If not for the prejudice of the times, Monte Halperin, the Jewish butcher’s kid from Winnipeg’s north end, might have entered medical school and Monty Hall would never have been born.
Hall, the engaging, smooth-talking host of “Let’s Make a Deal” for 23 years on all three U.S. broadcast TV networks died Saturday. He was 96.
But in 2002, around the time he was being named to the Order of Manitoba, he recalled that it had been his dream to become a doctor, not an actor.
“Every poor kid wants to get into some kind of profession and, in my case, I wanted to get into medicine to become a doctor,” said Hall, a product of the same north-end Winnipeg schools that produced Guess Who frontman Burton Cummings and comedian David Steinberg.
“I applied at the end of my pre-med and I applied the following year. (He wasn’t accepted.) My dreams of medicine evaporated.”
At the time, there was a secret quota system in place designed to severely restrict access to medical school for Jewish students. It ended shortly after Hall gave up on his dream.
Instead, Hall turned to his other talent, performing.
He had been active in student theatre at the University of Manitoba and worked at a radio station in Winnipeg. After a short stint at the Canadian Wheat Board in Winnipeg, he moved to Toronto and continued to work in radio.
While there, he developed and hosted the quiz show “Who Am I” for CFRB and hosted a CBC television dance program.
Hall moved to the United States in 1955, where he worked for NBC on radio and television and later CBS, hosting various programs.
He hosted the game show “Keep Talking” in 1958 but his career path was sealed for certain when, with partner Stefan Hatos, he co-created “Let’s Make a Deal” and in 1963 started offering contestants “Door No. 1, door No. 2 or door No.3.”
Contestants were chosen from the studio audience – outlandishly dressed as animals, clowns or cartoon characters to attract the host’s attention – and would start the game by trading an item of their own for a prize. After that, it was matter of swapping the prize in hand for others hidden behind doors, curtains or in boxes,
The energetic, quick-thinking Hall, a sight himself with his sideburns and colorful sports coats, was deemed the perfect host in Alex McNeil’s reference book, “Total Television.”
“Monty kept the show moving while he treated the outrageously garbed and occasionally greedy contestants courteously; it is hard to imagine anyone else but Hall working the trading area as smoothly,” McNeil wrote.
Although it was off the air twice (from 1977-80 and 1981-84) the show was a popular staple of daytime television on NBC, CBS and ABC for decades. It ended its run on NBC in 1991 before returning to CBS in 2009 with Wayne Brady as host.
Hatos and Hall created other shows – “Split Second,” “Chain Letter,” “3 for the Money,” “Anybody’s Guess” – but none ever reached the same enduring level of popularity as “Let’s Make a Deal.”
Hall and his show even spawned a mathematical brain teaser. The Monty Hall Problem uses his familiar doors to teach a little bit about odds and probabilities.
Outside the studio, Hall became a major fundraiser for Variety Clubs International and other charitable causes.
With his wife Marilyn he had three children who all went into entertainment. Daughter Joanna Gleason won a Tony award in 1987 for her role in Broadway’s “Into the Woods” and has worked in television and film. Daughter Sharon Hall and son Richard Hall also both worked behind the scenes in television.
Besides the Order of Manitoba, he was made a member of the Order of Canada and has his name on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto, as well as Hollywood’s more famous original and another in Palm Springs.
Although he became an American citizen and raised his family in Beverly Hills, Hall never forgot Canada or his hometown and made many visits back to Winnipeg.
“You can take the boy out of Canada but you can’t take Canada out of the boy,” he once said. “I still follow and pull for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and I still pull for Canada when they play the Olympic hockey.”
Sharon Hall says her father died of heart failure at his home in Beverly Hills. She says Hall, who was born in Canada, enjoyed his fame and never turned down an autograph or a chance to use his name to help others. She estimates he raised nearly $1 billion for charity over his lifetime.
Hall was remembered by leaders in his home province on Saturday.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister tweeted his condolences saying the entertainer “brought comfort and joy to so many.”
University of Manitoba president David Barnard called Hall a wonderful humanitarian.
The mayor of Hall’s hometown also expressed sadness.
“Winnipeg’s ambassador in Hollywood, @umanitoba alumni & host of “Let’s Make a Deal” has left our stage. RIP Monty,” Mayor Brian Bowman tweeted.