Dumb Dora was so dumb that she didn’t realize this week marks the 40th anniversary of Match Game’s ’70s incarnation. That’s right: The game show that brought you Gene Rayburn’s Neanderthal posture, that funky think music, and the exploits of Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly, Richard Dawson and many more is 40 years old. It’s an irreplaceable treasure. There is no show like it, and I’m including other celebrity-dappled games like Hollywood Squares and Tattletales in that estimation.
Let’s celebrate with an old-fashioned countdown: the 10 best celebrities in Match Game
10. Gary Burghoff
Always the most cherished understudy in the ever-important Top Right chair, Burghoff was pleasant and game without being histrionic. Always on my Radar.
9. Elaine Joyce
Once and for all, the only Bottom Left-seated celebrity who could be both the ditzy blonde and a self-aware, naughty player too. She married Neil Simon, guys. There’s a knack for witty conversation there.
8. Marcia Wallace
If you know me well, you know I believe the most interesting seat on the Match Game celebrity panel is Bottom Right, because the point of that celebrity is to subvert Richard’s kinky misogynist streak. Marcia was always plucky and funny, and that nicely offset his troublesome weirdness.
7. Leslie Nielsen
I hate the Top Left chair. It’s always some bored older celebrity who doesn’t care, doesn’t want to be funny, and has absolutely nothing in common with Brett, who is killing it to his left. The exception here is Leslie, who was always unfazed but willing to play the effing game right.
6. Patti Deutsch
This is why Match Game rules: Patti Deutsch got to be a celebrity. Her harried, blank-eyed comic timing was some of the most subversive on the show, emanating a false naivete that reminds me of standup comedian Wendy Liebman.
5. Betty White
The crowned queen of game shows was more of a dynamo on Password, Pyramid, and Password Plus, but she could throw out innuendos and bawdy one-liners with great elan too. Dawson dwarfed next to her, and that is a rare, rare Bottom Right seat feat.
4. Fannie Flagg
Hell yes. Fannie Flagg was urgent, self-deprecating, in your face, funny, not taking Richard’s nonsense, dressed to kill in a poodle sweater and collared shirt, and prepared to make you laugh. She’s the great underrated star of Match Game.
3. Richard Dawson
I may still cringe like hell watching old footage of Richard kissing EVERY female contestant on Family Feud, but he was such a reliable player on Match Game. In fact, he was so reliable that the bonus round’s Star Wheel was added so that contestants would stop picking Richard so often. Underrated Richard fact: He dressed amazingly on Match Game. No joke. Smart blazers, shirts, etc.
2. Brett Somers
The best thing about Brett Somers was she constantly let you know she was in charge. Her laugh towered over everyone else’s, her commentary was saltiest, and her rapport with Rayburn was richest. She was at her best when scolding a booing (or boring) audience. She also had right-hand access to the show’s greatest quipster, and that meant we got to hear a lot of her raucous guffawing.
1. Charles Nelson Reilly
Here he is. The Tony-winning ascot-festooned gay minx of all time. The fickle audience booed nearly everyone else off the stage at times, but CNR just reveled in that zany energy with bemused wit. He’s a one-of-a-kind presence, dresser, and fella — and Match Game’s sly, familial warmth is all due to his relationship with us and Brett. The best