Dennis James

Dennis James (August 24, 1917 - June 3, 1997) was an American pioneering television personality. He worked as an actor, wrestling announcer, sports show host, game show host, and newsreel announcer. He is credited as the host of television's first game show, the DuMont Network's Cash and Carry in 1946, the first person to ever host a telethon, and even the first person to do a TV commercial.

Early career

Born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1917, Demi James Sposa, began his career in radio with WNEW (now WBBR) but switched to television in 1938, working for the soon-to-become-DuMont Network TV station WABD, which is now WNYW. WABD helped to found the DuMont Television Network in 1945, and so James became the host of a few of DuMont's game shows and served as commentator for their wrestling and boxing shows; he essentially worked as a utility announcer.

James also hosted the daytime variety show Okay, Mother. James often addressed the TV audience as "Mother," a practice he had begun when discussing the finer points of wrestling during his sports broadcasts. He feared that men in the audience would be insulted by the implication that they didn't already know the rules (even if they really didn't), but would accept the idea that James was merely explaining things for the benefit of women watching. During the late 1940s James was also an announcer for Paramount News, announcing various newsreels ranging from hard news to sports.

Game show career

James gained his greatest fame as the host of numerous game shows from 1946 until 1977, including the NBC daytime revival of Name That Tune (1974), and the weekly syndicated nighttime version of The Price Is Right (from 1972-1977). James and producer Mark Goodson co-hosted a promotional film, selling stations on the 1972 revival of Price, which was originally hosted by James' fellow TV pioneer Bill Cullen.

James' game show hosting duties spanned the better part of four decades, presiding over shows like The Name's the Same, High Finance, Chance of a Lifetime (actually, a talent contest; he was also Ted Mack's announcer on the latter's Original Amateur Hour at roughly the same time); Haggis Baggis, People Will Talk, PDQ and Your All-American College Show (another talent contest). James was also the official commercial presenter of the one-episode flop You're in the Picture.

James was a regular substitute host for Monty Hall on Let's Make a Deal during the early 1970s. It was during this time that James caught the attention of Mark Goodson, who at the time was putting together a game show for CBS known as The New Price Is Right; the new format would incorporate the original format of the 1950s and 1960s with elements from Let's Make A Deal. James was Goodson's first choice to host the show, but CBS insisted on Truth or Consequences host Bob Barker for that position. Goodson struck a compromise with CBS that saw Barker host the daytime version (a position Barker would hold until 2007) while a weekly syndicated version would be hosted by James for the "access period." James hosted the nighttime Price is Right from 1972-1977, and also filled in for Barker during four daytime episodes that were taped on December 2, 1974 (aired December 24-27), thusly becoming the only substitute host in the show's history.

Other work

Outside of sports and game shows, James was also a popular commercial spokesman for products including Old Gold cigarettes, Kellogg's cereals and, through his own production company, many local and regional companies and businesses. For nearly 30 years James was the Spokesman for Physicians Mutual Insurance Company until his passing in 1997. His expression "Okay? Okay." became a trademark in many of James' commercials.

He returned to his wrestling roots in the Henry Winkler film The One and Only as the announcer for Winkler's title match, and was also the wrestling commentator in Rocky III for the match Thunderlips vs. Rocky Balboa. His final acting appearance was in The Method in 1997.

James hosted the first "telethon" using the then-new television medium to raise money for charity. James was the emcee of the United Cerebral Palsy Associations' telethons. UCP was founded in 1949 by Leonard and Isabel Goldenson and Jack and Ethel Hausman. (Leonard was the American Broadcasting Company's guiding spirit from the 1950s to the 1980s). James hosted the charity's primary telethon (in New York City on what is now WWOR-TV) for 47 years, aided by Jane Pickens, Paul Anka, Florence Henderson, and other performers. He also hosted telethons in major cities all over the United States on a monthly basis from 1950 until 1979. When the telethon went national in 1979 with John Ritter as M.C. in Los Angeles, UCP enlisted James as a presenter, in addition to James's duties as the anchor of the East Coast version which was also seen on Cable all over the US.

Dennis James bought a home in Palm Springs, California, in 1980. He was then called on to host dozens of charity events a year in the Palm Springs area, including events for Childhelp International, The Frank Sinatra Golf Classic and the Bob Hope Desert Classic. In 1992 his Star was placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Many luminaries came out, including Bob Hope, to help honor Dennis James. In 1996 Dennis James received a Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars.


James died on June 3, 1997, from lung cancer at his home in Rancho Mirage, CA.

The Cathedral City, California United Cerebral Palsy center is named after him, as he helped raise $700 million for the charity over the years. His wife, Micki, and his sons, Randy (a Talent Manager) and Brad (who heads his own telecommunications firm), regularly attend events on behalf of the center. He has another son, Dennis James Jr., who practices international law in Washington D.C.



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