|Bert Parks was born Bert Jacobson on 30th December 1914 in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
Bert Parks-Gap Rating 3/10
He was an American actor, singer and radio and television announcer and host, is remembered best as the longtime host (1955-1980) of the annual Miss America Pageant telecast, live from Convention Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Because his enduring image remains that of the tuxedoed pageant host, who balanced between courtliness and fatherliness, even as he sang the pageant's long-running theme ("There She Is," written by Bernie Wayne and introduced by Parks on his very first Miss America telecast), Parks' concurrent career as a once-ubiquitous radio and television host is almost completely obscured by comparison.
Parks showed his entertainment facility as early as age three, when he was said to have entertained his parents with impersonations of film legend Charles Chaplin. He got his first broadcasting job at age sixteen, for Atlanta's WGST radio, and moved to New York when he was nineteen. His resonant voice and charming style helped him land work as a singer and straight man on The Eddie Cantor Show before becoming a CBS radio staff announcer.
Parks became the host of Break the Bank, which premiered on radio in 1945 (other hosts included future The Price is Right announcer Jonny Olsen and future Beat the Clock host Bud Collyer) and went on to television from 1948-1957. But Parks became best known at that time for hosting Stop the Music on ABC (the former NBC Blue Network) beginning in 1948, bringing it to television a year later and keeping it there until 1952.
Other game/quiz shows Parks hosted in the first decade and a half of television (the debut years are noted here) included The Big Payoff (1951), Balance Your Budget (1952), Double or Nothing (1952), Two in Love (1954), Giant Step (1956), Hold That Note (1957), County Fair (1958), Bid 'n' Buy (1958), Masquerade Party (which debuted in 1952 with Parks as a panelist until he became the show's host in 1958), and Yours For A Song (1961).
He also had a daytime variety show with The Bert Parks Show (1950), a variety show featuring such regulars as Betty Ann Grove, The Heatherstones, Harold Lang, and the Bobby Sherwood Quintet;
But the job for which Parks really became an American institution became his in 1955, a year after the pageant's television premiere (with future actress Lee Meriwether winning the title) on ABC. For over two decades, as it moved to NBC (in 1966, also the first time the pageant was telecast in color), and withstood later protests over sexism and exploitation, Parks made himself an American icon hosting the Miss America Pageant, which was born in 1920, but which he took over as its host in its second television appearance. Aside from his famous (and easily parodied, by himself and others alike) singing of the theme song, Parks' real talent was his ability to make the pageant contestants feel at ease and look their best, considering they really were stage amateurs. Pageant historian Vicki Gold Levi put it this way: "He made you feel that he could be your guest at Thanksgiving dinner and he would just sit there and tell you all about Miss Alabama and all about Miss California. And he just was such an important ingredient of why the television show worked."
Parks himself liked to think that folksiness in hand with charm was the key to his success hosting the pageants, and he had that uncommon ability to turn an unexpected pratfall into a great laugh without embarrassing himself or the unfortunate contestant. But Parks wasn't exactly just an eager boy from the farm: In his own way, Parks was suave, courtly, and fatherly at once; perhaps one television retrospective of the Miss America pageants (The American Experience) put his signature moment best: "His moment of serenading each year's winner evoked a debutante ball, a father giving away the bride, and a Cinderella story, all in one."
Maybe that was why---however much some thought Parks too old and others thought him too corny and even sexist---Miss America pageant organizers provoked a national uproar when they fired Parks after he hosted the 1980 edition. It was as if the nation's patriarch, stale though he may have been at times, had been dumped without so much as a by-your-leave.
In fact, the way Parks was fired became almost as much of a scandal as the fact that he was fired at all. According to The American Experience, pageant organizers felt pressured to replace Parks by 1979. But when they decided to do it at last, they did it by sending a letter to his Connecticut home---while he was traveling to Florida. (For many years, Parks spent time in stage productions, including a successful stint succeeding Robert Preston in The Music Man, and as a guest star on television and in films, including memorable spots in WKRP in Cincinnati, The Love Boat, and in a parody of himself in the Marlon Brando comedy The Freshman.)
That was bad enough, but the news leaked to the press before Parks saw the letter. He picked up a newspaper to read about his own firing. The uproar even included the longtime king of late-night television, Jonny Carson, who instigated an unsuccessful letter-writing campaign aimed at reinstating Parks. The pageant stood fast and brought in former Tarzan star Ron Ely beginning in 1980 and, in due course, veteran character actor and daytime television host Gary Collins.
In 1990, Parks was invited back to the Miss America telecast to help celebrate the pageant's 70th anniversary---as a guest. Gary Collins serenaded the winner with the signature "There She Is," but Parks serenaded the 25 previous Miss America winners who gathered on stage. The good news was that Parks received a standing ovation from the theater audience. But the bad news was that there were a few mistakes, enough that Parks would not be asked to return again.
It may not have mattered, after all. Parks died of lung cancer at age 77 two years later. Whether or not his iniquitous firing had something to do with it, the Miss America Pageant suffered falling television ratings over several years, until NBC dropped it after thirty years due to a record low rating in 1996. The pageant telecast returned to its original television home, ABC, until that network decided to drop it after the 2004 pageant due to low ratings.
In 2005, the pageant announced it would move to Las Vegas, with Desperate Housewives co-star James Denton as the new host and the telecast presented on cable network Country Music Television (CMT).