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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Remembering Rod Roddy: A Live-Out-Loud Voice Silenced Too Soon by Cancer ... A Former Barker's Beauty Reveals the Beloved "Come on Down!" Announcer's Off-Camera Heartache

Six years ago on Oct. 27, 2003, colorful Price is Right announcer Rod Roddy lost his brave battle with colon and breast cancer at age 66.

The larger-than-life voice behind the immortal catch phrase "Come on down!" from 1986 until his death, Roddy was diagnosed with colon cancer on—of all days—Sept. 11, 2001. He soon became one of the first celebrities to publicly campaign for colon cancer awareness and early detection. Sadly, as his cancer spread despite chemotherapy, Roddy also became one of the first male celebrities to share his diagnosis, in March 2003, of breast cancer. (Recently, former KISS drummer Peter Criss and Shaft himself, actor Richard Roundtree, revealed their breast cancer diagnoses.)

"I could have prevented all this with a colonoscopy, and, of course, that's the campaign I've been on since I had the first surgery," Roddy told CBS months before his death. "To everybody out there, get a mammogram! It can happen to men, too."

Despite his two-year cancer fight, the flamboyant TV ham—famous for his vibrant, glittery blazers and wacky Showcase skits—remained committed to his 17-year gig as Price's famed on-screen announcer and host Bob Barker's TV sidekick. He showed up with bells on until his final hospitalization two months prior to his passing.

"We all admired his courage," Barker told an interviewer in 2003. "He was always upbeat and hopeful. I went to the hospital and sat on the edge of his bed and we laughed the whole time we were talking. He was still having fun."

But not nearly as much fun, another former Price colleague says, as Roddy would have wholeheartedly preferred. In 2002, the high-energy announcer was suddenly taken off camera on the iconic CBS game show. FremantleMedia, the show's production company, claimed Roddy's disembodied voice was the product of their new "international policy" to keep all announcers off camera on all of their shows. Despite his still robust appearance, Roddy was seldom seen on camera in his final year or so on the show. (During his absence for cancer treatment in late 2002, however, fill-in announcers Paul Boland and Burton Richardson were featured on screen when introduced by Barker. And Roddy made a brief appearance on camera during the season 32 premiere in 2003 when introduced by Fremantle exec Syd Vinnedge.)

Roddy's rare on-camera Price appearance, Fall 2003

This "policy" was a facade, says veteran Barker's Beauty prize model Holly Hallstrom. The 1977-95 show vet, who countersued the series' legendary emcee-turned-exec producer and won a multi-million-dollar settlement in 2005, claims Barker yanked Roddy off the screen in 2002 following a backstage dispute over money. According to Hallstrom, Roddy demanded higher pay for a series of successful Price primetime specials. She says Barker—not Fremantle—retaliated by taking away the very thing that kept the ailing announcer going: his coveted, if minimal, camera time.

For the first time ever, an emotional Hallstrom breaks her silence, in this Retroality.TV audio interview, about her "precious" co-star's reaction to his on-screen vanishing act while he fought for survival during the final year-plus of his life. (This segment of Hallstrom's explosive Retroality.TV interview—part 4 in an ongoing series of exclusive chats with the classic game show model—will be available next month on our You Tube channel).

Barker paid tribute to Roddy in an 18-second clip montage in a Price episode airing after the announcer's death. Howard Stern mocked this brief memorial on his popular radio show. CBS' Late Late Show aired a considerably longer video homage to Roddy—one of the talk show's favorite guests—around this time.

The Emmy-winning emcee never referred to Roddy again on his game show. Barker mentioned Roddy only once in his 2009 memoir Priceless Memories—while listing him alongside his Price predecessor, the legendary Johnny Olson, and Roddy's successor, Rich Fields (whose frequent on-camera appearances apparently signaled the reversal of Fremantle's international policy in the last five years). Olson and Fields earned the Price host's recognition in the book's anecdotes; Roddy did not.

Roddy's long and illustrious Hollywood career took off in 1977 when he was hired as the announcer for the hit ABC sitcom Soap, which ran until 1981. Prior to landing his "Come on down!" dream job, he enjoyed success at CBS as the "avoid-the-Whammy!" voice behind the high-rated daytime game show Press Your Luck. For more info about Roddy, visit friend and fellow announcer Randy West's website.


DENo1MatchGameFan's Blog said...

Great blog Chris - pretty much everything Holly Hallstrom rings true to the egomaniac that Barker became during the last years he was the EP of the show. The remembrance that Barker posted after Rod's death on "TPIR" was PATHETIC to say the least!

If you remember back in 2002, Rod was the guest announcer on Game Show Week on "Hollywood Squares" when past game show greats like 'the master of The Hollywood Squares' Peter Marshall visited, along with Bob Eubanks, Wink Martindale, and even Charles Nelson Reilly with Brett Somers. Henry Winkler (who was producing the show at the time of Rod's passing) also posted a COLORFUL tribute that captured the essence of Rod, as Holly described in your interview, as Henry's tribute was colorful and heartfelt, while Barker's was cold and drab!

Holly was right in that Rod was treated like scum by Barker once he wanted the same rate of pay on the Million Dollar Specials for him and the models like they were getting on the regular show, and for Barker to take Rod's appearances away would liken Barker to take 'the voice' away from original announcer Johnny Olson! The late Peter Tomarken (who worked with Rod on "Hit Man", as well as "Press Your Luck") treated Rod more like a human being than Barker could ever DREAM of! Peter and Rod had the same fun relationship as the late Gene Wood enjoyed with Richard Dawson on "Family Feud", and the late Bert Convy on "Tattletales" and "Super Password", just like Drew Carey is doing with Rich Fields on "TPIR" today.

Holly is right in that the 'Fremantle policy' excuse is BS, as you see Rich Fields out in from of the camera on a daily basis with Drew Carey, even more than he was when Barker last hosted the show!

I just wish that the general public would (for once) LISTEN to all of these people, and know that they are telling the TRUTH about Barker, and that he is NOT the icon that they believe he is!

Anonymous said...

And Duane, I assure you that Rod, while in TPiR heaven, must have been absolutely ELATED to hear barker announce his retirement 3 years ago. In fact he likely looked down and likely said, "YES! Good riddance to you Barker." What a lowlife Bob was to everyone on the staff.

Unknown said...

Thanks Chris for your tribute to Rod Roddy and for setting the record straight on why Rod no longer had on-camera appearances. I first worked with Rod Roddy on Press Your Luck and many years later on The Price Is Right. I always found him to be a consummate professional, of good humor, as well as a perfectionist. He would argue with me tooth and nail if he thought the name of a product was not spelled phonetically right. And you know what? quite often he was right!
But Rod Roddy was also a ham and absolutely lived for his appearances on The Price Is Right. On his deathbed he died an angry and bitter man for what Barker did to him. Your account of what happened to him is absolutely true because he confided in me what Barker had done to him, how mean-spirited it was, and how extremely hurt and angry he was about it. He also told me how disappointed he was with some of Barker’s minions (1 male, 2 females) who turned on him and treated him disrespectfully after that. He particularly cited Roger Dobkowitz and told me he had lost all respect for Roger. You see, Chris, when Barker turns his wrath on you, all his little ducks go “cluck, cluck, cluck” out of fear of being seen as “disloyal” thereby making themselves the next target. So when Barker turns, they turn! I guess it’s called self-preservation or job security.
I learned the same lesson a few years later when I started speaking up about the discrimination I witnessed against blacks, and gays too (yes! I said it!), who came to The Price Is Right with the reasonable expectation that they too stood a chance of being selected as a contestant. Some of them were, of course, but that was just for “appearances” sake, in my opinion, as is Barker’s philanthropic generosity of late.
Bob Barker is, IMO, a great game show host, no doubt about it, but a worthless human being! The game show geeks can vilify me if they wish, but I know what the truth is and it ain’t pretty. Thanks Chris for giving me a place where I can come to set the record straight.
Debbie Curling

Anonymous said...

Ah, you mean Barker's side men who did nothing more than to harass and racially taunt you when you told the truth in the Riegert case, particularly Roger? Yes I saw what happened to you when I was reading you lawsuit claim online a year, an to tell you the truth, it was disheartening to say the least. I remember on the GSN boards last summer how Roger would tell "his Master" anything that wasn't up to par and the Master would take care of that problem, often cruelly. Maybe Drew had enough of Roger's snooping and ordered Fremantle to oust him.

Unknown said...

I heard there was a place to blog about Price Is Right and tell what really happened. But I have to be cautious.

I worked for Price for a long time. I can't say doing what because of legal reasons. Because I adored Rod Roddy I want to thank RetroalityTv for a lovely tribute to a special man who was close to the hearts of so many.

Yes, what Barker did to Rod was mean and cruel, but Bob will have to answer to God for that, and for so much more.

That's all for now except "We miss you Rod".

Anonymous said...

Debbie, thanks for posting - I have been following your lawsuit and was so angered to hear it was thrown out of court/dismissed/etc. (forgive me if I'm using the wrong terminology)... Here's hoping you kick ass in you appeal!!! My question is nosy one and if you can't (for legal reasons) or don't want to answer, I am curious about the identity of the one male and two female "minions" you described... Obviously the male is Roger Dobkowitz, I would assume one female is Karen Greco, so my question is, who is the other? Again, just being nosy - I LOVED TPIR as a child and until Janice and Kathleen et al were let go in 2000 and think it is just despicable the way people were treated on the show!!! Again, best of luck in your appeals process!!!

Unknown said...

Hi, GREAT site by the way! Debbie, just out of curiosity, it sounds like you witnessed or were put through much of what another former "Barker Beauty" (I have learned to strongly dislike the term) by the name of Claudia Jordan went through. Bad move on Barker's part to insist she always stand in the middle to do the "reverse oreo" so to speak, among racial slurs on the set and contestant selection with race and racial stereotypes at the forefront, which Claudia (rightfuly) didn't want to remain silent about. Not sure what happened with her case, or where yours is going, but wish you both the best of luck regardless. Same with Linda Riegert, whom I haven't heard much from recently. Out of curiosity, the people Chris Mann contacted who had nice things to say about Barker were involved with the show in its earliest years, and I can't help but wonder about the one person who kept him in line, his late wife Dorothy Jo. After she died in 1981, perhaps his heart eventually went cold? Thank God Holly Hallstrom never signed that repulsive "hush clause", signing away her freedom of speech and allowing her to speak openly about what really went on behind the scenes, including Barker's cruel treatment of Rod Roddy (RIP) during his final years. Again, thanks for the great site, and I look forward to reading/hearing more.

Anonymous said...

Yep, Bob was a great performer, but sadly that doesn't always equal a great person. (to see a more extreme case, see: Spector, Phil)

This is why I can't complain that Drew's around. Not only do I still enjoy TPIR, but at least he isn't being a backstage Satan, and has actually done some good things for the TPIR clientele from what I hear. On camera he also tries to treat the others (Rich, the models) as stars of the show too.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Jeff. I read on Radar 2 years ago that Barker's ego started growing rapidly after Dorothy Jo's death. Barbara hunter said there's no one to tell him not to be mean, meaning Bob can only take criticism from Dorothy.

Anonymous said...

You Lie, Hallstrom!
I'm gonna get you!

DENo1MatchGameFan's Blog said...

You try anything against these people Anonymous, and there will be an army out to get YOU!

Anonymous said...

Try me.

jsf926 said...

Isn't it ironic how all the trolls who think Holly is lying and Barker is a god are maybe 20 years old or younger? They wouldn't even remember the classic models, or Johnny or even Rod for that matter. That's all I'm gonna say on the subject. As the saying goes, "Don't feed the trolls". I won't anymore. Totally not worth it.

Anonymous said...

Screw you

T4Tank said...

Hey Holly, it was great to hear your voice again (Mr PBNJ here). It's good that you spoke for Rod and I really like what you wrote about Johnny. We miss em both don't we.

Congratulations on kicking the Old Bastard's butt! I know you heard we were all rooting for you to win. Congratulations.

I hope you are having fun spending all that money honey!

If you ever get to TV City, stop by cause the guy's would love to see you (I finally retired) Without the Old Bastard and The Weasel it's a whole new set --- in every way. You would like it.

Take care and get in touch! Miss you special lady, T

Anonymous said...

Did Holly start the foundation she talked about for people suffering wrongful conditions in the workplace? Just wondering because I haven't heard about it since it '05 or so. If so, what's it called? I don't need to use it, just curious.

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CHRIS MANN said...

Dear Anonymous (Jan. 6):

Thank you for asking. Holly talks about the foundation in an upcoming segment in the series of interviews she did for Retroality.TV. I need to finish editing and get it online (I've been holding for the spring launch of my podcast channel), so thanks for reminding me, and thanks for posting!