities. And then when they became big stars, they would never do the show again. But Burt would always do the show. He would fly in for it. Not only was he wonderful for the show, but he was wonderful to the show. He’s a dear, dear man. I’m very fond of Burt Reynolds.

Fox News: Which was your favorite funny moment?
Marshall: There’s not one favorite moment, really. The answer to that is it was just a joy to do the show. It was the easiest job I’ve ever had. I didn’t rehearse. I came in, I went over the questions, it took me four and a half hours to do the whole week. I was well-paid. It was a terrific thing that happened to the old guy, you know? It was a great time in my life. It wasn’t even work. I had a party once a week that lasted about four and a half hours.

Fox News: Despite its popularity, the show ended in 1980. Why?
Marshall: [Fred Silverman], he turned down "Hollywood Squares" when he was the head of CBS. He always hated the show! And then he came over to NBC and he kept changing our time, trying to get us off. And finally, he brought David Letterman for an hour and a half. And that’s when he canceled it. But that wouldn’t work! David Letterman is not daytime. David Letterman is late night. And I was right… We were doing great. And then he canceled it to put David Letterman on, which didn’t work. But then they put him on late at night and he was wonderful.

Fox News: Did you ever connect with David Letterman?
Marshall: Not really. I was never close to David Letterman... I don’t think David Letterman is close to many people to be frank with you. Maybe his wife and child. David Letterman is not the kind of guy you pal around with. And he’s wonderful at what he does. I’m not putting down David Letterman by the way. Johnny Carson was the same way. He only had certain friends, not a lot.

Fox News: Were you ready to say goodbye to the game show?
Marshall: Well, I had a career besides that. I was working Vegas 26 weeks a year. I would do theater. So after I did “Squares,” I did another show called “Fantasy Island” for two years… And I’ve just stayed busy. You move on in this business. That’s the great adventure. I’ve always worked. I’ve been one of the lucky guys. I’m 91 years old and I’m still working!

Peter Marshall with Rose Marie.

Peter Marshall with Rose Marie. (Courtesy of Rose Marie)

Fox News: Your newest role is that of narrator for a documentary focusing on the life of Rose Marie, an actress who played a crucial role in the success of “Hollywood Squares.”
Marshall: She was very important because she had a personality. She just wasn’t neutered. It was Rose. It was Rose Marie. She talked about men in her life and looking for guys. She had a character. She just wasn’t just there… When we started “Squares,” she became a part of the family. We’ve just been friends and family for many, many, many years.

Fox News: What do you think of game shows today?
Marshall: I’ll give you my honest opinion. They’ve brought back a lot of game shows like “To Tell the Truth,” which is a perfect game. They brought back all of these shows. And they’re hosted by actors, for the most part, who don’t understand what a game show is. When I look at game shows today… they don’t play the game.

They kid around, they think it’s a comedy show. It’s not a comedy show. It’s a game show that you can get laughs with. But it’s not a comedy show… That’s why “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune” still work because Alex Trebek and Pat Sajak, they play the game. ... I played the game on “Squares.” I didn’t try to go out and be cute or funny… I think game shows should be played straight and laughs should come out of the game show. Play it straight, my friend. Be a game show host.