Barris, Chuck 1929-
BARRIS, Chuck 1929-
PERSONAL: Born Charles H. Barris, June 2 (some sources say June 3), 1929, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Nathaniel (a dentist) and Edith Barris; married Lynn Levy (marriage ended); married Robin "Red" Altman (a florist; marriage ended, 1999); married Mary Clagett Kane (a former model), 2000; children: (first marriage) Della (died, 1998). Education: Graduated from Drexel Institute of Technology, University of Pennsylvania, 1953. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, boule.
ADDRESSES: Office—c/o Author Mail, Carroll & Graf, 245 W. 17th St., 11th Fl., New York, NY 10011-5300.
CAREER: Television producer, program host, and author. National Broadcasting Company, Inc. (NBC), New York, NY, page and management trainee, 1955; American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (ABC), director of West Coast daytime programming, 1959-65.
Executive producer of television series, including Dream Girl, ABC, 1966-67; The Dating Game, ABC, 1966-73, syndicated as The New Dating Game, 1973, 1978-80, and 1985-87; The Newlywed Game, ABC, 1966-74, syndicated as The New Newlywed Game, 1985-87; and Treasure Hunt, 1981. Producer of television series, including How's Your Mother-in-Law? (with Mike Metzger and Gene Law), ABC, 1967-68; Operation: Entertainment, ABC, 1968-69; The Game Game, syndicated, 1969; The Parent Game, syndicated, 1972; The New Treasure Hunt, syndicated, 1973; The Gong Show (with Chris Beard and Gene Banks), syndicated, 1976-80; The Chuck Barris Rah-Rah Show, NBC, 1978; The $1.98 Beauty Show (also creator), syndicated, 1978-80; Three's a Crowd, syndicated, 1979; Camouflage, syndicated, 1980; Leave It to the Women (with Woody Fraser), syndicated, 1981; Treasure Hunt (with Granoff), syndicated, 1981; The New Newlywed Game (pilot), ABC, 1984; and The New Dating Game, 1986. Host of television series, including The Gong Show, syndicated, 1976-80; The Chuck Barris Rah-Rah Show, NBC, 1978; and Anything for Laughs, syndicated, 1985.
Appeared as himself in movies, including (also producer and director) The Gong Show Movie (Universal, 1980) and (also consultant) Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002). Appeared in movie Hugo Pool (as Irwin), 1997. Appeared as himself on television productions, including Sanford and Son (1972), Later with Bob Costas (1988), TV's Most Censored Moments (2002), and The Gong Show: E! True Hollywood Story (2003). Also former president of Chuck Barris Productions, Inc.
AWARDS, HONORS: Sour Apple Award, Hollywood Women's Press Club, 1979.
You and Me, Babe (autobiographical novel), Harper's Magazine Press (New York, NY), 1974, expanded edition, Avalon Publishing Group (Emeryville CA), 2005.
The Gong Show Movie (screenplay), Universal (Hollywood, CA), 1980.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: An Unauthorized Autobiography (autobiographical novel), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1984, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.
The Game Show King: A Confession (memoir), Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 1993.
Bad Grass Never Dies: More Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (autobiographical novel), Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2004.
Author of the song "Palisades Park," 1962. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was produced as a sound recording (Simon & Schuster, 2002) featuring Barris as narrator. Also recorded Confessions of a Dangerous Singer (Domo Records, 2003) with his band, Chuck Barris and the Hollywood Cowboys (the former Gong Show orchestra).
WORK IN PROGRESS: A murder mystery.
SIDELIGHTS: Chuck Barris emerged in the entertainment business as a hit television producer when he created The Dating Game in 1965. Barris also produced and hosted the controversial Gong Show, a sometimes offensive talent contest featuring shockingly bad acts. The Gong Show established Barris as a purveyor of the lowest kind of humor and earned a fortune large enough to allow him to retire to France in his mid-fifties. Having published a best-selling autobiographical novel in 1974, Barris went on to mine his Hollywood experiences in a decidedly fictional "unauthorized autobiography" in 1984, and, finally, in a more straightforward memoir in 1993.
During the years when he was struggling to succeed in television, Barris was married to Lynn Levy, the niece of media giant William Paley. Levy's family considered her husband to be a fortune hunter and cut her off financially. Determined to prove his worth, Barris soon became rich as the producer of television shows including The Newlywed Game and Three's a Crowd. But as his career skyrocketed, his marriage suffered. A chauffeured Rolls Royce and posh Malibu home were soon all Barris had to show for himself, having alienated his wife and neglected his daughter, Della.
The collapse of his marriage became the story line for his first book, You and Me, Babe. In the thinly veiled depiction of Barris's own marriage, the names are changed and the protagonist, Sammy, is the son of a foot doctor rather than a dentist. According to Peter Lester in People, this "best-selling autobiographical novel … explored his failed marriage and began his self-revelation." A Publishers Weekly reviewer remarked that "this sad little love story is mildly entertaining fare." Similarly, Library Journal contributor Susan Beth Pfeffer commented that the novel "reads fast and is harmless, if not very original."
In 1976, Barris began producing The Gong Show, a talent show featuring contestants with very little talent who were "gonged" off the stage when a panel of celebrity judges could no longer bear to listen or watch. The program did poorly until Barris took over as host and added his own outrageous shtick to the formula. The judges and the acts were often crude, embarrassing, and sexually suggestive. Perhaps the program's all-time low was when two young girls dubbed "the Popsicle Twins" licked the frozen treats suggestively to the accompaniment of "I'm in the Mood for Love." Such moments earned the show as many enemies as it had fans. Nevertheless, The Gong Show made millions for its producer; in 1979 Chuck Barris Productions grossed thirty-two million dollars, and the next year Barris sold the company for an estimated one hundred million dollars.
Subsequently, Barris produced an R-rated Gong Show Movie featuring documentary-style footage of himself and some twelve segments that had been deemed unsuitable for television. At the time of the movie's release, Barris remained unperturbed by criticism of his program and commented in a People interview, "I never considered taste or intelligence in my shows. My thrust was always entertaining the lowest common denominator."
In contrast with this professional stance, Barris is a passionate writer and reader who favors the works of John Updike, Jorges Luis Borges, and John McPhee. In a 1980 People article, he was described by girlfriend Robin "Red" Altman—who later married Barris—as "completely different from the guy on The Gong Show. He's cuddly, sensitive, and shy. A sophisticated Walter Mitty." And yet, reviewers found his 1984 book Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: An Unauthorized Autobiography to have much in common with the persona Barris presented on television. A Publishers Weekly critic judged that the producer of vulgar game shows "keeps his reputation alive on the printed page." NewYork Times reviewer Diana Henstell recommended the book to readers who were fans of Barris's television shows, but found him "heavy-handed and wearying in print." According to a Kirkus Reviews contributor, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a "distasteful little book" and an "ill-bred hybrid" of fiction and nonfiction in its attempt to mix Barris's exploits as producer with a supposedly secret career as a CIA hit man. In the book, Barris claims that while he was a rising star in Hollywood, he was recruited by the CIA. Barris then became involved in international top-secret missions, purportedly traveling to foreign locales to chaperone the game show winners on their prize vacations. But as the couples enjoyed exotic beaches and hotels, Barris claims that he was off killing America's enemies—thirty-three in all—as secret agent "Sunny Sixkiller."
Barris's allegations caused quite a stir in both Hollywood and Washington. Interviewers clamored to get the real story from Barris, who at times claimed it was all true and at other times admitted that it was subterfuge. When reminded of specific contradictory statements in a later interview with Entertainment Weekly's Karen Valby, Barris reported, "That's how I answered it then because that's how I thought I should answer then. As time went on, I thought about the whole thing and how it would be resurrected if the movie was made. I just won't go there. If you want to believe it, believe it. I don't give a damn." In another interview with Galina Espinoza for People, Barris commented, "It wasn't a lark. It's true. I don't care if people believe me." More often, however, Barris simply refuses to comment on it. "What I wrote then, I left there," Barris told Scott Galupo in an interview for the Washington Times. "When I don't talk about CIA killing or any of that stuff, it's because I choose not to. I don't mean to be stubborn or be a bad interview, but that stuff I'm just not going to talk about."
With The Game Show King: A Confession, Barris offers his readers a true memoir, with no mention of CIA operations. In 1986, Barris retired to the French Riviera, and his book recounts his experiences in France as well as his more familiar exploits in Hollywood. Library Journal reviewer Thomas Wiener found that Barris spent "an inordinate amount of time" on the details of his retirement, including comments on the bathing habits of the French. Kirkus Reviews felt that The Game Show King was a "raunchy, disorderly memoir" and, despite the fact that Barris expressed embarrassment for his behavior on The Gong Show, the reviewer saw the book as an attempt to revive his television career. A critic for Publishers Weekly remarked, "France and the French irritated [Barris] considerably, but they were real"—unlike Hollywood—and concluded that the book was "a good read." People writer Paula Chin called The Game Show King "an honest chronicle of his rise" to television stardom. To Valby, Barris unabashedly admitted of the book, "Don't bother with it. It's not any good."
Various Hollywood figures did, however, see some value in the fantastical stories of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. The idea of creating a movie based on the story floated from head to head and hand to hand for years as various stars (including Mike Meyers and Johnny Depp) became interested in doing the film, then ended up backing out for one reason or another. Barris became depressed, fearing that the project would never get off the ground. In the meantime, he married Mary Clagett Kane, a former model, in a low-key ceremony in Barris's apartment. But the movie was about to be born. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman had already penned a screenplay, and finally George Clooney signed on as debuting director and character Jim Byrd, CIA recruiter. With Sam Rockwell as Barris, Drew Barrymore as Barris's sweet girlfriend Penny, and Julia Roberts as his glamorous lover, the cast of stars was complete and the movie ready to be realized.
Barris's story stirred up things once again with the cinematic release of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, which may have portrayed an even more outrageous story than the book. "He wrote stuff out of nowhere," Barris told Time contributor Joel Stein about Kaufman, whose script he praises. "My mother never dressed me like a girl, I was never on drugs. The part about my father being a serial killer? That's Charlie. He writes such good stuff." Barris, however, "tried to write an epilogue, and … came up empty," he told Stein. "The only moral I came up with is, there is no moral." In the Kaufman-penned epilogue to the movie, the real-life Barris tells his audience, "I came up with a new game show idea recently. It's called The Old Game. You got three old guys with loaded guns onstage. They look back at their lives, see who they were, what they accomplished, how close they came to realizing their dreams. The winner is the one who doesn't blow his brains out. He gets a refrigerator."
Boston Herald critic James Verniere expressed total disgust with every part of the movie—save Drew Barrymore, whom he described as "charmingly vacuous"—which he dubbed "one of the most baffling, if not worst, films of 2002," further stating, "I can't imagine any intelligent person caring about Barris, whether he was a hit man or not." Verniere criticized Kaufman, calling him a "couch potato as screenwriter," Clooney, whom he stated has "a weakness for sophomoric material and a world view that appears to have been honed to a razor's edge in a frat house," and Roberts, "who appears to have retired from acting and decided just to hang out with her friends." Other critics, for the most part, seemed to enjoy the movie. The San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle commented, "There may be more entertaining and less problematic movies, but Confessions of a Dangerous Mind has something about it that hangs in there, working on the mind like a dog gnawing on a table leg. The movie makes a case for itself through sheer oddness and perversity." LaSalle continued, pointing out, "Rarely, if ever, has the screen biography of a living person worked harder to portray its subject as a contemptible loser, [but] … in its rush to present Barris's life as one steaming pile of garbage, lived under a film noir cloud, the movie dismisses his game shows as a bright delusion, as kitsch. In the process, it denies the pop cultural significance that makes Barris's life of interest in the first place." Concluding his review, LaSalle honestly admitted, "I'm not sure if Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a good movie, but I am sure I like it." Eric Harrison of the Houston Chronicle also liked the movie, which he described as "occasionally laugh-out-loud funny." Harrison praised the movie's "haunting images" and felt that it "achieves amazing emotional effects through the commingling of styles and moods." Harrison seemed shocked by his enjoyment of the movie, concluding, "Who would've thought a movie about Chuck Barris could be so rich and entertaining?"
With the movie came the republication of the book, which received a more positive collective critical opinion on its second publication. One Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote, "Even though Barris's reputation as a wacky TV show host doomed this literary venture when it was originally published, it is in fact a remarkably well-crafted and entertaining book, both unflinchingly personal and at times laugh-out-loud funny. Twenty years later, it reads like a classic."
Barris, who has survived lung cancer and a postoperative staph infection that nearly took his life, finds himself at a good place, healthy and happily married. He told Valby that he was considering undertaking two different writing projects with tentative titles: "Who Killed Art Deco?," a noir detective story, and "Looking for Della," a memoir to help him come to terms with his daughter's drug abuse, which eventually killed her in 1998. "It's a book that should be written," Barris said, "but I don't know if I want to write it." In the meantime, Barris wrote and published Bad Grass Never Dies: More Confessions of a Dangerous Mind in April of 2004, which picks up where the first book left off and continues to entertain Barris fans with tales of CIA missions.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 6, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.
Booklist, June 1, 2004, David Pitt, review of Bad Grass Never Dies: More Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, p. 1683.
Bookseller, March 14, 2003, movie review of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, p. 36.
Boston Herald, January 24, 2003, James Verniere, "Going, Going … Gong!: Clooney Makes Dangerously Bad Directing Debut in Chuck Barris's Confessions," movie review, p. 5.
Entertainment Weekly, January 10, 2003, Karen Valby, "The Gong Goodbye: Was Game-Show King Chuck Barris a Hitman or Just a Hitmaker? The Subject of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind Confronts His Past Lives," interview with Chuck Barris, p. 28.
Esquire, January, 2003, Tom Junod, interview with Chuck Barris, p. 62.
Houston Chronicle, January 24, 2003, Eric Harrison, "Confessions, Strikes Tricky Balance That Works," movie review of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, p. 1.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1984, pp. 260-261; October 1, 1993, p. 1235; May 1, 2004, review of Bad Grass Never Dies, p. 427.
Library Journal, March 1, 1974, p. 675; November 1, 1993, p. 94; July, 2003, Gordon Blackwell, audio book review of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, p. 144.
Los Angeles Times, December 3, 2002, Bernadette Murphy, "Reissue of Barris's Book Raises Troubling Issues Anew," review of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, p. E-11.
New York Times, December 22, 2002, Anne Thompson, movie review of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, p. AR13.
New York Times Book Review, April 28, 1974, p. 38; May 27, 1984, pp. 16-17.
People, June 2, 1980, pp. 89-91; June 13, 1994, pp. 89-90; January 13, 2003, Galina Espinoza, "The Spy Who Gonged Me: A New Film Poses an Old Question: Was Game Show Guru Chuck Barris a CIA Spook?," review of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, p. 97.
Publishers Weekly, December 10, 1973, p. 30; March 9, 1984, p. 108; October 11, 1993, p. 76; October 21, 2002, Andrew Richard Albanese, "And You Thought the Gong Show Was a Hit," interview with Chuck Barris, p. 62, review of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, p. 63; June 21, 2004, review of Bad Grass Never Dies, p. 56.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 24, 2003, Joe Williams, "Holding the Gong on Riddle of Chuck Barris's Life," movie review of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, p. E1.
San Francisco Chronicle, January 24, 2003, Mick LaSalle, review of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, p. D1.
Time, January 13, 2003, Joel Stein, "Lying to Tell the Truth: Chuck Barris," movie review of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, p. 57.
USA Today, August 13, 1998, p. 1D.
U.S. News & World Report, January 13, 2003, Dan Gilgoff, "The Man with the Golden Gong," review of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, p. 8.
Wall Street Journal, January 3, 2003, Joe Morgenstern, movie review of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, p. W1.
Washington Times, January 24, 2003, Scott Galupo, "Following Dream to Nowhere: Cautionary Tale from Gong Host," interview with Chuck Barris, p. B6.
Chip Rowe: Humor, Satire, Pranks, Reviews Web site, http://www.chiprowe.com/ (February 3, 2003), review of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.
Chuck Barris Fan Club, http://chuckbarris.thegongshow1976.com (February 3, 2003), short bio of Chuck Barris.
Extra TV, http://extratv.warnerbros.com/ (February 4, 2002), "Chuck Barris."
Hall of Game Show Fame, http://www.gameshowfame.com/ (April 23, 2004), Chuck Barris.
Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/ (April 23, 2004), "Chuck Barris Filmography."
New York Observer, http://www.observer.com/ (March 19, 2001), Andrew Goldman, "Chuck Barris Beats the Gong."
Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (April 23, 2004), King Kaufman, "Chuck Barris."*