book reviews

Kathleen Bradley on being the first black Barker Beauty…

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.

Bob Barker tells his beauties to go higher, higher, higher…
Bob Barker a pervert? Nah…

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.

Barker’s Beauties on Vicki Lawrence’s talk show. Check out Parkinson’s face when Lawrence asks about “dirt” on Bob Barker.

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.

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nostalgia

Old school…

I had kind of a rough night last night, which involved getting up repeatedly thanks to a certain monthly nuisance. I woke up cranky and kind of mentally fuzzy, since I didn’t get the best quality of sleep. Sometimes I have topics on the brain as soon as I get up. This morning, I didn’t really… even though I finally resubscribed to Hulu and watched the most recent episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale.

So I did what I always do when I don’t have a topic to write about. I went to YouTube and promptly found this episode of The Price is Right from 1981. I was eight years old when this episode aired, on April 22, 1981. I remember watching The Price is Right was a special treat, since it aired at 11:00am on weekdays and I was always in school at that time. The Price is Right is probably my favorite game show of all time. I think it appealed to me because there were so many different games. I had a short attention span when I was a child, so that format and the variety that came with it was very attractive to me. That, and I enjoyed the corny music. On this episode, they even used the Family Feud theme song for one of the prizes, a really tacky, tricked out van.

Bob Barker was hosting the show in 1981. At that time, he’d been on The Price is Right for 8.5 years. He would continue to host for another 26 years before handing over the show to Drew Carey. I’ve seen Drew’s version of The Price is Right and I think he does a good job. I also like that they stopped only offering American products. In Barker’s day, one could only win American cars by Chevy, Ford, Pontiac, or Oldsmobile. But you can win a Mini Cooper on Drew Carey’s version. Since I have a Mini, I like that they can now be won on TPIR. They’ve also updated the models and the music. I’m kind of sorry they updated the music. I loved that they kept the same groove for so many years during Barker’s reign.

I’ve heard lots of stories about how Barker was on the show. Supposedly, he sexually harassed his models. But, as a host, he was the consummate professional. He knew the big wheel so well that he almost always could tell where the spin would land. I’m sure that was frustrating for the contestants, as Barker would announce the score and get it right 95% of the time, even before the wheel stopped spinning. He handled people so well; always thinking of something to say and saying it in a friendly way, even when people did dumb things. In the 80s, Johnny Olsen was the announcer before he died.

I think what I enjoyed most about this episode were the ads, which the uploader kindly included. I remember a lot of those ads, because back in the those days, I was addicted to TV. During this particular broadcast, they even had a “test” from the Emergency Broadcast System. Back in the day, networks would periodically have these tests to train people to know where to get information in the event of an emergency. Nowadays, we have so many ways to get informed, but back in the old days, TV and radio were where it was at. The EBS system was replaced by the Emergency Alert System in 1997. I love the cheesy ads they had, too… some of which were for products that no longer exist or will probably be defunct very soon (Sear’s fashions, anyone?) and pitched by long dead people like Tom Bosley, who used to sell Glad trash bags.

One person commented on the video that his grandmother was Keely, who won the first prize. Keely was quite a looker in 1981. I know that was 38 years ago, but it doesn’t seem so long ago to me. I remember that time well, even though so much time has passed.

The Price is Right also reminds me of Granny’s house. I don’t really know why, since it was rare for me to get to visit her at a time when that show would be airing and I would be able to see it. There was something about the music, the cheesy prizes, and madcap games that reminded me of being at her house, having fun with my cousins when we weren’t fighting amongst ourselves. I’ve been thinking a lot about those times lately, especially as my Uncle Brownlee is entering his last days. Granny’s house, after all, is now his house. For awhile, my dad was even buried there. My mom eventually had him moved to the family church cemetery, since she probably realized that this would eventually happen and the property might no longer be in the family’s hands. My Uncle Brownlee, by the way, made the wooden box my dad’s ashes were buried in.

I’ve always been a nostalgic person. I love watching old TV, listening to old school radio and music, and looking up old news or old people I used to know. About the only old school stuff I don’t enjoy is some of the clothes… especially 70s era clothes. Actually, I’d probably toss in 90s era clothes, too. But give me an article about disgusting casseroles from the 70s, embarrassing toys or snacks from the 80s, or misleading ads from those days (Wonder Bread and Hostess Cupcakes are “wholesome and healthy”? I don’t think so.) and I am happy as a clam in high water.

Well… I’m feeling slightly more awake now. We tried to get rid of a futon and grill today. The futon was picked up by the trash people, but they left the grill. Bill is going to be annoyed about that (ETA: the grill was picked up later). I’m going to finish the laundry and maybe take a nap, if my body doesn’t keep waking up to go to the bathroom. If not, maybe I’ll read some old school porn or something.

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