Art Linkletter was a radio and television talk-show pioneer best known for eliciting hilarious remarks from the mouths of babes. Late in life he became a popular motivational speaker and author, challenging seniors to live as zestfully as he did.
Linkletter, a resident of Bel-Air, was an accomplished businessman whose Linkletter Enterprises controlled more than 70 businesses. He became a well-known anti-drug crusader after a daughter committed suicide in 1969. He wrote three autobiographies, a 1988 bestseller called “Old Age Is Not for Sissies” and released the latest of more than 20 books — about making the most of life's later years — on his 94th birthday.
To many baby boomers and their parents who watched his daytime television show “House Party,” Linkletter would always be the perfect straight man who could ask a grade-schooler a simple question like “What does your mommy do?” and elicit this response: “She does a little housework, then sits around all day reading the Racing Form.”
That popular segment from the television show that aired from 1952 to 1970 led to his 1957 bestselling book “Kids Say the Darndest Things” and several sequels.
The idea to showcase children's unrehearsed comments came to him during a conversation with his oldest child, Jack, after the boy's first day in kindergarten.
Informed by Jack that he would never go back to school, his father asked why. Jack responded:
“Because I can't read, I can't write and they won't let me talk.”
Linkletter captured the exchange on an early recording machine and played the interview on his “Who's Dancing Tonight?” Sunday program broadcast from the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. An avalanche of mail arrived saying “what a wonderful thing it is to hear a little boy talking to his daddy,” Linkletter told The Times in 2007. “And it struck me that there were no interviews with children as children; they were always professional children — trained, coached and written for.”
The segment debuted in 1945 on the CBS Radio version of “House Party.” When the show segued to television in the early 1950s, he sought out spunky Los Angeles youngsters who wouldn't be intimated by the trappings of an early TV studio. Linkletter asked local teachers to “pick the kids you'd like to have out of the classroom for a few precious hours.”
One boy's answer when asked what animal he wished to be provided the funniest response, Linkletter once told an interviewer. An octopus, the boy said, so that he could grab the many bullies in his school and hit them with his “testicles.”
Linkletter knew “without a doubt” that he'd be remembered for his popular interactions with children.