Monty Hall, host of ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ dead at 96

Monty Hall, cofounder and host of the longtime television game show "Let's Make a Deal" is seen at an industry event in 2009. Hall died Saturday of heart failure at 96. File photo by Phil McCarten/UPI

Sept. 30 (UPI) — Monty Hall, the affable host who coaxed anxious contestants to choose between the prize in their hand and the mystery prize behind a closed door on the television game show “Let’s Make a Deal,” died Saturday, his daughter said. He was 96.

Hall died of heart failure, according to his family.

Hall became a television fixture for decades when the show he cofounded became a hit shortly after it launched in 1963 on NBC. The show’s initial run included more than 5,000 episodes on NBC, ABC and in syndication before it first went off the air in 1976. The show has been revived multiple times. In all, Hall hosted the program for almost 40 years.

The most recent revival airs on CBS and it is hosted by the comedian Wayne Brady.

While Hall was the unquestioned master of ceremonies, the real stars of “Let’s Make a Deal were the thousands of frantic, exuberant and impressively festooned contestants he plucked from the audience. Contestants’ outlandish costumes became a centerpiece of the show, though not during its first episodes.

Hall recalled in a 2013 interview that when the show began, audience members arrived buttoned down in formal suits and dresses. The tradition of zany costumes evolved as the show continued, and contestants vied in more absurd fashion to attract Hall’s attention.

When they did, it could be television gold.

A coy Hall would make an initial offer to the contestant, say to purchase a man’s hat for $50. If the contestant agreed, Hall would snatch the hat and hand over the cash. But it was never without a catch. He would invariably offer the contestant the ability to swap the $50 for the contents of a box, which may or may not have contained something worth more. The antics progressed until the contestant was forced to choose between their existing winnings or whatever was hidden behind an infamous set of three doors. The ruse would continue until the contestant earned the biggest prize, turned down Hall’s deal, or had the misfortune of picking the show’s “booby prize” — a worthless gag gift or, in some cases, a live animal like a goat.

Failure, in the show’s vernacular, meant a contestant got “zonked.”

The game show grew to such popularity it gave rise to a well-known probability riddle that mathematicians dubbed “The Monty Hall Problem.”

On a few occasions, the show’s antics turned problematic. Hall recalled the time a live elephant was employed for one of the booby prizes. The animal got spooked during the taping and trampled through the show’s backstage studio, eventually running free on the streets of Los Angeles.

Hall, born in Manitoba, Canada, on Aug. 25, 1921, began his career as a stage actor in college. He later moved to Toronto and then New York City, where he became a regular contributor on NBC Radio.

He moved to Los Angeles after earning a spot as a host of a failed game show in 1960, but three years later teamed up with that show’s creator, Stefan Hatos, to create and produce “Let’s Make a Deal.”

Hall earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1973 and was given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmys in 1988.

Though he gave up hosting duties, Hall retained ownership of the franchise and still made occasional guest appearances on the current CBS version, hosted by Brady.

Hall is survived by an entertainment industry family including daughter Joanna Gleason, a Tony Award-winning stage actress; daughter Sharon Hall, a TV executive; son Robert Hall, an Emmy-winning producer of “The Amazing Race,” and five grandchildren. He wife of nearly 70 years, the former Marilyn Plottel, died in June.

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