Since the dawn of the medium, game shows have played a crucial role in the evolution of television. Game shows like Wheel Of Fortune, The Price Is Right, and Jeopardy are considered to be just as iconic and influential as sitcoms like I Love Lucy and The Andy Griffith Show.
Way back in 1962, NBC debuted a game show called Match Game that pitted contestants in a game of wits against celebrity panelists. The contestants would attempt to try and match answers provided by the star panelists to a series of fill-in-the-blank questions. The premise was simple, but the magic that turned the show into the overnight success story it became was tied to it’s brilliant execution.
Match Game has gone through numerous iterations in the last 60 years. After it’s initial run on NBC from 1962 to 1969, the show returned, albeit with a significantly modified format, on CBS in 1973. After jumping networks and refining it’s formula, Match Game became a significant hit. A few of the tweaks that led to it’s newfound success included expanding the panel, introducing larger cash payouts, and greater emphasizing humor.
Match Game never really tried too hard to be something that it wasn’t. Perhaps that’s one of the biggest reasons why it’s still remembered as being such a groundbreaking offering. It managed to be hilarious and edgy without venturing into raunchy territory. It pushed the entire game show genre into new, unexplored territory while offering the audience a heaping helping of laughs and a much-appreciated escape from reality.
While all of these factors certainly led to the show’s success, it’s undeniable that Match Game’s most valuable asset was it’s celebrity guest panelists. Not only were the show’s producers able to get some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry to make an appearance on the program, but they also knew how to use them most effectively. Everyone worked together in tandem to help create one of the best game shows of the 20th century.
Join Facts Verse as we Take Another Look at the Original Match Game Panelists.
Taking the top center seat, Somers was the reigning queen of Match Game. Born Audrey Dawn Johnson in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, in 1924, Somers moved to New York City in hopes of becoming an actress at 18.
Once in the big apple, she legally changed her Brett Somers. After first marrying a man named Robert Klein, Somers got married to actor Jack Klugman. In fact, she actually was brought on to Match Game upon his suggestion. With her raspy voice, over-the-top wigs, and gaudy oversized glasses, Somers was known for her playful banter with the other panelists. But beyond those things, she was perhaps best known for the quality of her answers.
Besides Match Game, Somers appeared in television shows such as Robert Montgomery Presents, Kraft Television Theatre, The Odd Couple, and Perry Mason.
Charles Nelson Reilly
Taking the top right panel position, Reilly was famous for his witty tongue-in-cheek answers. Routinely, he would have the audience in stitches by ending each of his responses by winking at the camera. The banter that he and Somers would engage in was downright legendary. The chemistry that those two shared onscreen alone justified tuning in each week. Reilly would regularly chastise Somers for providing wrong answers or for copying his. For example, on one occasion, Reilly demanded to move away from her. While it might have just been for show, it didn’t matter, because what the viewers got was comedic gold.
Reilly got his start performing in on and off-Broadway productions in the 1960s. In the mid-60s, he started regularly appearing on TV game and variety shows. In time, he landed a regular series role as Claymore Gregg on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Beyond that, he also appeared in shows like The Patty Duke Show, Here’s Lucy, The Dean Martin Show, and Love American Style. But it was his time on Match Game that ultimately turned Reilly into a household name.
Dawson was born Colion Lionel Emm on the 20th of November, 1932, in Gosport, Hampshire, England. At the age of 14, he ran away from home to join the British Merchant Navy. While in the Navy, Dawson pursued a career of boxing, making roughly $15,000 from various fights he competed in. After leaving the Navy, he adopted the name Dickie Dawson and started pursuing a career in comedy. After reaching adulthood, he had his name legally changed to Richard Dawson.
While he’s better known these days as the former host of Family Feud and for awkwardly kissing dozens of female contestants that appeared on that program, Dawson’s legendary appearance on Match Game helped him to pave his way to game show success. Previously, Dawson had appeared in the comedy series Hogan’s Heroes, and all around he was a fantastic performer.
In the bottom left panel spot, Dawson always had a clever answer prepared – and quite often it was the matching one. After Dawson departed Match Game, it was all but impossible to replace him.
Besides the shows that we already mentioned, Dawson also made appearances on shows like Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, The Jack Benny Program, and The Dick Van Dyke Show. On the big screen, he appeared in fans like King Rat, The Devil’s Brigade, and Munster Go Home!
The bottom right seat was most famously occupied by Hollywood funny woman, Betty White.
Born in 1922 in Oak Park, Illinois, White was one of the most legendary television stars of all time. Throughout her 8-plus decades in the spotlight, White appeared in dozens of series as a regular. For instance, she starred in Life With Elizabeth, Date With The Angels, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Betty White Show, The Golden Girls, Boston Legal, and Hot In Cleveland.
By the 1970s, White had already been a guest star on a number of game shows. At that point, she probably knew game shows like the back of her hand. After all, she was even married at one point to popular game show host Allen Ludden.
White was the perfect Match Game panelist. She was always quick on the draw to deliver a joke and always had a big smile on her face when delivering the punch line. Always going last and keeping things fresh must have been quite the challenge, but White made it look easy.
Born Patricia Neal in 1944 in Birmingham, Alabama, this actress, author, and comedian wrote for Candid Camera and penned several books, including the classic novel Fried Green Tomatoes before appearing on many game shows. While she’s been a guest star on more TV shows than we can count, her stint as a panelist on Match Game is without a doubt the thing she is best remembered for.
Not to be confused with the late rapper Nipsey Hustle, Julius “Nipsey” Russell was an actor, comedian, dancer, and poet who was born in 1918 in Atlanta, Georgia. During the Second World War, he served as a medic in the US Army. In the 40s, he got his start in show business entertaining patrons while working as a carhop at an Atlanta drive-in called The Varsity. This led to him performing in a comedy act in nightclubs in the 1950s. After being discovered by Hollywood talent scouts, he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1957. He followed that appearance up by making another on Jack Paar’s The Tonight Show. This led him to land a supporting role in the sitcom Car 54, Where Are You?
In 1970, Russell co-starred in the television adaptation of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park. He followed that role up by making several appearances on The Dean Martin Show. During these years, Russell was a panelist on a handful of game shows, including Match Game. On Match Game, he was known for typically answering questions with a rhyming poem.
While he would later play the Tin Man in The Wiz, Russell was perhaps best known for being a professional game show panelist. Because while he was a gifted and hilarious performer, as the top left panelist on Match Game, he never disappointed.
Jo Ann Pflug
It had to have been quite challenging for any celeb to occupy the bottom left position on Match Game. Being the seat closest to host Gene Rayburn, the seat was usually reserved for an attractive woman who had to put up with his continual and shameless flirtatiousness.
Pflug not only fearlessly endured Rayburn’s endless barrage of playful advances, but she frequently tossed them right back at him seemingly effortlessly. Pflug also seemed to always be able to hold her own against Flagg, Somers, and White – a task that very few were capable of doing.
Just like Russell, Jo Ann was born in Atlanta, Georgia. After graduating from high school in Winter Park, Florida, she studied broadcasting at the University of Miami. Pflug got her start hosting a weekly radio show called The Magic Carpet. She went on to host a weekly talk show called Montage for four years before becoming the first woman to host sa live weekly television talk show in the late 60s on LA’s KHJ-TV.
In 1967, Pflug voiced the invisible Girl in the 1967 animated version of Fantastic Four. The previous year, she landed her first credited role in the science fiction film Cyborg 2087. In the hit 1970 film M*A*S*H, Pflug played US Army nurse Lt Maria Dish Schneider.
She went on to appear as a guest star in several television shows like ChiPs, The Dukes of Hazzard, Adam-12, Charlie’s Angels, Knight Rider, and The Love Boat – just to name a few. She was a frequent panelist on Match Game from 1973 to 1981, and she also co-hosted the 1970s version of Candid Camera with Allen Funt.
From 1981 to 1982, she was a series regular on the ABC action-adventure series The Fall Guy. Later in her career, Pflug appeared in the 1997 film Traveller. That same year she alsa had a role in the mystery thriller film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Well, that about wraps up our rundown of the original Match Game panelists, but before you move on to watching another one of our facts-packed videos, we’d love to hear from you! Who was your favorite celebrity panelist on Match Game, and do you think that the show would click with modern viewers if it were to get the reboot treatment? Let us know in the comments. And as always, thanks for watching!