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Featured Memorial | Ralph Edwards

Ralph Edwards Obituary

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Broadcasting pioneer Ralph Edwards, who spotlighted stars and ordinary people as host of the popular 1950s show "This Is Your Life," died Wednesday of heart failure. He was 92.

Publicist Justin Seremet confirmed that Edwards, whose career as producer and host also included "Truth or Consequences" and "People's Court," had died.

Edwards first hit it big in radio in 1940 with "Truth or Consequences," a novelty show in which contestants who failed to answer trick questions - the "truth" - had to suffer "the consequences" by per forming some elaborate stunt.

Then came television. The Federal Communications Commission approved commercial broadcasts beginning on July 1, 1941, after a few years of experimental broadcasts, and NBC's New York station was the first to make the changeover.

"Amazingly enough, I did 'Truth or Consequences' on television in July 1941. It was the first commercial show for NBC," Edwards recalled.

"A 10-second commercial was $9," he said.

The United States' entry into World War II five months later disrupted TV's progress. "Truth or Consequences," which prospered on radio in the interim, returned to television in 1950.

Earlier that same year, the citizens of little Hot Springs, N.M., voted 1,294-295 to change the town's name to Truth or Consequences. Edwards had promised to broadcast the radio show from the town that agreed to the change.

"In those days, nothing seemed impossible," he once said.

"This Is Your Life" also was bor n on radio and then migrated to television, running on NBC-TV from 1952 to 1961. It featured guests, many of them celebrities, who were lured in on a ruse, then surprised by Edwards announcing, "This is your life!" Relatives and old friends then would be brought on to reminisce about the guest.

Among the people he caught unaware were Marilyn Monroe, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Bob Hope, Andy Griffith, Buster Keaton, Barbara Eden, Bette Davis, Shirley Jones, Jayne Mansfield and Carol Channing.

"At least half of our guests were ordinary people," Edwards once said. "In the beginning we didn't use celebrities at all. But when we did, I think it humanized the stars and gave them more appeal."

Both "Truth" and "This Is Your Life" have periodically returned to television in syndicated form. Just last week, it was announced that a new version of "This is Your Life," with Regis Philbin ("Live with Regis and Kelly") as host, was planned by ABC.

Over the years, Edwards kept himself busy as a producer.

Edwards had a hand in other shows, producing or creating "Name That Tune," "Cross Wits," "Superior Court," "It Could Be You," "Place the Face," "About Faces," "Funny Boners," "End of the Rainbow," "Who in the World," "The Woody Woodbury Show" and "Wide Country." In the '80s, Ralph Edwards Productions' show "The People's Court" made a star of retired Judge Joseph A. Wapner.

"We've seen many changes and enjoyed them all," Edwards said in a 1999 interview. "I still find 'live' the most exciting, particularly for my type of shows."

Edwards broke into radio in 1929 in Oakland as a 16-year-old high school student.

He worked at KROW and KFRC in San Francisco while attending college at the University of California at Berkeley.

"The changes in both radio and television are mind-boggling," Edwards said. He recalled that until 1948 his radio version of "Truth or Consequ ences" was done twice each Saturday, once for the east coast and again three hours later for the West Coast.

"We would use the same script, but all new contestants," he said.

He also appeared in several motion pictures: "Seven Days Leave," "Radio Stars on Parade," "Bamboo Blonde," "Beat the Band," "I'll Cry Tomorrow," "Manhattan Merry-Go-Round" and "Radio Stars of 1937."

Edwards' wife, Barbara, died in 1993 after 53 years of marriage. They has a son, Gary, and daughters Christine and Laurie.

Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press

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