Richard Dawson is one of the best loved game show host
s in history
. Sure, Pat Sajak
may be on a more famous show
, or Wink Martindale
might have a funnier name
, and he doesn't have a math problem
named after him like Monty Hall
, but watching him joke with the contestants on Match Game
, and especially receiving personalised presents and innumerable kiss
es on Family Feud
, you can see why he was so loved by so much of America
Richard was born on November 20th, 1932, in Gasport, England, the second child of Arthur and Josephine Emm. (He legally changed his name later in life; his birthname was Colin Emm). His older brother John (or Jack) has been referred to only in the past tense in the sources found. As a child, he worked for pocket money by chopping wood, and then as a fishmonger. At 14, he grew depressed by the people around him and the bleak future that he felt awaited him if he stayed, so he joined the Merchant Marine, lying about his age to avoid problems.
During his three years with the Merchant Marine, Dawson earned money as a boxer. His boxing career ended with a broken nose. After a stint as a waiter and another as a bus conductor, he started in comedy. He pretended to be a famous Canadian comedian at first, and within a year was writing his own material.
He met his first wife, Diana Dors, in the late 1950s. They were married in 1959, while Richard was in New York for an appearance on the Steve Allen Show. After having two children (Mark and Gary), Diana left him for a younger man. The pair separated in 1964 and were divorced in 1967.
However, in 1965, things started to look up for Dawson. He moved to the States, and began acting in Hogan's Heroes as Corporal Peter Newkirk. When the show ended in 1971, he joined the cast of Rowan and Martin's Laugh In for two years.
In the early 70s, Richard joined several game shows as a guest panelist. Mark Goodson and Bill Todman liked him so much while watching him on "I've Got A Secret" that they had him appear on the premiere episode of "Match Game '73". The show and Dawson quickly grew in popularity (with Dawson also hosting "Masquerade Party"), so Goodson and Todman decided that they should capitalize on this, and created a show from the "Audience Match" segment of Match Game, made Richard Dawson the host, and called it "Family Feud".
The show quickly became a huge hit, showing ten (sometimes fifteen) times a week, and was soon America's most popular game show. The show probably owed most of its success to Dawson's charisma rather than the theme itself, and the contestants started showing their love personally, making him gifts and spending much time talking to him. He returned this love in full, often wearing the clothing made for him for at least one question, and he was famous, even notorious, for kissing all of the female contestants. He never played favorites on the show, however, treating each side with equal fairness and praising and teasing both sides often.
Behind the scenes, though, Richard was becoming hard to handle. He fought with the staff of Feud often, even barring the producer from the set. He started acting publicly obnoxious on Match Game in 1977, and in 1978 quit the show on very bad terms.
Family Feud was still America's favorite game show, and still had a few more years to be so. Richard became an American citizen in 1984, on a Friday the 13th (in January, April, or July). He was thrilled about this, telling contestants of his citizenship tests, and showing his American passport to the viewing audience. But 1984 was not a good year otherwise, for Wheel Of Fortune had been gaining on Feud in popularity, and the syndicated version was cancelled that year. In 1985, the regular show was also cancelled, with Dawson ending the show with a tear-filled goodbye, thanking the cast and crew, and expressing his joy that they never discriminated on the show. (Incidentally, this lack of discrimination was part of the problem; some viewers were outraged that Dawson kissed females of all races witout hesitation. (Some were just outraged that he kissed all the females.))
Richard's internal feuds got him blackballed from television, and he found no work for years. He managed to use his game show experience and evil reputation in the role of Damon Killian in The Running Man, where he played an evil game show host. The blackballing lasted for years; Mark Goodson swore that Dawson would never again work for his company while Goodson was alive. Family Feud resumed with a new host, Ray Combs; neither he nor the show were nearly as popular. After Goodson died, Dawson was asked back as host of the Feud, and in 1994, the now-humble host took the reins. The joyless set that matched Ray Combs' personality clashed with Richard's, though, and even his sense of life and happiness couldn't revive the show enough to save it from cancellation in 1995.
Family Feud was good to Dawson in more ways than one; in 1981 Gretchen Johnson appeared as a contestant. She and Richard had a daughter in 1990, and were married the next year.
Richard was very political. He became active in the Women's Lib movement while his first wife was in labor with their first child. He once marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. He would often talk on his shows of his political views (never arguing with a contestant, preferring to address the camera). Many of the gifts that devoted fans offered him, he would donate to charities.
As of this writeup, Richard Dawson is still living in California with his wife and daughter.
http://community-2.webtv.net/DivaMagenta/RichardDawson/ (includes the Family Feud Drinking Game)