Obituaries

Monty Hall, cocreator and host of ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ dies at 96

Mr. Hall remained involved in “Let’s Make a Deal” to the end, as an owner of the show and an occasional guest.
Jordan Strauss/Invision/Associated Press/file 2014
Mr. Hall remained involved in “Let’s Make a Deal” to the end, as an owner of the show and an occasional guest.

Monty Hall, the genial host and cocreator of “Let’s Make a Deal,” the game show on which contestants in outlandish costumes shriek and leap at the chance to see if they will win the big prize or the booby prize behind door No. 3, died at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Saturday. He was 96.

A daughter, Joanna Gleason, confirmed his death. She said the cause was heart failure.

“Let’s Make a Deal” had its premiere in late 1963 and, with some interruptions, has been a television phenomenon ever since.

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When Mr. Hall first roamed among the audience members who filled the “trading floor” in an NBC studio in Burbank, Calif., there was nothing zany about them.

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“They came to the show in the first week in suits and dresses,” Mr. Hall told the Los Angeles Times in 2013.

Within weeks, however, things had changed.

By one account, the turning point came when a woman in the audience, vying for Mr. Hall’s attention with hopes of being chosen as a contestant, wore a bizarre-looking hat.

Mr. Hall recalled it somewhat differently in 2013: The game changer, he said, was a woman carrying a sign that said, “Roses are red, violets are blue, I came here to deal with you.”

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Whatever it was that opened the floodgates, would-be deal makers were soon showing up wearing live-bird hats, Tom Sawyer costumes, or boxes resembling refrigerators. Some simply waved signs pleading, “Pick Me.”

It was all for the chance to barter their way to a big prize. A woman might sell Mr. Hall the contents of her handbag for $150, and then agree to trade that $150 for whatever was behind a curtain, or in a big box, in the hope that it was something valuable — say, a $759 refrigerator-freezer stocked with $25 worth of cottage cheese and a $479 sewing machine.

She could then compound her glee by being smart enough not to trade it all back for the old purse and whatever amount of cash Mr. Hall had slipped into it — maybe a hefty amount or maybe a measly $27. If she went for the deal that turned out to be a loser, she was, in the language of the show, zonked.

At the end of the show, the two biggest winners were given a shot at the Big Deal. They could trade their winnings for whatever was behind one of three doors: a new car, perhaps, or $15,000 in cash, or, if they were not so lucky, something worth less than what they had traded. All the while, the affable, smooth-talking Mr. Hall gave no hint of where the treasure might lie.

“Monty had to be a very likable con man; he had to convince people to give up a bird in the hand for what’s in the box,” David Schwartz, the author, with Fred Wostbrock and Steve Ryan, of “The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows,” said in an interview.

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Mr. Hall had other responsibilities, too, Schwartz added: “He had to be a traffic cop, to get a decision out of the contestant without taking a long time. With his great ability to ad-lib, he knew how to keep the show moving.”

Mr. Hall (right) originally hosted the game show. It was revived in October 2009 on CBS, with Wayne Brady (left) as host.
Dan Steinberg/Associated Press/File 2009
Mr. Hall (right) originally hosted the game show. It was revived in October 2009 on CBS, with Wayne Brady (left) as host.

Mr. Hall kept “Let’s Make a Deal” moving for most of almost 5,000 broadcasts on NBC, on ABC, and in syndication. The show ended its original daytime run in 1976 on ABC. A concurrent syndicated nighttime version lasted until the next year. It occasionally resurfaced over the next decades and, after being off the air for a while, was revived in October 2009 on CBS, with Wayne Brady as host. That version is still on the air.

“Let’s Make a Deal” became such a pop-culture phenomenon that it gave birth to a well-known brain-twister in probability, called “the Monty Hall Problem.” This thought experiment involves three doors, two goats, and a coveted prize and leads to a counterintuitive solution.

The show itself could give rise to the unexpected. “You get some strange moments,” Mr. Hall said in 2009. He recalled the day that a contestant was zonked when he chose a curtain behind which he had hoped was a car.

“It was an elephant,” Mr. Hall continued. “It freaked — ran backstage, down a ramp, and out into the streets of LA. That’s probably the wildest moment.”

Mr. Hall had his proud moments as well. In 1973, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1988, Mr. Hall, who was born in Canada, was named to the Order of Canada by that country’s government in recognition of the millions he had raised for a host of charities. In 2013, he was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the Daytime Emmys.

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Aug. 25, 1921, Monte Halparin (he later changed the spelling of his first name and took the stage name Hall) was one of two sons of Maurice Halparin, a butcher, and the former Rose Rusen, a teacher.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and zoology from the University of Manitoba. But, smitten by applause while appearing in college musicals, he moved to Toronto and began working as an actor and singer. In 1955, he moved again, this time to New York, where he became a regular on “Monitor,” a mix of comedy, music, sports, and news on NBC Radio.

Five years later, Mr. Hall moved to Hollywood to host “Video Village,” a CBS TV show on which contestants played the role of “tokens” on a human-size game board. He teamed with the writer and producer Stefan Hatos to create “Let’s Make a Deal” in 1963.

Mr. Hall leaves a show-business family: two daughters, Gleason, a Tony Award-winning actress, and Sharon Hall, a television executive; a son, Richard, a producer who won an Emmy for “The Amazing Race”; a brother, Robert Hall, a lawyer; and five grandchildren. His wife of almost 70 years, the former Marilyn Plottel, an Emmy Award-winning television producer, died in June.

Mr. Hall remained involved in “Let’s Make a Deal” to the end, as an owner of the show and an occasional guest. Interviewed in 2013, he gave Brady, his successor as host, his seal of approval.

“He’s making it his show,” he said. “He’s learning the star of the show is the contestant and to make them feel at home, make them feel like they came to your party.”