LOS ANGELES – In the past six weeks, Art Linkletter has sailed on the Queen Mary 2, flown to Washington, D.C., on business for two organizations and traveled to Rome for a cruise through the Mediterranean, making speeches everywhere he’s gone.
When he sat for a recent interview in his office, he had spoken in Lincoln, Neb., the previous day and would be doing the same in Montreal the next day.
Today, Linkletter turns 94 and publishes his 28th book, “How to Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life.”
And, yes, he plans a nationwide tour to promote it.
Linkletter has been on the move ever since his teen years during the Depression, when he rode the rails in freight cars with other people searching for jobs that didn’t exist.
After graduating from San Diego State University, where he was captain of the basketball team, he found his niche by staging shows at the San Diego and San Francisco world’s fairs in the late 1930s. That led him to radio and then television.
He once had TV shows on NBC, CBS and ABC – all at the same time. The weekday “House Party,” which included entertainment, household tips and interviews, lasted on radio and television from 1945 to 1970. It also originated the memorable feature “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” Other shows included “Hollywood Talent Scouts,” “Life with Linkletter” and “People Are Funny,” one of broadcasting’s first reality shows, which debuted on radio in 1940 and on television in 1954.
So what does this reality pioneer think of the genre’s current shows? “I don’t particularly care for them,” he replied curtly.
No wonder, notes media historian Leonard Maltin. Linkletter’s shows “were always benign. There was no cutthroat competition, no putting down of contestants, no humiliating people. That was not his style,” Maltin said.
Linkletter, in fact, takes a dim view of much of today’s television.
Among his dislikes: three-minute commercial breaks with as many as 10 spots in a row; announcers who promise an “inside scoop” that doesn’t appear until the end of a newscast; talk shows with experts you can’t hear because they’re all talking over each other.
Linkletter speaks on three or four cruises a year, often accompanied by his wife, Lois. They’ve been married for 70 years.
And when he’s not on the high seas, Linkletter’s often in an airplane, averaging 60 speaking engagements a year.
Maltin theorizes that one reason Linkletter has been so widely embraced by the public for so many years is because “he always presented himself as Everyman. I think that was a big part of his appeal. People felt comfortable with him, both kids and adults.”
Linkletter was asked the usual nonagenarian question: How does he do it?
“I believe that lifestyle is 70 percent of the answer,” he replied. “The genes account for 30 percent.
“I’ve never smoked. I don’t drink; never have. I get plenty of rest; usually I go to bed at 10 and rise at 7:30. I get lots of exercise. I start by working my arms and legs while I’m still in bed. Then I rise and I work out with 10-pound weights.”
He brags that he’s the same weight as when he graduated from college. He avoids red meat, favoring fish and chicken. For dessert, he cuts a slice of cake down the middle and eats only half. Whenever possible, he makes lunch his big meal, reasoning that it’s not good to go to bed with a full stomach.