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Art Linkletter Dead At 97

NEW YORK (CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — Art Linkletter, the legendary host of popular TV shows House Party and People Are Funny during the 1950s and 1960s, has died at age 97.

The death was confirmed by Art Hershey, his son-in-law.

From his early days as an announcer on local radio and a roving broadcaster at state fairs, Mr. Linkletter showed a talent for ingratiating himself with his subjects and getting them to open up, often with comedic results.

He was particularly adept at putting small children at ease, which he did every day on a special segment of "House Party," a question-and-answer session that provided the material for his best-selling book, "Kids Say the Darndest Things."

House Party is one of the longest-running variety shows on television. It began on radio in 1944 and was then a staple on CBS TV from 1952 to 1969.

Television critics and intellectuals found the Linkletter persona bland and his popularity unfathomable. "There is nothing greatly impressive, one way or the other, about his appearance, mannerisms, or his small talk," one newspaper critic wrote. Another referred to his "imperishable banality."

Millions of Americans disagreed. They responded to his wholesome, friendly manner and upbeat appeal. Women, who made up three quarters of the audience for "House Party," which was broadcast in the afternoon, loved his easy, enthusiastic way with children.

"I know enough about a lot of things to be interesting, but I’m not interested enough in any one thing to be boring," Mr. Linkletter told The New York Post in 1965. "I’m like everybody’s next-door neighbor, only a little bit smarter."

He was also genuinely curious to know what was going on in the heads of the people he interviewed. "You have to listen," he said. "A lot of guys can talk."

Gordon Arthur Kelly was born on July 17, 1912, in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Before he was a month old, he was abandoned by his parents and adopted by Fulton John and Mary Metzler Linkletter, a middle-age couple whose two children had died. It was not until he was 12, while rummaging through his father’s desk, that he discovered he was adopted.

In his autobiography, "Confessions of a Happy Man," Mr. Linkletter recalled his adoptive father, a one-legged cobbler and itinerant evangelist, as "a strange, uncompromising man whose main interest in life was the Bible." The family prayed and performed on street corners, with Art playing the triangle.

"Over the years I have tried to create an image of a happy man dedicated to fun and laughter," Linkletter said in 1960. "I have been willing to joke about my own faults and foibles and to talk about the troublesome things in my life, and I have kidded people about theirs. The world needs laughter more than ever, and I intend to spread it around." – CelebrityAccess Staff Writers