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Art Linkletter stays in fast lane

Globetrotting TV pioneer is publishing 28th book on 94th birthday
/ Source: The Associated Press

During the past six weeks, Art Linkletter has sailed on the Queen Mary 2, flown to Washington D.C. on business for two organizations and traveled to Rome for a cruise through the Mediterranean, making speeches everywhere he went.

When he sat for a recent interview in his office, he had spoken in Lincoln, Neb., the previous day and would be doing the same in Montreal the next day.

Linkletter turns 94 on Monday.

That same day he'll publish his 28th book, "How to Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life."

And, yes, he plans a nationwide tour to promote it.

Linkletter has been on the move ever since his teen years when he rode the rails in freight cars along with other Depression victims searching for jobs that didn't exist.

After graduating from San Diego State University, where he was captain of the basketball team, he found his niche by staging shows at the San Diego and San Francisco world's fairs in the late 1930s. That led to radio and then television.

Television then and now
He once had TV shows on NBC, CBS and ABC — all at the same time. The weekday "House Party," which offered entertainment, household tips, interviews, etc., lasted on radio and television from 1945 to 1970. It also originated the memorable feature "Kids Say the Darnedest Things." Other shows included "Hollywood Talent Scouts," "Life With Linkletter," and "People Are Funny," one of broadcasting's first reality shows, debuting on radio in 1940 and on television in 1954.

So what does this reality pioneer think of the genre's current shows? "I don't particularly care for them," he replies curtly.

No wonder, notes media historian Leonard Maltin. Linkletter's shows "were always benign. There was no cutthroat competition, no putting down of contestants, no humiliating people. That was not his style," Maltin explained.

Linkletter, in fact, takes a dim view of much of today's television.

Among his dislikes: three-minute commercial breaks with as many as 10 spots in a row; announcers who promise an "inside scoop" that doesn't appear until the end of a newscast; talk shows with experts you can't hear because they're all talking over each other.

The Linkletter lifestyleLinkletter speaks on three or four cruises a year, often accompanied by his wife, Lois. They've been married 70 years, which has to be a Hollywood record.

And when he's not on the high seas, Linkletter's often in an airplane, averaging 60 speaking engagements a year. He has a system for avoiding the usual hour-plus wait at terminals.

"Being famous, I can go through airports like a hot potato," he remarked. "I look for an older airline employee, one who would know me, and I ask him or her if they could help me. They get me right through."

Maltin theorizes that one reason Linkletter has been so widely embraced by the public for so many years is because "he always presented himself as Everyman. I think that was a big part of his appeal. People felt comfortable with him, both kids and adults."

Linkletter, who looks and acts a good 20 years younger than his age, was asked the usual nonagenarian question: How does he do it?

"I believe that lifestyle is 70 percent of the answer," he replies. "The genes account for 30 per cent.

"I've never smoked. I don't drink, never have. I get plenty of rest; usually I go to bed at 10 and rise at 7:30. I get lots of exercise. I start by working my arms and legs while I'm still in bed. Then I rise and I work out with 10-pound weights."

He brags that he's the same weight as when he graduated from college. He avoids red meat, favoring fish and chicken. For dessert, he cuts a slice of cake down the middle and eats only half. Whenever possible, he makes lunch his big meal, reasoning that it's not good to go to bed with a full stomach.

Lois once asked him why he maintained such a breakneck schedule. His reply:

"It's my life. I don't know what the hell I would do without it. I don't play golf. I can't play handball anymore" (he was once a whiz).

Linkletter also credits Lois for his vigor and longevity.

"I have a good marriage, which reduces a great deal of stress," he says. "I don't think we've ever had a serious, name-calling, hurtful argument."

The Linkletter marriage has produced five children, seven grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. Each year they gather the tribe from all over the world for a grand reunion at a vacation resort.

On the move from the startThe future television star was born in the Saskatchewan hamlet of Moose Jaw in 1912 to a couple who gave him the name Gordon Arthur Kelly and promptly gave him away. He got a new name from his adoptive parents, a middle-aged couple named John and Mary Linkletter. They were a peripatetic pair who had come from Prince Edward Island and continued on the move to Lowell, Mass., then Point Fermin, Calif., finally landing in San Diego.

Art was a vigorous youth who worked as a lifeguard up and down the California coast. "I rescued a lot of beautiful girls who didn't know they were in trouble," he quips.

Coming out of college, Linkletter's ambition was to become a teacher. Show business intervened, but now he makes several speeches each year to college audiences. And he's board chairman of the Center on Aging at UCLA and serves as a regent at Pepperdine University in Malibu.

Summing up, Linkletter observes that attitude plays a big role in longevity: "I'm not a Pollyanna thinker, but I am a positive thinker. That makes you able to dismiss tragedies and failures and try again."