A few months ago, I got on a brief kick of watching old episodes of The Price is Right on YouTube. I grew up watching Bob Barker host the iconic game show, which came on every weekday morning at 11:00 in my time zone. All through my childhood, I watched Barker’s Beauties, Janice Pennington, Dian Parkinson, and Holly Hallstrom show off prizes and act out the Showcase Showdowns in whatever costume was dreamed up for that day.
At some point, I did some Googling to find out what had happened to Barker’s Beauties and discovered that Kathleen Bradley, who was originally hired in 1990, had written a book entitled Backstage At The Price Is Right: Memoirs of a Barker Beauty. Based on the reviews posted at Amazon.com, I didn’t have especially high expectations for the book’s quality. But I do love a good trashy tell all, so I decided to order it.
Bradley, who was once part of the musical group The Love Machine, had gone into modeling after her foray into the music business. In 1990, the powers that be at The Price Is Right had decided they needed to diversify their stable of Barker’s Beauties. They decided to hire a black model to capture the interest of black viewers. Bradley writes that she was one of several women who were considered and the audition process took many months. In the end, she got the gig, and was shocked by how little it paid. However, she did appreciate the hours, which were mostly daytime and gave her time with her daughter, Cheyenne, and stepdaughter, Dior.
Bradley was a Barker Beauty for about ten years. During that time, she witnessed a number of scandals and lawsuits. Dian Parkinson famously had an affair with Bob Barker and later sued him for sexual harassment. Holly Hallstrom also sued Barker after she was fired for refusing to testify on Barker’s behalf in Parkinson’s suit. Bradley and Hallstrom was also seriously injured on the set once, when a large appliance fell on them during a showcase skit. Bradley explains that some people felt like The Price Is Right was cursed in some way, as Janice Pennington was also hurt once, when a camera hit her. Nevertheless, despite the scandals and Barker’s alleged lecherous, ruthless, and cheapskate behavior, she stuck with the show.
Bradley is apparently multi-talented, having worked as a model, actress, and singer. Her book isn’t terribly written, but it probably should have had at least one or two rounds with an editor. I found a few strange sentence constructions as well as odd word usages. At one point, she uses the word “excitingly” instead of “excitedly”. I also found her writing style to be rather affected and overly formal for such a salacious book. However, I do give Bradley credit for writing a comprehensive book that “delivers the goods” as one reviewer on Amazon put it. She does kind of make Bob Barker out to be a sleaze, and reminds readers that people aren’t always as they seem, especially people in show business. On the other hand, people who love Bob Barker may not enjoy that aspect of Bradley’s book. Bradley also includes some information about the other models. For instance, she wrote a chapter about Janice Pennington’s second husband, Friedrich “Fritz” Stammberger, who disappeared in 1975 while working with the CIA in Afghanistan.
One thing about this book that turned me off is Bradley’s penchant for bragging. She often refers to her beauty and talent, and has a tone that is kind of haughty. I didn’t get the sense that she was a “down-to-earth” person. However, I guess that’s to be expected from someone who works in show business. It’s not known for being an industry full of down-to-earth people.
I’m not sorry I read Kathleen Bradley’s book. I thought it was basically informative and somewhat interesting. I didn’t think it was extremely well-written, but I appreciated that she included plenty of photos and some dirt on the Golden Era of The Price Is Right. Bradley did give me a perspective on how difficult and even dangerous the job of modeling can be, although I kind of rolled my eyes when she wrote that working on The Price Is Right was one of the most “prestigious” modeling jobs in the industry. I think that was taking it a bit far, although I suppose it depends on whom you ask and what constitutes prestige. Some people would find modeling for Vogue more prestigious than showing off cough medicine or dishwashers on a game show. On another note, I never thought anyone could fill Bob Barker’s shoes, but I think Drew Carey has done a great job taking over hosting duties… not that I can watch the show over here in Germany.
If you’re curious about the Barker era and one model’s experience as the first black Barker Beauty, I would recommend Bradley’s book. But, if you’re looking for stellar writing from a likable author, it might be better to pass on this one.