Ralph Livingstone Edwards (June 13, 1913 – November 16, 2005) was an American radio and television host, radio producer, and television producer, best known for his radio-TV game shows Truth or Consequences and This Is Your Life.
Born in Merino, Colorado goalie soccer, Edwards worked for KROW Radio in Oakland, California while he was still in high school. Before 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 a high school teacher, he worked at KFRC and then hitchhiked across the country to New York, where, he said, “I ate ten-cent (equivalent to $2 in 2015), 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), where he worked with two other young announcers who would become broadcasting fixtures – Mel Allen and Andre Baruch best soccer goalie jerseys.
The young director 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 lint ball remover, 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 Hardy movies. 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 started out as a radio game show that premiered on NBC Radio in March 1940, and aired for 38 years on radio and television. After a ridiculously difficult trivia question was asked, and Beulah the Buzzer went off when they inevitably failed to answer, contestants were asked to perform often ridiculous stunts for prizes of cash or merchandise. From the start contestants preferred to miss the question, with Edwards commenting “Most of the American people are darned good sports.”
After years of experimental broadcasts, the Federal Communications Commission approved commercial broadcasts starting on July 1, 1941, and NBC’s New York station WNBT (later WNBC) was the first to make the changeover, with Edwards hosting a one-time episode of the show. Commercials were $9 for 10 minutes.
The show was originally based in New York, with Allen as announcer, but later moved to Los Angeles. After the U.S. entered World War II in late 1941, causing TV programming to be suspended, its radio run started on CBS, Edwards’ and Allen’s home network, then moved to NBC.
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. 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).
In 1948 Edwards created, produced, and hosted This Is Your Life on NBC Radio, moving to NBC-TV in 1952-1961. Each week Edwards would surprise some unsuspecting person (usually a celebrity, sometimes an ordinary citizen) and review the subject’s personal and professional life in front of the TV audience, often introducing figures from their past as live guests. The show drew great interest from viewers, partly 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, emphasizing 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. Celebrity subjects included Marilyn Monroe, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Bob Hope, Andy Griffith, Buster Keaton, Barbara Eden, Bette Davis, Shirley Jones, Jayne Mansfield, and Carol Channing. Edwards famously surprised Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane when she was the subject of “This Is Your Life” in a story published in the D.C. Comic “Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane” #9, May 1959.
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!. He had a notable acting role, his character a jovial and decreasingly skeptical radio dj, in the episode of the CBS Radio series Suspense “Ghost Hunt” (based on H. Russell Wakefield’s story from the 25th anniversary issue of Weird Tales) in 1949.
Edwards burnished the career of another game show host, his protégé Bob Barker. The 1940s-1950s TV version of Truth or Consequences had featured Edwards, Jack Bailey, and Steve Dunne. When the show returned for another NBC run in late 1956, Edwards hired Barker, a popular West Coast radio and TV personality on December 21 after hearing his radio show on his car radio. During the 2001 Daytime Emmy Awards, Barker told backstage reporters that his lifelong friend 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 of The 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 Barker every December 21 at exactly 12:05 PM, according to Barker, who birthday is December 12.
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.
The Game Show Congress annually presents the Ralph Edwards Service Award, for those within the game show community who have worked tirelessly for charitable causes. In 2004, Edwards’ son stainless water container, Gary, accepted the first of these awards on behalf of his father. Edwards is not related to KTLA broadcaster Stephanie Edwards.
For his contribution to the radio and television industries, Ralph Edwards has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6116 Hollywood Boulevard (radio) and 6262 Hollywood Boulevard (television). Both were dedicated February 8, 1960.
Edwards was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1995.