"YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE A GENIUS TO BE A CONTESTANT"
"We Want Average Americans Who Are Aware of What's Going On"
From Daytime TV magazine, July 1974
On March 30, Art Fleming celebrated the 10th anniversary of Jeopardy. "People are always asking me if I'm bored, after 10 years," says Art, "and I answer, No! The audience is always new and the questions are always different! "
He explains, "I'm constantly learning from each show. And I enjoy doing the show. Every show is opening night!"
He does three segments of Jeopardy in one day, and three the next. The sixth segment is the evening version now being syndicated, and for this show Art wears a tuxedo.
He tapes Jeopardy on the same floor as How to Survive a Marriage, at NBC in New York. And a few blocks away is the Jeopardy office.
"It takes about 65 persons to put Jeopardy on the air, and we work hard. And we have such a great staff that we've had to fire only three people in 10 years!"
How does somebody get on Jeopardy?
"You have to take a written and oral test. Would-be contestants should write to Jeopardy, 162 West 48th St., New York, N.Y." They can also write to NBC, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, N.Y., 10019, for free tickets and then, after the show, ask one of the production staff how to become a contestant.
Do you have to be genius to become a contestant?
"No," says Art. "We want average Americans. You don't even need a college degree; just be aware of what's going on in the world.
"Why, the biggest money winner was a woman who has only two years of high school. And the most money we ever gave was to a radar man who won $11,110 in one week...and he only had one year in college.
"The show has more than 350 categories.
"Contestants don't know who will play against them and what categories will be used when their turn comes."
If Art Fleming himself was a contestant, what categories would he prefer? "English, history and music!"
Born in New York (the son of Marie and Guido Fazzin, European dance team), Art attended Cornell and Colgate universities and is quite a scholar. He is a history buff, travels extensively, acquires British and American army and regimental memorabilia (medals, swords, uniforms), and has a great collection of fine books and first editions. "I bought a full set of 23 books on British men of action for $1,200 in England, and now I can sell it for $10,000.
"I bought a series of 90 books on American Indians for $1,000 and sold three or four of them for $1,000 right away. I bought for $485 an oversize book on pirates with 190 original Howard Pyle illustrations. I own a book of Tennyson with fouredge printing. Color illustrations are printed on the edges of the book."
But be doesn't buy rare books just to show them off. "I read them!"
And did you notice how trim he looks now? "That's because I lost 32 pounds in seven weeks. How? By suffering! I did it by the low carbohydrates diet, under medical supervision. I ate 40 grams of carbohydrates a day. No sweets. Meat and fish. And I was never hungry."
He's six-foot-three and was 245 pounds. Now he's down to 215, and he's satisfied. As a former athlete (he captained the football and water polo teams at Cornell and Colgate) he knows the value of physical fitness, and still lives a vigorous life. He pilots his own twin cabin cruiser in the New York waters, and flies often to Caribbean and Mexican waters for fishing and scuba diving.
He's proud of the 146-pound sailfish he landed off Acapulco recently when vacationing there with his friend, Norman Eaton, who runs the Polonaise Restaurant in Austin, Texas. But he won't go hunting. "I can't kill an animal. When I was 15, 1 shot a rabbit by mistake in North Carolina, and I wept after that."
Art's new figure looks good in the extensive wardrobe supplied by Barney's, New York. "I have 45 suits I wear on the show only. They are cleaned after two wearings. And when they get too used, Barney's takes them back. I also have 100 neckties for the show."
But away from the show, he'd rather relax in sweater and slacks. He lives in a big three-and-a-half room New York apartment.
Divorced the past few years, he's enjoying the bachelor life. "It takes me only two and a half hours to clean the apartment." He cooks for himself and has fun. "My mother taught me to cook; and I cook and shop for my food. When I eat out, then I usually select dishes I don't ordinarily make for myself."
Would he marry again? "Never! ... Not in this life or the next!"
Does he have a concept of the Ideal Woman? "Yes, it's a woman who enjoys life and who's not thrown by life's problems.
"I don't really care what she looks like. What's important is that she's in individual who's considerate of me and people around me. It's her attitude about life and people that counts, not her looks. I don't want a selfish woman; selfish people turn me off!"
He's never had children, but his sister is married, has three kids and lives in suburban Larchmont.
He admits he wanted children when he was married; but, now looking back, he feels, "It's tough bringing children into this world and I'm not sorry I didn't have children."
He's a dashing gent-tall, muscular, tidy, with dark brown hair and blue eyes, plus a marvelous quick wit that occasionally flashes during Jeopardy. But, to make Jeopardy move swiftly, he holds back and submerges his personality. "It's the show that counts."
He got into show business when he was four, and was an actor (Western movies, the old Loretta Young show, etc.) for 30 years before becoming host of Jeopardy. "When you're a TV host, you're yourself, and not many actors can do that well," he explains.
He manages to tape a year's supply of Jeopardy and still have 20 weeks off, during which he does guesting on other shows, runs his own industrial film company... travels and has fun.