I was an Art Linkletter
By Joe Sheppard
I had red hair and freckles, kind of like Opie on The Andy Griffith Show. I remember being sent into the interview for the show. I was very excited, because I used to race home on my bike after school and watch House Party hosted by Art Linkletter, and imagine what it would be like to be one of those kids on TV. At this point, the show had gone from being called "House Party" to "The Linkletter Show".
They took a few sets of four kids from our school to appear on the show on different days. I was one of them, along with Daniel Cooper, Lisa Raspa and Donna Katayama.
I remember the four of us being picked up in a limousine at the school, early in the morning. We rolled up and down the privacy glass between ourselves and the driver several times.
We go to CBS Television City and went on the studio tour. I remember meeting Red Skelton. He saw us quietly standing there while he was rehearsing and suddenly said, "OH! The kids!", and stopped everything to come over, shake our hands and sign autographs. I watched his TV show all the time on our black and white TV. I had never seen a color picture of him, and it never really clicked in my brain that his name was "red" because he was... RED! Not only his hair, but his complexion was red. His big bushy eyebrows were red.
We also saw Soupy Sales and Jonathan Winters. At one point, we were sitting in one of the studio audience watching some show rehearse, and were excitedly chattering between ourselves, and a gruff old voice said something like, "Get these Kids out of here!". We turned around, and glaring at us was the kindly Charley Weaver. That illusion was shattered, and to this day when I see photos of him, I think of him as being nothing like his public image.
We went to the Brown Derby for lunch, and were told we could have anything on the menu. Filet Mignon, Escargot, whatever we desired. I think all of us ordered a hamburger and fries with a coke.
We went back and were taken to a room, where a lady asked us the questions we would be asked on the show. She started us in certain seats, and it seemed that depending on our answer, we were shifted around. I ended up on the end seat, which at the time, I believed meant that I wasn't doing very well. Of course, now I wonder if it was the other way around, since you might want to build to better answers as you go down the line. It's been one of those things that I have pondered for over thirty years.
I remember being asked a question, "If you had a chance to go to Washington DC and meet President Nixon, what question would you ask him?". I found this very odd, because Lyndon Johnson was still the President. The lady explained that the show would not be aired until AFTER President Johnson left office, and President Elect Nixon was sworn in. So, in TV land, Nixon was already our President. Also, I remember them making a big deal out of my being ten years old instead of nine. I turned ten on December 10th, 1968.
Once we had been asked the questions over and over again by the lady, Art came in. I remember being shocked by how old he looked in person. He was already made up, but you could see the deep lines in his face, all covered in makeup. I had never seen a man wearing makeup before, and this was a real shock. Still, he was friendly, but very down to business. He ran through the questions kind of matter of fact manner, listened to the answers and left. He was never unpleasant, just very businesslike.
He left, and they started taping the show. We watched on a monitor. I was still amazed at seeing what things looked like in color, having seen the show so many times in black and white.
Everything lit up, the music came on, and it was show time. I recall being caught off guard by the bright lights in my face, and the sound of my voice being amplified for the studio audience. Then the experience of giving an answer, which I just thought was an answer, and having this roar of laughter roll from the invisible audience (couldn't see them past the lights and cameras).
As gifts from the show I remember receiving a microscope kit, and a Grundig Cassette tape recorder. In 1968, people were still using 8-Tracks, so this small cassette thing was very futuristic. Nobody had ever seen anything like it, and it was difficult to get blanks. We know now that cassette killed the 8-Track, so it was a very good gift that I kept for a very long time.
When we got dropped back off at the School, things went back to normal. The show didn't air for several weeks. Finally when it did, I raced on my bike to the house and set up the Grundig recorder and made an audio tape of the show, which I still have (In 2006, I converted it to digital MP3, which you can play at the bottom of this article). My Dad went to his Boss's house to watch the show in Color. My Mom had been in the studio audience that day, and I don't think she actually saw the broadcast.
To save tape, I hit pause at every commercial. But, when I listen to the tape now, after the kids segment, I must have been in shock, because I got a long segment of the next commercial on the tape.
I remember feeling a little stupid and self conscious at school the next day. Most of the kids were kind of in awe of us walking down the hall after having seen us on TV. I remember engaging in some kind of childish argument with one of the girls several weeks later, and her yelling at me, "Well, you looked really UGLY on TV!". It did have an effect on how the other kids related to us for the next two years until we went off to Jr. High.
Daniel and I both became best friends after the show. We both decided we wanted to be on TV again, and wanted to be movie starts. Except we really had no idea how to get on TV. The Linkletter Show came looking for us. We didn't know anything about "the biz", but still we held out hope that we would be discovered.
After sixth grade, we moved to the San Fernando Valley, and I lost track of all my friends I was on the show with. But, I did join the Drama Department and performed in the school plays. In High School, I became the school star, playing lead parts in all of the school productions. I also performed in plays at places like The Burbank Little Theatre.
Then I went back to the old neighborhood after High School to take part in an intensive Theatre training program called "The Academy" at Los Angeles City College, only a few blocks from Dayton Heights Elementary School. Over 500 people auditioned for the class, and they took 28 of us.
After finishing that program, I started to audition for professional work. I earned my Screen Actors Guild Card in 1980, and also joined AFTRA (TV and Radio union) and Actor's Equity Association (Professional Stage). I never became famous, but I did eventually work professionally performing in Movies, TV, Stage and Radio. Finally, around 1996, I gave it all up to run the family business after my Father passed away. But, I plan to make another run at it after I retire.
I can safely say that had I not been chosen for The Linkletter Show back then, I probably never would have even considered performing. I have always been a bit shy and quiet. I think I was chosen for the show strictly because of my Opie look at the time, more than anything else.
I was lucky enough to get on TV a few more times, but I've always considered being on Art's show as the best of all those experiences.
Send Email to Joseph
Return to JosephSheppard.Net