Before reality television, it was the television game show that turned the common man into an instant star, granting many their fifteen minutes of fame in front of a national audience. It was on a short-lived, less than twelve episode VH-1 television game show called “Rumor Has It” that I was confronted with a question about Elizabeth Taylor that caused me to lose the game and my hope at stardom–
“‘Men Liz Taylor has married’ is the topic for the final round,” the game show’s host announced as the three candidates stood, frying under hot lights, trying to think clearly as large cameras spun around the set, zooming in and out for close-ups, causing my sweaty hand to tremble.
In the early 1990’s, VH-1 was watched more than CNN. I shook in my good shoes as the host gave instructions for the final series of questions. I was in the lead by 15 points because I correctly identified an Annie Lennox video–
“If Liz Taylor has married the person named, sound in with ‘Yessiree’. If she has not married him, the correct response is ‘Not Yet’.”
Tryouts for the show took place in a studio in Chelsea where currently the Martha Stewart Show on the Hallmark Channel is filmed. A few friends decided to respond to a casting call listed on the back page of the “Village Voice.” The ad sought contestants knowledgeable in celebrity innuendo and gossip. It was a casting call for a new VH-1 game show. I tagged along with my friends to the casting call, but sat in a waiting room of the studio while thousands stood in long lines, attempting to get noticed–
“Who are you?” A rather plain looking gentleman asked as he walked through the dimly lit waiting area.
Thinking I was not permitted in simply sit on a sofa while tryouts went on, I excused myself by explaining I was waiting for three friends who were trying out for the show and it was too hot to wait outside.
“Why are you not trying out?” He asked. I looked at the thousands seeking fame and just blinked at him.
“I think you should try out and not sit here,” he suggested as he stormed away through a back stage door.
I sat next to my lover, his Jewish friend John and John’s girlfriend Linda and copied their answers for a paper test that was handed to all, prior to a pre-test camera screening.
I said my name and where I was from to the camera and was glad to exit the studio for dinner. We ate at the West Side Chef that evening.
The next day, a producer from Viacom called and scheduled an interview with me. I was told at the interview I would be on the show, and somehow, today, with Liz gone, it all seems like a dream because during my fifteen minutes of fame, all I could do was regret that I didn’t really know the tramp.
The episode of the show that I was on was run at least fifteen times in the summer of 1991. I watched on in horror of repeats of myself shifting nervously, back and forth, as the Liz Taylor category at the cliff-hanger end of the game came up. Like a twig in the wind, under a fool moon, I simply rocked from side to side, pressing that buzzer as quickly as possible, but never in the nick of time– pretending of course to know the answer, but was simply too slow. John and Linda giggled like little children in the studio audience. My lover was there too. It made all our day, when during a break to a commercial, they too were granted a few moments of fame as the cameras panned the tiny little audience filled with fans of contestants mostly.
“I feel like I’m on the dating game,” the host mentioned several times during the taping as I brushed shoulders with the girls standing on each side, fighting for space on that silver screen of which, Liz Taylor is the reigning queen.