In The Underworld, we have a fondness for TV game shows, especially celebrity-driven ones like Match Game, Liar's Club, Password and Hollywood Squares. We even like the Bob Barker years of The Price is Right, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. One show, however, that we avoided like the plague in its original run, but which we recently stumbled upon to much delight, is Sale of the Century.
Sale ran once on NBC from 1969-1974 (hosted by Jack Kelly and then Joe Garagiola) before being cancelled. In a strange turn of events, an Australian version of the show hit that country's airwaves in 1980 and was a staggering success. So in 1983, using that rendition's format, a new U.S. version of Sale of the Century was introduced, again on NBC, running until 1989. (The Aussie Sale ran until 2001!) It is this '80s version of the show that we're going to take a look at today for reasons that ought to become quite clear.
Host of Sale was Jim Perry, a Canadian singer and emcee who'd hosted Card Sharks on NBC from 1978-1981. With his pleasant visage, enthusiastic delivery and picture-perfect hair, he was a prototypical game show host “type” whose work helped lead to so many comic parodies over the years on sitcoms and variety shows. In fact, Perry is allegedly the inspiration for Sesame Street's emcee puppet Guy Smiley. Perry had gone prematurely gray in his thirties and so colored his hair in the 1970s, which led to broader appeal as a host, while also adding that touch of “artificiality.”
Emblematic of the aforementioned parodies, Sale of the Century featured a showy opening (announced by the boistrously-voiced Let's Make a Deal veteran Jay Stewart) that included dazzling prizes, a case full of money and always a brand new car, rotating on a turntable and surrounded by lights and drapery.
Perry was assisted by a young lady named Summer Bartholomew (that is, after two previous ladies briefly held the post.) A Miss USA in 1975, the statuesque beauty had auditioned for Wheel of Fortune in 1982 after Susan Stafford left, though, as we all know, Vanna White won that spot (and is still there!) Bartholomew would come forth and introduce the two newest players of the game (who would take on the current champion) and awkwardly read their bios from a card, which required her to spend an inordinate amount of time looking down!
Thus, she'd come on, all dolled up to the nines, and, after a brisk bit of repartee with Perry (which was ceaselessly rushed and barely coherent) would then be shown with her eyes downward as she read the introductions. These were typically catchy one-sentence phrases playing on a contestant's life, hobby or work, and could rarely be heard over the audience noise and music. Late in the run of the show, they finally abandoned the cue card method and allowed her to look to the camera. Incidentally, any time (and it was rare) that Bartholomew wore her hair up, Perry would tease her and refer to her as some old star like Hedy Lamarr (even though Lamarr was known for shoulder length hair, parted down the middle!) Eventually, she abandoned the idea of putting her hair up at all.
The set had a huge set of doors and as the incoming contestants were introduced, a pair of gold-clad lovelies would escort them to their seats.
As for the game proper, three players (given $20 apiece to start) answered trivia questions at $5 a pop. Periodically, Perry would announce that it was time for an instant bargain, during which the player in the lead could spend some of his earnings on a hugely discounted prize (for example, $800 worth of television and video equipment – check out that postage stamp of a TV screen! - for $5 or $10!) Thing is, one needed to retain the most money of all three by the end in order to win the game, so temptation came into play.
Speaking of temptation, Sale differed from most shows in that rather than having one, two or three shapely models to help push the merchandise (as Let's Make a Deal or The Price is Right did), they employed five models, three women and two men (!) to get the job done. The ladies sort of came and went, but the men were with the show throughout its run. There was dark, handsome Italian Greg (Gregorio Gaviati), who was in his mid-twenties as the show began...
...and my personal favorite, blond David Gibbs, a sort of cross between Ted McGinley and Dack Rambo. These gents were placed in little oddball vignettes designed to add humor and atmosphere to the prizes. They also added some sorely-absent beefcake to the daytime TV game show arena and somehow, as a youth, I completely missed out on seeing ANY of it!
What's that you say...? A couple of nice-looking, big-haired male models hawking cameras, golf clubs, watches and so on does not constitute beefcake?
What if I give you David as a photographer on safari, his toothy grin and strong arms on display?
How about Greg as a gladiator? A sort of ersatz Mark Anthony to fellow model Daria's Cleopatra?
Here's hunky David in some clingy khakis...
The arm of this sofa is one of the luckiest pieces of furniture ever to exist on earth.
Still not feeling it? What if I give you Greg in abbreviated, figure-hugging shorts, piloting a speedboat?
What about David working out on a piece of exercise equipment while a female trainer runs roughshod over him?
As the taskmaster continues to whip him into performing his reps, his shirt rides up to show off a li'l midriff.
As Perry continues to try to sell off the item, David's got legs for days, very nice arms and a smile that melts...
But I know that some of you are STILL not convinced that Sale of the Century truly has beefcake to offer and that I've merely been grasping at straws to this point. Okay... then try to grasp THIS:
A Hawaiian trip causes the three female models to come out onto the “beach” where Greg and David together are lying in the “sun” with their towels practically adhered together (thank you, puny staging area!) dressed in nothing but sunglasses and Speedos!!!!!
Help me, Jesus! They are camped out on their little beach towels, preparing to apply sunscreen (to each other, please??) wearing precious little clothing...
It gets better. As the luau music and narration continue, the guys jump up from their seated position and begin to hula dance alongside the gals.
Are you getting these skimpy swimsuits being broadcast to the world on a weekday network game show?!? After this dance, Perry faux-angrily tells the guys to get out and shoos them off the set, waving his arms at them.
However, in time for the actual sale of the trip, they do thankfully come back and pose along with the ladies, affording us one more glimpse at their hirsute, nearly-naked splendor... Now I know that in today's world, many people would blanch at the hairy chest or the lack of a six-pack and all that, but this was the type of man I was raised on and it suits me fine!
These little vignettes are an obvious highlight of the show. Here we find Greg in some butt-hugging jeans playing pinball.
This was a time when jeans were practically “painted on” and if they didn't clamp to your skin, you simply weren't wearing the right size!
Here we see David modeling a men's fur coat, something the show offered plenty of times in those pre-PETA days. (I am not advocating fur! I'm just advocating good-looking men.) Note how he's hilariously hanging out at the Bus Stop in his luxurious jacket!
It's amusing, too, the way the actors in these mini-stories would be carrying on with whatever the business at hand was while Summer Bartholomew would be standing, Rod Sterling-like in their midst, describing the item up for sale! Sometimes they would acknowledge her or she would be part of the scene, sometimes not. All during Sale's network run, Dynasty was a hit on television and this game show often aped the glitzy, glamorous lifestyle and clothing of that series.
The models were put through dozens upon dozens of scenarios, nearly always campy and corny, thanks to the cramped quarters of the display area and the time allotted for the vignette. Still, it was so much fun to see what on earth they were going to be doing next!
On at least one occasion, I kid you not... well, actually I can prove I'm not kidding, Greg was placed in overalls and asked to rake through a cabbage patch until a Cababge Patch Doll was revealed!!!!! Yes, Sarah Clarissa was up for grabs at a time when these pieces of shit were being fought over and creating frenzies in stores nationwide.
And what did they have the nerve to say her retail price was? (Beanie Babies weren't the only asinine "investment" to come along.)
In the early days of the show, models would be dressed to the hilt in order to show off a whirlpool...
...but thankfully later they would strip down into a swimsuit in order to show off the prize. (This hysterical jacuzzi spa vignette has three models inside with NO WATER, just dry ice wafting around!)
Note the “steam” pouring over the side as David reaches for his towel.
Fans of 1980s automobiles and/or 1980s clothing can delight in seeing the parade of goods in both categories each day.
Sometimes the set-ups could be a little porn-y with their cardboard walls and varied subject matter. Here, David tries out a massaging recliner and appears to be in mild ecstacy. (On another episode with one of these, he made funny faces as if he was getting excited by the vibrations!) Then we have Greg in the “mechanic fantasy,” complete with a zip-up work suit and a sign that reads, “Installer On Duty!”
My favorites invariably featured both guys together. This one with a golf theme has David wearing a black leather glove zeroing in on Greg's backside! LOL Fetishists rejoice!
Unintentionally, I'm sure, he seems to be checking out Greg's behind rather than his golf swing and a goofy expression completes the camp factor. (I like Greg's pants here, by the way. “10” indeed!)
Speaking of golf, here's another one with David suited up for the course. This time, it's a newfangled cellular phone that's being sold. Just look how tiny and compact it is....
Ha! The retail price on this was $2,400!!! That is a lot now, but was a small fortune in the late-'80s. Can you imagine lugging this around with you everywhere?!
Or how about the day that David combined both the hot tub AND the cell phone? (Careful, pumpkin, don't drop it in the water! Oh, that's right... there isn't any! LOL)
Announcer Jay Stewart would occasionally be part of a prize vignette, something he did often on Let's Make a Deal when he would sometimes pop up in costume when players chose a door which featured a “Zonk!” behind it. Here we see him attempting to work out (needing David to climb up on top of him in order to press the bar forward! Me next!!)
To get back to the game itself for a moment, there was another feature that popped up three times per episode called The Fame Game. Perry would describe a famous person and the contestant who first guessed the correct answer would select from The Fame Game board to win a prize.
It might be actual money or game dollars that would increase one's score or in many cases a prize such as bed linens, lamps, carpeting and so on (like this Kitchenaid mixer. Note that the models from the show would many times be called upon to pose with these prizes, too!)
As a person who works in the field of flooring, I got a kick out of seeing this card for some Hartco parquet on one episode!
In the early days of the show, The Fame Game board actually had pictures of famous people on it instead of numbers! This is like heaven for me, akin to the opening credits of Match Game or something! This one had the unlikely mix of faces such as Swoosie Kurtz, Daniel J. Travanti, Barbara Bel Geddes, Ted Danson, Tinkerbell (!), Kevin Dobson, Stephanie Zimbalist, Hervé Villachaize and Abby Dalton. It was abandoned before long, possibly due to the time it took to announce all the names (not to mention the contestants' need to recall them!)
Still later, contestants didn't even pick a number, but locked in on a buzzer to stop the flashing lights on a particular number. Another change, this one a welcome one, was having the male models be part of the opening sequence in which players were escorted to their seats. Originally done by gold-clad girls, now female guests were taken to their chair by David or Greg.
As the years went by, more changes occurred. Eventually, there were only two bargains per episode, the third segment now being an Instant Cash feature in which players gave up their lead in order to choose one of three boxes. Two had $100 bills in them while one had a couple thousand dollars.
Then the finale of the game was changed, too. Instead of using one's accrued money to buy a big prize (or, as most people did, hang onto their winnings to try for an even bigger one the next day), there was a set prize per day, but players could try for $5000 additional money by enduring a 20-second, four-question quiz that was next to impossible! One-by-one, six words slowly appeared describing a person, place or thing and the player had to get four of them in 20-seconds with NOTHING if they got one, two or three of them. Watching this segment is nothing short of exasperating...
Prior to the change mentioned above, players worked their way up a ladder of prizes, culminating in first a car, then all the prizes and lastly the entire enchilada... a huge cash jackpot (with a big sign coming down and Bartolomew lugging a cash-filled suitcase onstage) to go with everything else offered. This amounted to (usually) well over $100,000 in cash and prizes.
One of the changes brought on by the lesser number of prize vignettes was that fewer models were needed. This was, as you can guess, a rotten development. Though they didn't outright fire David or Greg, they reduced them to alternating weeks. So for five shows you would see David, then typically the next five Greg, so no more homoerotic togetherness, nor twice the beefcake in a given scene. Still campy as ever, though, such as this one at left with Greg as a hairdresser.
In what was an unusual, but welcome, circumstance for daytime TV games shows, especially one centered around “fabulous” household and personal items, Sale of the Century seemed to heavily feature male contestants. Females did sometimes win and even enjoy a seven-day streak, but more often than not, the champion was male. Occasionally, as in this early episode, all three contestants were male! These situations didn't alter the prize line-up, either, which could mean having gents being offered female clothing, women's jewelry, cookware, etc...
Sometimes the male contestants could be rather dishy (as in the preps shown below), but most often the champions tended to be middle-aged men whose “hubba-hubba” days were behind them!
But you know in Poseidon's Underworld, we love the “hubba-hubba” so we're going to end this Sale with a parade of some more delicious beefcake, courtesy of the male models from the show!
Greg goes for a bike ride in this late installment, sporting what were at the time very fashion-forward bike pants.
A closer look affords us a split-second glimpse of his crotch.
In a horrible turn of events, as the series wore on and it became far less acceptable for men to wear Speedos to swim (or traipse across our TV screens), the guys would be shown more covered up than before. Here David has on a tank top (!) with his standard swimsuit.
And here, Greg has on one during his vacation vignette!
He still looked cute, but was more demurely outfitted.
Still, sometimes we'd still get a little hunkery as seen here with David displaying his muscles.
Even better, he's standing upright in this shot, but oh the high waist on these trunks.....!
Best were the early days when the guys were thisclose to being naked on stage! This next series of pictures is so blurry and grainy as to be incomprehensible, but I include it simply so you can see just how skimpy the suits were and how much flesh was shown on this game show! The female model has her hands all over David, too and who can blame her?!
But hopefully you knew I wasn't going to be content with something so grainy it almost looks like old scrambled cable TV! Ha! Looky here at this next series. David is showing off some scuba gear (and a lovely Speedo!)
Here's a little bit closer look.
What's funny is that as the sale price is announced, the low $14 price completely covers up what he is wearing!
Grandma might look up from her ironing and think that a naked man is on TV, covered up only by a large number 1!!
In case you can't tell, we are captivated by this sequence with David.
Even Jim Perry seems to be giving the look a high five!
But check out the flimsy little suit Greg is sporting in this early episode. Time was, a guy thought nothing of heading to the pool or the beach in this sort of suit.
Not a Speedo, but look at Greg in these little shorts for the demonstration of a catamaran.
Lastly, back to David again for a vignette on water-ski equipment.
I still can't believe I never watched this show back in the day!
What was I thinking?!
This was just the sort of guy I went crazy for, too...
Jim Perry and Summer Bartholomew practically retired after Sale of the Century was cancelled in 1989. Jay Stewart left Sale about a year before its cancellation due to a variety of issues including back pain, alcohol dependence and severe depression in the wake of his daughter's suicide in 1981. Sadly, he fatally shot himself in 1989 at age seventy-one, unable to continue grappling with these matters.
I don't know what became of Gregorio “What a name” Gaviati. Sadly, I did discover that the very handsome David Gibbs passed away in 2013. After some tiny film and TV parts, he'd become a professional helicopter pilot, working successfully in that field. He was engaged to be married and living a wonderfully rich life when he died (in a crash? Not sure...) and is mourned by many friends. Proving that good looks were in his family, his brother is soap actor Timothy Gibbs.
I hope you enjoyed today's Sale! Like most things in The Underworld, it really went cheap.