I’m old enough to remember the very first day Jeopardy debuted with Art Fleming as the host. He was genial, mature and dignified, but there was no way I ever thought he knew the answers without looking at his cards–the way we thought Alex Trebek knew them.
Those who only knew Trebek as Jeopardy host don’t realize the way he convinced us all he was the smarted guy in any world was actually a master display of his genius as a thespian–playing the role of a game show host a million different ways to fit the game itself.
I first became aware of Trebek when he hosted High Rollers. He tossed ran the dice game like a seasoned croupier with his dark, curly bush of hair and suave, flowing mustache. He played the role perfectly, keeping the game moving, encouraging the contestants to go for it all while playing his rakish role in his own TV casino.
At one point he actually ran three shows at once, but it was his time at Classic Concentration where I saw a completely different guy. He ditched the mandatory game show guy suit and tie, exchanging it for a much more casual look–sweaters in the cold weather, golf shirts when it was warm. Sporting a deeper tan and gold bracelet, the guy’s energy level was high, speaking more quickly and running down to the game board to explain each rebus. He’d even cozy up to some of the female players and they swooned at the handsome Canadian so close but lovely parting gifts and a sincere send-off away.
On To Tell the Truth, Trebek did his best Bud Colyer, the show’s original host. Back to game show guy garb to match the mood of the show along with dialed down pacing.
By the time he dropped all other shows in favor of Jeopardy exclusively, Trebek was ready for his greatest role. As he explained in his book “The Answer is…Reflections on My Life” his personal goal was not to call attention to himself but rather to make sure the players shined. He really never said a lot, acting more like a facilitator, keeping the game moving, encouraging players having a rough time and celebrating the successful ones. Yes, he came off a bit professorial conveying the false message that he actually knew the questions to all the answers, but man, that’s just how well he played his role.
If there was one constant about Alex Trebek, no matter what role he was playing for each of the many game shows he hosted, honesty and sincerity were always prime ingredients of his performance. Indeed, those two qualities were who he was…and that wasn’t acting. RIP Alex Trebek.