'Gong Show' host enjoys intrigue about his life

Sunday, January 5, 2003

LOS ANGELES -- "Gong Show" host Chuck Barris would kill for a little respect -- and says he has.

The new film "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," based on his 1982 autobiography, depicts his alleged work as a CIA hitman while he was creating such shows as "The Dating Game" and "The Newlywed Game."

Is he imagining things, telling an outrageous truth ... or just toying with the public that once mocked him?

"I'll never say for sure whether it is true or isn't true. I'm taking that to my grave," the 73-year-old Barris says with a laugh.

Speaking by phone from his home in New York, Barris says he enjoys the speculation about whether he truly was assassinating enemies of the United States at the same time he was creating a public stir in the '60s and '70s with his lowbrow game shows, forerunners to today's "reality TV."

The movie is the directorial debut of George Clooney, who also co-stars as Barris' CIA recruiter. Actor Sam Rockwell stars as Barris, and Julia Roberts is a seductive secret contact. It opened in New York and Los Angeles on Tuesday, and will open nationwide Jan. 17.

Clooney has said he doesn't know which elements of the story are true, but was fascinated that someone of Barris' "wealth and fame" would want to say such things about himself.

Born in Philadelphia, Barris was a management trainee at NBC before working at ABC as a network spy monitoring Dick Clark's "American Bandstand." Barris also wrote the hit song "Palisades Park," recorded by Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon.

"We've been friends for 40-some odd years and I've seen him through moments of great joy and exhilaration and happiness to plumbing the depths," Clark says.

"He's basically a very bright, well-read guy who was very good at turning out shows for the masses that were sometimes not of the highest intellectual status. I presume he would have rather created masterpieces."

Just trying to entertain

During the 1960s, Barris began selling ideas to the networks, and quickly became reviled as the "King of Schlock Television" because his programs featured regular people gambling against humiliation for household appliances, cash or a night on the town.

"I knew I was not creating the greatest works of art," he says.

"The Gong Show," which took Barris from behind-the-scenes producer to on-stage host, featured a parade of wannabe singers, comics and dancers whose meager talents could be halted by a panel of celebrity judges when the performance became insufferable.

"What we see now is so awful that people look back at me with sweet reverence," he says. "Now I'm not such a nut and crazy maniac. But I'm the pioneer of reality shows, for good or bad."

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