Ralph Livingstone Edwards (June 13, 1913 – November 16, 2005) was an American radio and television host and television producer.
Born in Merino, Colorado, Edwards worked for KROW Radio in Oakland, California while he was still in high school. After graduating from high school in 1931, he worked his way through college at the University of California, Berkeley, earning a B.A. in English in 1935. While there, he worked at every job from janitor to producer at Oakland's KTAB, now KSFO. Failing to get a job as ahigh school teacher, he worked at KFRC and then hitchhiked across the country to New York, where, he said, "I ate ten-cent ($2 as of 2013), meals and slept on park benches".
After some part-time announcing jobs, he got his big break in 1938 with a full-time job for the Columbia Broadcasting System on WABC (now WCBS-AM), where he worked with two other young announcers who would become broadcasting fixtures - Mel Allen andAndre Baruch.
The young broadcaster had an assured, professional manner, and in a few years he was well established as a nationally famous announcer. It was Edwards who introduced Major Bowes every week on the Original Amateur Hour and Fred Allen on Town Hall Tonight. Edwards perfected a chuckling delivery, sounding as though he was in the midst of telling a very funny story. This "laugh in the voice" technique served him well when 20th Century Fox hired him to narrate the coming-attractions trailers for Laurel and Hardymovies. He later used the conspiratorial chuckle frequently when surprising someone on his programs.
Edwards was the second host of the NBC radio children's talent show The Horn and Hardart Children's Hour. He appeared in a few films, including Radio Stars On Parade with the comedy team of Wally Brown and Alan Carney" and I'll Cry Tomorrow with Susan Hayward.
Truth or Consequences
In 1940, Edwards created the game show Truth or Consequences, which aired for 38 years on radio and television. Contestants were asked to perform (often ridiculous) stunts for prizes of cash or merchandise.
The show was originally based in New York (with Allen as announcer), but later moved to Los Angeles. Its radio run started on CBS, Edwards' and Allen's home network, then moved to NBC. Its TV run started with a one-time special on July 1, 1941 as part of the inaugural broadcast day of television's oldest commercially-licensed station, WNBT in New York (now WNBC).
Occasionally the show played for sentiment, as contestants were surprised on stage by a sweetheart in the military, a family member, or a long-lost friend. During a May 22, 1948, broadcast, Edwards interviewed a young cancer patient in Boston who loved baseball and dreamed of having a television to watch his favorite team, the Boston Braves, then the city's National League ball club. At the end of the broadcast, Edwards asked listeners from his studio in Hollywood to donate money for cancer research, as well as to buy a TV for the boy, whom he called "Jimmy" to protect his privacy. "Let's make Jimmy and thousands of other boys and girls happy who are suffering from cancer, by aiding the research to help find a cure for cancer in children," Edwards said on the show. By the end of the week, $20,000 in donations were made to Jimmy and the fund was born. It was the Braves' favored charity until their move in 1953 to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Since then, the Jimmy Fund has been adopted by the Boston Red Sox.
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico was named after the show following Edwards' promise to broadcast the show from the first city that renamed itself. The city in southern New Mexico features several public parks and facilities that bear his name. Beginning in 1950 and continuing for the next 50 years, Edwards traveled to that city during the first weekend of May every year.
Edwards and the Truth or Consequences radio show were featured in a Superman story in Action Comics #127 (December 1948).
Edwards produced dozens of game shows, including About Faces, Knockout, Place the Face, It Could Be You, Name That Tune (1970s version) and The Cross-Wits. In 1981, with Stu Billett, he executive produced The People's Court, the first program of its type. In 1996, along with Stu Billett, they also did Bzzz!.
Edwards with Abbott and Costello onThis Is Your Life
Edwards is probably best known for creating and hosting This Is Your Life. Each week Edwards would surprise some unsuspecting person (usually a celebrity, sometimes an ordinary citizen) and review the subject's personal and professional life. The show drew great interest from viewers, because the identity of the subject wasn't revealed until the show went live. Throughout the half-hour Edwards would guide the narrative of the show, ushering visitors on and off stage, and eventually prompting the honoree to recall a personal turning point. Edwards was showman enough to draw upon his Truth or Consequences experience: he emphasized the sentimental elements that appealed to viewers and listeners at home. His on-air tributes would often recount some heroic sacrifice or tragic event, bringing the audience (and sometimes the subject) to the point of tears.
Edwards burnished the career of another game show host—his protégé, Bob Barker. The TV version of Truth or Consequences had featured Edwards, Jack Bailey and Steve Dunne in the 1940s and 1950s. When the show returned for another NBC run in late 1956, Edwards enlisted Barker, a popular West Coast radio and TV personality. During the 2001 Daytime Emmy Awards, Barker told backstage reporters that Edwards told him to be no one else but himself.
Barker would host Truth on NBC until 1965, and later in daily syndication until 1975, by which time he had also taken over a revival ofThe Price Is Right on CBS from 1972 onward. As a result, thanks to Edwards's "be yourself" admonition, Barker became as familiar with a generation of Truth and Price viewers, as earlier fans had with Edwards and original Price host Bill Cullen during the original versions of the shows in the 1950s and 1960s.
Until his death, Edwards had lunch with Bob Barker every December 21 at exactly 12:05 PM, according to Bob Barker, for Barker's December birthday, and the anniversary of Edwards hiring Barker as host of Truth or Consequences, which according to Barker, started a long and enduring friendship between the two men.
On November 16, 2005, Edwards died of heart failure in Los Angeles, California. Shortly before his death he released a selection of his This Is Your Life programs on DVD.