Human Interest

Peter Marshall is best known for saying things like “circle gets the square” while calling on celebrities to answer a variety of crazy questions for a vamped up version of tic tac toe.

But that stint as host of the popular “Hollywood Squares” makes up just a small portion of his nearly 76 years in showbiz. His true passion — singing — was on full display during a live performance on Tuesday, Feb. 21, at the Sedona Performing Arts Center. He was one of the featured guests at this year’s Sedona International Film Festival, which concludes this weekend.

“You drive in and you forget how gorgeous it is,” he said of Sedona while meeting with members of the media earlier this week. “It looks like a movie set and definitely something God created.”

One of the first questions Marshall was asked is what he thinks of today’s entertainment — something he didn’t hold back on.

“Music today is just God-awful,” he said, adding that’s he’s not much of a fan of the comedy of today as well. “When you think of Jack Benny, Bob Hope, George Burns and Gracie Allen, their kind of comedy was just so clever and wonderful. I don’t see any of that these days and that’s kind of sad, especially for the kids growing up today. Everyone today has to be loud and brash. Maybe I’m just an old fogey.”

On two occasions he brought up a good friend from his early days, that being Bob Hope. While he had great admiration for the comedy legend, he said he was known for one thing in particular.

“He was cheap,” he said, laughing. “But he was very giving of his time. You have to remember, we grew up in an era where everyone was poor. I was born when Calvin Coolidge was president. They called him Silent Cal. Wouldn’t that be great today? I went through the Great Depression and I don’t care how successful you are, you never get over that.”

Marshall got his showbiz start in the 1930s and 1940s in a time when live musicals and plays, big bands and vaudeville were some of the most popular ways for people to be entertained.

“Live entertainment was done so wonderfully in those days,” he said. “But then television killed all of that. But thank God for TV or I wouldn’t be sitting here today. I’ve known a lot of very talented people who never made it [in showbiz] and I’ve also known a lot of semi-talented people who became huge stars. A lot of times it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.”

He got his first taste of television in 1949 and appeared in several TV shows over the next two decades. But he got his big break in 1966 when be became host of the “Hollywood Squares,” which he’d star in for the next 14 years.

“The money was really good,” he said, with a grin. “Paul Lynde, George Gobel, Rose Marie, Wally Cox — for the most part they were all friends of mine. I had already been in show business 25 years at that point so I knew all these people. So many people were on the show that I knew before I ever did it.

“It was the easiest job I ever had. I’d walk in, go over the questions but I never knew any of the jokes or any of the straight lines. We just went in and had a party — it was so much fun. That was part of its success.”

Following his stint on “Hollywood Squares” Marshall appeared in guest spots on some of the most popular shows of the early 1980s such as “Love Boat,” “CHiPs,” “Fantasy Island” and “WKRP in Cincinnati.” And since then he appeared on a variety of television shows and has spent a lot of time on stage singing the big band music of his youth.

Last year Marshall celebrated his 90th birthday with nearly 300 family and friends in Beverly Hills, Calif. as they looked back on his long career.

“They found clips of me that I had never seen before — ones of me singing with Dinah Shore and Dionne Warwick,” he said. “It was a great night but the food was lousy. The only problem about living to this age is not having pals anymore. They’re all gone. But I can think of all the guys [who have since died] who would have been there like Pat Harrington, Jack Riley, George Gobel, Paul [Lynde] and Harvey Korman. They all would have been there.”


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