At that particular time Linkletter had been selected by none other than Walt Disney, who was in charge of the opening and closing pageantry at the winter games. As such, Linkletter was here on a regular basis to check on the preparations at Squaw Valley. However, he opted to stay at the Mapes hotel on those occasions and that is where I first met him.
Linkletter was 97 at the time of his passing, so during the Olympics stint he was in his late 40s and was still a popular presence on TV. That fact was proven to me as the two of us would take nightly strolls around the various hotels and clubs extant here in those days. If he didn’t personally know the star entertainer in the showrooms they certainly knew him and would introduce him to their audiences under the glare of the spotlight. Linkletter, a large and boisterous individual, would respond gratefully to the heavy applause that always greeted his presence. Following the end of the floor show, we would either make our way to the backstage dressing rooms or the performer would join us at our ringside table. Gregarious to the extreme, Linkletter always lived up to his folksy TV image but he was also very “hip” when discussing show biz with the performer.
Probably the local venue where he got his greatest recognition was Harolds Club. On the escalator between floors people would stop, stare and shout at him. He was particularly appreciated by the female patrons, who were probably the biggest part of his audience for his daytime shows. Since he was at the Mapes during the evening hours, he would make his meals in the Coach Room gourmet restaurant or ringside at the Skyroom dinner show.
Once the Olympic Games started I would only see him occasionally at the Olympic Press Club in the hotel because he was busy on most evenings securing a lineup of fine entertainers to appear at the Olympic athletes’ dorms at Squaw, events in which he also was the master of ceremonies.
Several years later I caught his opening night at Harrah’s South Shore Showroom. As a stand-up comic and raconteur I thought he was one of the best I had ever seen. His joy at the mic in front of a live audience was contagious and he filled the room for all his performances. At the time it occurred to me that the reason he had such stage presence was because he did his TV shows in front of a live audience. If you have ever been to such a TV production you know that there is usually a half hour or so of “warm up” before the cameras start rolling. In his dressing room at Harrah’s he confided that the warm up was his favorite part of the television appearances because he could rattle off some jokes that he couldn’t put out over the airways.
Many years later, about a year before the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, I wrote him and asked if he thought it would be a good idea to try and set up an Olympic press club, à la the Mapes 1960 version, in L.A. He responded, noting that it was an intriguing idea and since he was still an inveterate skier himself we could meet and discuss the matter at Alpine Meadows. Consequently I journeyed up there and found him just as dynamic and outgoing as when I first met him a couple of decades before.
He said he would line up an interview for me with Peter Uberroth, who had been Linkletter’s personal travel agent in the past.
Uberroth liked the idea, particularly since Linkletter was involved and said the only problem might be finding a venue big enough to stage the club since the roughly 600 accredited press members who had covered the Squaw games had now swollen to several thousand. He also noted that finding a sponsor to fill the spot the Mapes once held might be another problem because of cost. Nonetheless, he wished me well and I set out to visit numerous venues in Southern California. Some of the smaller hotels were interested but their public areas were far too small to accommodate the legions of members of the press. Finally we came to the conclusion that only some of the public auditoriums in LA or Hollywood might work but they were a considerable distance from the LA Coliseum, which was located near the Watts area. Faced with the stringent logistics we had to abandon the plan.
Linkletter made another important trip to Nevada when he accompanied good friend Bill Lear here to essentially take over the Stead Air Base property. Local retired realtor Preston Hale has the full story on that venture.
As his son-in-law noted at Art’s passing, Linkletter lived a long and healthy life and his demise was not influenced by any illness or debilitating disease. That seems fitting for a man who brought so much joy to so many people and who is still probably “making them laugh” at his present booking.
Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.
Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in Harry Spencer’s column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.