You may have guessed that I’m a fan of game shows, but if you’re a decent, totally American human being, you love game shows too. Thus, it’s only right that you know today is the 40th anniversary of the first airing of Pyramid, the beloved franchise that eventually spawned the Dick Clark-hosted $20,000, $25,000 and $100,000 versions, as well as two recent incarnations starring Donny Osmond and Price is Right producer Mike Richards, respectively. The classic game of verbal clues and Egyptian iconography is just so addicting, and we’re lucky that Game Show Network still airs it all the damn time.
For the record: The first-ever Pyramid celebrities — when the show was filmed in New York — were Rob Reiner and June Lockhart.
To celebrate the show’s incredible run, I thought we’d rank the 10 greatest celebrities ever to lend their clue-giving skills to Dick Clark’s game. My list includes mainly folks from the ’80s versions because frankly, that’s when the clues were most difficult and many celebs really developed skills both in the main round and the Winner’s Circle bonus round.
Before we begin, here are some other great players who spring to mind: Lauri Hendler, Mary Cadorette, Lucie Arnaz, Loretta Swit, Charlie Siebert, Henry Polic II, Audrey Landers, Nathan Cook, and Michael J. Fox. Now, onto the sacred ten.
10. Stuart Pankin
A strong and fun player (and a seemingly very well-educated one too) Pankin’s name is synonymous with classic Pyramid play.
9. Teresa Ganzel
The sweetheart of Pyramid, Teresa Ganzel could always be counted on for great clues and efficient play, especially in the front half of the game.
8. Earl Holliman
A generally deadpan stronghold. No arguing his inclusion here.
7. Martha Smith
Martha Smith of The Scarecrow and Mrs. King is one of the rare celebrities who completely honed in on inflection when delivering her clues. Her comforting calmness seemed to lead most contestants directly to a correct answer.
6. Betty White
Though slightly more well-known for her Password abilities, Betty always shined on Pyramid thanks to her improvisational flair and love of games.
5. Adrienne Barbeau
The glamorous star of Maude and Carnival had a straightforward, commanding way of delivering clues that hinged on precision.
4. Vicki Lawrence
Vicki always competed hard, and she was always a ringer for excellent, informed clues.
3. Billy Crystal
Perhaps the succinctest player in Pyramid history — and a bona fide record-holder. (He’d be ranked higher except his two record-winning games don’t actually feature terribly difficult answers.)
2. Markie Post
Markie’s confidence and illustrative musicality were often just as beneficial as her kickass clues when she played Pyramid.
1. Shelley Smith
Ms. Smith — known in the ’80s for her role on the Martin Short series The Associates — is the only celebrity to win $100,000 twice for competing contestants, and her amazing clues are legendary. Under the gun, she came up with “old-fashioned Japanese women’s feet” for the answer “Things That Are Bound.” Flawless. The true standard for Pyramid excellence. “Perfect 21” games basically fall from her tremendous tresses.
Who are your favorite Pyramid players?