Monty Hall, Longtime Host of 'Let's Make a Deal,' Dies at 96

Monty Hall Let's Make a Deal Still - Photofest - H 2016
Courtesy of Photofest

Monty Hall Let's Make a Deal Still - Photofest - H 2016

The Winnipeg native, renowned for his charity work, co-created the game show and appeared on more than 4,700 episodes, spanning five decades.

Monty Hall, the playful host of Let’s Make a Deal who gave game-show contestants the agonizing choice of taking the cash or what was behind Door No. 3, has died. He was 96. 

Hall, who by his own estimation presided over more than 4,700 episodes of the show he co-created, died Saturday due to heart failure, his rep confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter.

Survivors include his three children: daughters Joanna Gleason, a Tony Award-winning actress and the wife of actor Chris Sarandon; Sharon Hall, president of Endemol Shine Studios and the wife of TV producer Todd Ellis Kessler; and son Richard Hall, an Emmy Award-winning producer (Amazing Race).

His wife of nearly 70 years, Marilyn, who was an Emmy-winning producer, TV writer and author, died in June.

Wayne Brady told The Hollywood Reporter that getting Hall's blessing to host the new iteration of the show was an honor.

"In this business, you're lucky to meet a legend, and even luckier still to work with and learn from one," he said. "I miss Monty like everyone connected to Let's Make a Deal, but I can smile because he got to see his baby fly again. Getting the Monty 'Seal of Approval' is one of the greatest honors I've received in my career so far. He was the perfect mix of gentleman, joker and teacher. Thank you for the love, Monty."

A native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Hall served as a radio color man for New York Rangers’ NHL games and hosted other game shows like the scandal-plagued Twenty One, Video Village and revivals of Beat the Clock and Split Second.

However, it was Let’s Make a Deal, which he created with Stefan Hatos, that made him a television legend.

The show, which premiered in December 1963, featured contestants who would come to the studio with signs and/or dressed in outlandish, colorful costumes in a bid to attract Hall’s attention.

“When we did our first show, people showed up in business suits and dresses, nice-looking people in the studio audience,” Hall recalled in a 2002 interview with the Archive of American Television. “By about the second week or so, a woman showed up with a sign.

“One sign said, ‘Roses are red, violets are blue, I came here to deal with you.’ I stopped, read the poem and picked her. The next week, everybody had a sign. Then somebody else had a funny hat, then came costumes.”

The frantic contestants could gamble and pick what was hidden behind a curtain or one of three doors, or they could opt for the sure thing — cash rolled up in Hall’s jacket pocket. The host, with a twinkle in his eye, engaged in unscripted interactions with these regular folks; it was priceless.

“You’re in the pit with the people,” he said in a 2009 interview with The Toronto Star. “You know what the prizes are, but you have to make up the dialogue. The star is not you, it’s the contestant, and the drama is what they decide. So you have to be able to ad lib based on their choices.”

The prize (wonderfully framed by model Carol Merrill) could be a car … or a cow. Contestants who wound up with such a booby prize were “zonked.”

Born Monty Halperin on Aug. 25, 1921, Hall was president of the student body at the University of Manitoba and distinguished himself by performing in school musicals and plays. Simultaneously, he served as emcee of Canadian Army shows during World War II.

Following graduation, Hall gathered all his belongings in one small suitcase and headed for Toronto, where he broke into show business as an actor, singer, emcee and sportscaster.

Hall’s first TV appearance came in 1953 when he hosted Floor Show, a summer program for the CBC. He came up with an idea for a quiz show, Who Am I?, that ran for a decade in syndication in Canada.

In 1955, Hall made his way to New York and emceed the NBC programs Cowboy Theatre and The Sky’s the Limit. He got a huge break when he was chosen to replace Jack Barry on the hugely popular NBC game show Twenty One.

However, after just four weeks on the job, the program was hit with contest-rigging accusations, and Barry was brought back. “My dreams of making it to the top were sinking faster than the Titanic,” Hall said.

(Hall was never implicated in the controversy, which served as the basis for the 1994 Robert Redford film Quiz Show.)

Hall did some sportscasting and served as a Rangers color man on WINS radio in 1958-59 and 1959-60, making $50 a game. He was working the contest in November 1959 when Jacques Plante of the Montreal Canadiens became the first goaltender to wear a protective mask.

Hall hosted CBS’ Keep Talking, a comedy game show, then succeeded Jack Narz as the “mayor” of Video Village, which featured contestants as “tokens” on a Monopoly-like game board. He followed the show from New York to Los Angeles and sold a new game show to NBC called Your First Impression.

After Video Village was axed in 1962, Hall and Hatos developed Let’s Make a Deal, which debuted on NBC (after ABC passed on it) on Dec. 30, 1963. Its rapid success prompted the network to position it against CBS’ No. 1 daytime show, the venerable soap opera As the World Turns.

NBC even moved Deal to Sunday evenings for a few months in 1967, where it was pitted against The Ed Sullivan Show on CBS and The FBI on ABC. It made it into the Nielsen top 20, peaking at No. 6.

Deal later moved to ABC, running in daytime — and occasionally in primetime — from December 1968 through July 1976, and then in syndication. Other versions of the show have since aired (he returned to emcee a Dick Clark-produced version out of Orlando, Florida, in the 1990s and did a week of shows in 2010), and Wayne Brady hosts the current edition.

During the height of his popularity, Hall was roasted by Dean Martin, guest-starred on such shows as The Odd Couple, That Girl and The Flip Wilson Show and hosted a series of primetime “All-Star Parties” for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Ronald Reagan and Clint Eastwood that raised millions of dollars for charities.

Hall, in fact, was active in a number of charitable organizations and philanthropic endeavors. He served as president of the Variety Clubs International, and children’s wings bear his name at UCLA Medical Center, Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia, Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

In recognition of his vast humanitarian works, his native country presented him with its esteemed Order of Canada award in 1988.

Survivors also include grandchildren Aaron (and his wife Stacey), Mikka (Mark), Maggie (Adam), Jack and Levi.

An avid tennis player back in the day, Hall served as the honorary mayor of Hollywood for about a decade, replaced by Johnny Grant.

Plus, he has a head-scratching puzzle that mathematicians named after him.

From the 2009 book The Monty Hall Problem: The Remarkable Story of Math’s Most Contentious Brain Teaser: “Imagine that you face three doors, behind one of which is a prize. You choose one but do not open it. The host — call him Monty Hall — opens a different door, always choosing one he knows to be empty. Left with two doors, will you do better by sticking with your first choice, or by switching to the other remaining door?”

Duane Byrge contributed to this report.