Anyone who was anyone wanted to be on Quiz Club 1950s TV show was delightful and very popular

Jacques Kelly

September 28, 1992|By Jacques Kelly

Every weekday afternoon, 200 women clutching loaves of white bread charged out of the old WBAL studios at Charles and 26th streets.

A few lucky ones also carried canned hams and salt-and-pepper shaker sets.

Later, the fact they had been on the Quiz Club would be the chatter of their neighborhoods.

The Quiz Club was quintessential Baltimore 1950s audience-participation live television. It was corny, delightful, funny, unpretentious and universal. It owned the early afternoon television market.

Anybody at home with a Sylvania or Emerson tuned into the midday show hosted by Brent Gunts and Jay Grayson, the two easygoing, witty and bright-eyed performers who looked as if they were having as much fun as their smiling audience.

Is it going too far to say these fellows were as familiar to Baltimoreans as Ricky Ricardo and Fred Mertz on a national scale? No.

"We did the show live. There was no rehearsing. We made it light and wacky to go against the natural Baltimore sense of reserve. It worked," said Grayson the other day as he sat alongside Gunts, his long-time partner and alter-ego.

"We were out to entertain the audience. . . . I had worked in radio since 1936 and was just continuing what I had done in radio except I put pictures to it," Gunts said.

"Brent would worry about every minute detail. I just got to be myself," said Grayson. "In all the years we worked together, there was never a rough spot."

Grayson looked the part of a high school principal. He wore tab-collar shirts and serious, black-frame glasses. Nobody ever knew there was no glass in the frames.

The zany show opened with a musical spot, "Hurry Mary, get the dictionary, it's the Quiz Club." The once familiar jingle was the work of Henry Otto, a writer who conceived much of the show's light format.

Those who had tickets in the audience walked out with a prize, a loaf (unwrapped) of Schmidt's Blue Ribbon bread. Those actually selected to be in the quiz show panel might win a box of candy, dinner for two at Jimmy Wu's New China Inn or maybe a Tappan gas range.

Occasionally, the show might be staged at Gwynn Oak Park, the amusement grounds that is now a Baltimore County public park. Some 35,000 would-be Quiz Clubbers showed up. When the show was televised from the stage of the old Stanley Theater, the in-house audience swelled to 3,500 with a line around Howard and Franklin streets. Another time the show was at Montgomery Ward on Monroe Street.

"A rams head of spectators crashed through the backdrop," Gunts said.

Brent Gunts, the son of a much respected local advertising executive, worked in radio and early television before hitting on the magical Quiz Club formula. He broke into radio in 1936 writing the WFBR-radio show Varsity Club for fellow Baltimorean Garry Moore. Come television, there was once a Brent Gunts Show and a Shadow Stumpers as well.

As the show's producer, Gunts had to deal with all the worries. In the early 1950s, he had as many as 35 separate installments of productions airing weekly. There was even a Washington version of the Quiz Club on WRC. The show made its Baltimore debut during the summer of 1953 and lasted in one form or another until 1965. Gunts left the program in 1959 to head WBAL for the Hearst Corporation.

"I got to know Baltimore and its tastes with radio shows like the Carnival of Fun. One day was a Hampden day, or a Waverly day or South Baltimore day. It was all about people," Gunts reminisced.

These two legends of 1950s Baltimore television broadcasting are coming back for a charity fund-raiser Oct. 4 at Friends School, 5114 N. Charles St., 1-5 p.m. Proceeds go to the Mid-Town Churches Community Association, a group that works with the needy and homeless in the North Avenue-25th-Barclay streets area.

Gunts and Grayson will be joined by others of the black-and-white era: Jim McKay, "Miss Nancy" Claster, "Pete the Pirate" Lary Lewman, Spotty "Patches" Lickle, Royal Parker, Joe Croghan, Ad Wienert, Jim West, Stu Kerr, Cal Schumann, Al Herndon, Kitty Dierken, Richard Dix, Vince Bagli, Bob Jones, Rhea Feiken, Rolf Hertsgaard, Arthur Watson, Ann Marr, John Steadman and Judy Torme.

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