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Chuck Woolery

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Chuck on the 1973 pilot.

Charles Herbert "Chuck" Woolery (born March 16, 1941 in Ashland, Kentucky; last name sometimes incorrectly spelled "Wollery" since at least August 1976; among other places, this can be seen on Page 39 of the 1987 TV Game Show Fever magazine) was the first Wheel of Fortune host, doing the 1973 pilot Shopper's Bazaar and the series itself from 1975-81.

He is best known for saying "We'll be back in 2 and 2.", a quote he began using on Love Connection as a throw to commercial breaks. The "2 and 2" most likely refers to the average amount of time for such a break (2:02; two minutes and two seconds), and the gesture for the phrase is him holding two fingers up and switching them from front to back.

Early CareerEdit

In 1963, following a two-year stint in the Navy, Chuck worked as a sales representative for Pillsbury and a wine consultant for Wasserstrom Wine & Import Company in Columbus, Ohio. In 1968, he and Elkin "Bubba" Fowler scored a psychedelic rock hit with "Naturally Stoned" as The Avant-Garde (their other songs, "Yellow Beads" in 1967 and "Fly With Me!" in 1968, did not do near as well), and around this point Chuck sang the titular jingle in this commercial for Fab laundry detergent.

It would appear that Woolery and Fowler became The Bordermen and released a Christian LP in 1968 called "New Directions", containing ten songs ("If I Knew", "For Bobbie", "Where I'm Bound", "Cruel War", "Good Times Comin' Through", "Pack Up Your Sorrows", "Revelation's Revolution", "He's Everything To Me", "In Times Like These", and "Well, Well, Well").

After this, the two went their separate ways. Chuck did songs for Columbia in 1970 (including "Soft Velvet Love" {released twice, once with "Your Name Is Woman" and again with "I've Been Wrong"}, "The Pleasure of Her Company" / "Heaven Here On Earth", and "Hey, Baby") and RCA in 1972 ("Love Me, Love Me", "Pen of a Poet", and "Kiss Her Three Times" / "If Only"), which was quickly followed by a five-year run on the children's series New Zoo Revue as Mr. Dingle.

In 1973, Woolery appeared as Superman in the ABC Fall preview special Sneek Peak (a special specifically for upcoming Saturday-morning cartoons) alongside an unknown actor playing Batman, mainly to introduce a clip from the new Superfriends series.

Chuck's first game show appearance, not counting the unaired Shopper's Bazaar, was when he and then-wife Jo Ann Pflug played on Tattletales the week of March 25, 1974; following the change to all-Quickies, they played another week against Mitzi McCall & Charlie Brill and Jim & Henny Backus.

In Summer 1974, Woolery was a featured vocalist on the short-lived CBS revival of Your Hit Parade.

Wheel of FortuneEdit

In 1973, following an appearance on The Tonight Show, Woolery was selected by Merv Griffin to host a game show pilot he was working on with NBC boss Lin Bolen, called Shopper's Bazaar. After it failed to click with test audiences, he was replaced for the second and third pilots by Edd Byrnes (who was also deemed to not be a good host); Chuck turned down the now-refined Wheel two or three times, believing that country music was his calling.[1]

Even after taking the job, Woolery continued to do work elsewhere:

  • Costarring in the March 1975 feature film The Treasure of Jamaica Reef (later reissued as Evil In the Deep) as Victor Spivak, alongside Cheryl Ladd and Rosie Grier.
  • Continuing to release songs and do performances through at least the end of 1980, finding minor success along the way. In August 1976,[2] he signed an exclusive contract with Warner Bros. Records, releasing two singles in 1977 ("Painted Lady" and "Take 'er Down, Boys") followed by "The Greatest Love Affair" in 1980 for Epic. Both "Painted Lady" (which he also performed on Dinah!) and "The Greatest Love Affair" made the lower regions of the Billboard country music charts: 78 and 94, respectively. In 1975 or 1980, he appeared on the long-running Rex Humbard Program (aka Cathedral of Tomorrow) on July 13.
  • Playing in the Christian film The Prize, released in 1978.
  • Doing an hour-long talk/variety show pilot called Hittin' Home, produced by Michael Krauss and Post-Newsweek, in September 1980. The show was to be distributed by Viacom to air in daily syndication.[3]

Hosting StyleEdit

Hugger

Chuck on June 7, 1976.

Chuck had a comparatively mellower style of hosting with several unique mannerisms, such as a play-by-play of the Wheel as wedges flew by during each spin ("Past the five and the two, coming up on the Free Spin Territory-can you make it, can you make it? Oh, so close!"), repeating the category name within the round, regularly referring to contestants as "sir" or "ma'am", counting off instances of letters ("One, two, three T's!"), saying "same options apply" (spin, buy, or solve) if a contestant bought a vowel and had enough for another, informing home viewers of the Used Letter Board, and licking his finger just before doing the Final Spin.

During the Final Spin, Chuck always tried to "aim" for the top dollar value (from late 1979 onward, he'd try for $2,000 but hoped for $1,500 if it turned out he spun the Wheel too hard). If the Final Spin went past the four-digit values as the Wheel slowed down, Chuck would hope to get Bankrupt or Lose A Turn (with the slide whistle sounding if he landed on the former).[4]

Woolery also tended to draw attention to his mistakes and preferred to leave them in the final cut, a statement he told director Jeff Goldstein following an early episode.

Another of Chuck's mannerisms, hugging female contestants after they solved a puzzle, drew a number of letters from viewers who said they did not like him doing so. On June 7, 1976, he brought up the letters and responded to them with "I like to hug folks. I'm a hugger. A lot of people are handshakers; I'm a hugger. And one more thing: if you were here, I'd hug ya too!"

As an NBC game show host, Woolery appeared at least three times on Celebrity Sweepstakes, all in 1975:

  • The first was on March 17 to cap off the network's Shamrock Sweepstakes, providing moral support for the biggest Wheel winner of the previous week.
  • He then appeared as a panelist for the week of September 1; the Friday show is held on audio tape by Archival Television Audio, Inc.
  • Chuck's last known appearance was on November 7, playing against Susan Stafford as contestants (the only non-soap opera personalities to do so) during NBC's Daytime Gigantic Game Gala for home viewers chosen at random from various phone books and placed in a drum, then drawn to determine who played for who. In addition to in-show winnings, the winners received an extra $75,000 for first place, $20,000 for second, and $5,000 for third.

Chuck is also known to have played at least one week of The Magnificent Marble Machine.

DepartureEdit

In late 1981, Woolery got into a salary dispute with Merv, wanting a raise in his annual pay from $65,000 to $500,000, in line with what other emcees made and because Wheel was drawing a 44 share; Merv offered $400,000, and NBC agreed to pay the remaining $100,000 until Merv threatened to move the show to CBS. NBC withdrew the offer, and Chuck left the show on December 25, 1981; Pat Sajak took over as host on December 28.

After WheelEdit

Chuck Woolery 2004 cropped

Chuck in 2004.

"Excuse me, I'd like to use my Freebie now! It gets rid of one contestant!"

Chuck later hosted other games including Love Connection (1983-94), Scrabble (1984-90/1993), California's The Big Spin (1985), an unsold Pyramid pilot (1997), The Dating Game (1997-99), Greed (1999-2000), Lingo (2002-07), Think Like a Cat (2008), and The Price Is Right Live! (played at casinos nationwide).

Around 1982-83, Woolery hosted an unsold pilot called Let's Get Personal which, according to this post, involved answering personality questions to "meet" a certain trait being discussed in that round with the help of a psychologist; one such round was a sketch with Larry Anderson, Tim Stack, and Sally Julian as the actors. Notably, one of the contestants was Jack Campion, a lawyer who appeared on at least six other game show pilots between 1974 and 1984.

Aside from game shows, Woolery hosted a self-titled, short-lived talk show in 1991 as well as co-hosting The Home and Family Show for its first few months in 1996. He also starred in GSN's 2003 documentary-reality series Chuck Woolery: Naturally Stoned, whose debut show mainly involved him relearning "Naturally Stoned" for a concert performance.

Woolery appeared in an episode of the hospital sitcom Scrubs, during which he states "Love Connection was never cancelled. It's just not on TV anymore." He also appeared in a 2009 episode of the Lifetime series Drop Dead Diva.

Wheel ReferencesEdit

During his post-Wheel career, Woolery has made reference to his tenure at least seven times:

  • The first known instance was on the April 1, 1987 episode of Scrabble, when Chuck recited the shopping-era Wheel rules followed by the puzzle chimes.
  • On another Scrabble episode, one word's clue was "Vanna White will let you buy them for a price." After the contestant correctly guessed "Vowels", Woolery looked over to someone offstage (possibly show producer Gary Johnson) and asked "Is it still $250? It was $250 when I did Wheel."
  • On the March 23, 1990 finale of Scrabble, after a contestant explained what a clue meant in relation to a word, Chuck suggested that perhaps he was the only thing cancelled regarding the show. "I kept telling 'em, 'Look, find somebody else to do it, it'll be a huge hit. Look what happened to Wheel!'" (Incidentally, an unsold pilot for the 1990-91 syndicated season was hosted by Steve Edwards due to Chuck doing Love Connection.)
  • Easily the most infamous and telling was during the third game of a special TV Greed; where a team's opening question asked them to pick, of these four games (Love Connection, Scrabble, Wheel, and Singled Out), the one Chuck did not regularly host. The player, after claiming to have followed Woolery's career, chose Wheel; the captain accepted this, rather than the correct answer of Singled Out.
  • During the fourth game of a "College Greed" episode, a question asked which of these four games was based on "Hangman" (Jeopardy!, The Price Is Right, Hollywood Squares, and Wheel); the player chose Squares, which the captain rejected, saying, "Give me Wheel of Fortune, Pat." This prompted Chuck to remind him that he was the show's first host, to which the captain replied, "That was before my time."
  • According to one recollection, during a break in taping on Greed, Chuck abruptly went into the shopping-era Wheel rules while talking with the audience. After he finished, he remarked that he didn't remember the rules of Scrabble.
  • On the fourth quarterfinal in the Lingo Tournament of Champions, one player said during the contestant interviews that he just got his first job at a recording studio and is "working my way up from the bottom." Chuck responds "Well, you know what? That's how we all started... except me, I started at the top." After co-host Stacey Hayes and the contestants laugh, Chuck adds "You know, I did, though! I started Wheel of Fortune like I just broke into Wheel of Fortune! That was it! I couldn't help it; I don't know what happened."
  • The most recent was on the May 17, 2006 episode of Lingo when the word was VOWEL. Chuck briefly name-dropped Wheel, mentioning that it was "My old show!" and that he still remembered some of the rules.

Chuck has rarely mentioned Shopper's Bazaar by name, instead saying that the game show he was tapped for "became" Wheel. He name-dropped it directly during a FOX internet chat held while Greed was airing:

"I thought that Greed was the most imaginative--on the money concept--for a game show that I had seen in my career. I was that strong about it, and I still feel that strong about it. These things are extremely difficult to come up with, game shows are very difficult to come up with. And normally when you do a pilot it takes many twists and turns before it gets to the air. An example: Before Wheel of Fortune became Wheel of Fortune, it was called Shopper's Bazaar. I did the pilot, and it had people talking to each other on telephones. And it was bizarre! And it didn't make it. It evolved over a year into Wheel of Fortune. So they had a year to play with it."

Inversely, Wheel has rarely acknowledged Chuck's contributions and has only ever shown one clip from his tenure: the first eight seconds from January 18, 1978 on the ceremonial 3,000th and 4,000th nighttime shows, the latter giving it a caption of "1983". On a Halloween episode circa 1998, Pat joked during his entrance from a "dungeon" that "It was nice visiting with Chuck and Susan, wasn't it?" Another Halloween show in 2012 had Jim Thornton making ghostly noises at one point, followed by Pat quipping, "That was Chuck Woolery."

So far, Chuck has only returned to Wheel once, and even then not on the show itself: in December 2003, he hosted Wheel O' Fortune for Chumash Casino, a scaled-down play-for-cash version complete with his entering to "Big Wheels". This amusingly brought him full-circle, as the Wheel was a vertical design much like the Shopper's Bazaar pilot 30 years earlier.

Personal LifeEdit

Woolery married Margaret Hayes from 1961-71, having three children (Cary, Katherine, and Chad; Chad died at the age of 19 in a motorcycle accident during January 1986). He and Jo Ann Pflug got married on December 21, 1972, having one daughter (Melissa Kelly) on August 13, 1975; the two divorced in 1980, likely around the time Fred Silverman retracted the cancellation of Wheel.

Chuck married Teri Nelson in 1985, having two children (Michael and Sean) before getting divorced in 2004; the Naturally Stoned documentary series caused their marriage to fall apart so badly that GSN withheld the last episode for a week and reworked it into what was essentially an apology and retraction. Woolery has been married to Kim Barnes since 2006.

Woolery is a co-founder and member of Restart Congress, a political action committee dedicated to pointing out hypocrisy in Washington DC and passing an amendment to the Constitution that would establish term limits for members of Congress; Chuck's videos (see link below) generally serve the same purpose while injecting a bit of humor at times, usually through "Stupid Laws Friday", with longer videos consisting of him outlining a multi-step plan to fix certain national problems. One such video, on gun laws, has Chuck show a clip of Ice T's thoughts on the subject and refers to him as a "fellow rapper", after which a small picture appears of Woolery's "Naturally Stoned" rap for GSN.

He, like Sajak, is a dominant Republican and conservative, and donates mainly to Republican and conservative causes; in fact, he was seen at the 2012 Republican National Convention and the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference, and even mentioned meeting John Wayne.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Billboard, June 25, 1977
  2. Variety, August 11, 1976 (Page 6) – "Chuck Woolery, host of NBC TV's "Wheel Of Fortune," has been signed to an exclusive recording contract with Warner/Curb Records."
  3. Variety, September 3, 1980 (Page 51) – ""Hittin' Home," a 60-minute strip talk-variety show, coventured with Post-Newsweek and produced by Michael Krauss. The show is to be hosted by Chuck Woolery of "Wheel of Fortune" fame. If the show works, Viacom will pick it up for syndication."
  4. The Classic Wheel of Fortune Page - Speed-Up Round

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