My grandmother began to wear wigs at the age of 52. It was about the same time she started watching the NBC TV show Queen of the Day. Her hair had been badly burned at the hands of a 1930's salon perm and her thinning hair failed to cover her bald spots. Even though she was a Canadian citizen she wrote NBC constantly hoping to get on the show. Grammy wanted a fancy new American-style wig as the ones she was buying in Montreal were out-of-date she said.
Once a week I would watch one contestant being chosen as Queen of the Day at the Moulin Rouge with Jimmy Cagney's sister Jeanne acting as Jack Bailey's Vanna White. Today, Queen of the Day is still considered one of the first big-prize giveaway shows and I can still remember Bailey ask,
"Would YOU like to be Queen for a day?"
This was basically nothing but a sympathy show with female contestants that all appeared to be excruciatingly poor and destitute. Each contestant had to explain why they were worse off than their peers on the show and then the audience would vote on whose story was more miserable. The ultimate decision was left up to the applause meter.
Some asked for washing machines, vacations, or one wanted close-fitting false teeth so she could resume her coronet playing. Of course she also got a years supply of Orafix, which was a sponsor of the show.
My Grandmother and I would share her cotton handkerchief many times during this particular TV show on a weekly basis. Queen For a Day is where I learned how to pity-cry on the spot and acquired knowledge about Ex-Lax and Sarah Coventry jewelry.
Often the requests were ridiculous and one just married wife asked for new underwear for her husband as she figured two months wear on his skivvies was enough. Sometimes the audience and the TV viewership rallied to the rescue when the contestants did not win. One particular woman's husband had just left her and was saddled with two hungry children and was shunned by the audience. The viewers donated a two room apartment free until she found a job, a years free babysitting service and 8 bucks from a man who won the money at the racetrack.
Mark Evanier, veteran television writer, has dubbed the show "one of the most ghastly shows ever produced" and further stated it was "tasteless, demeaning to women, demeaning to anyone who watched it, cheap, insulting and utterly degrading to the human spirit.
My grandmother was never chosen for the show but I think that this show had more impact than anyone realizes. Whether or not it was demeaning to women, the home audience lapped it up and the show increased its running time from 30 to 45 minutes to sell more commercials, at a then-premium rate of $4,000 per minute.
That was a lot of money in those days and the rights are still owned by television executive Michael Wortsman, and a Spanish-language company, Reina Por Un Dia. Worstman is shopping around for a deal and I bet the premise for the revived game show will be; whoever has the biggest "sob story" gets more government funding.
If I could pick anyone to host the show today it would be icon John Waters as I can hear him yell,
"This is John Waters, wishing we could make every woman a queen, for every single day!"
Photos by Google except the top one that is my family.
Bernice, Arthur, Fred and Mary Knight- with little Linda and Robin Knight. I am the last one standing and may they all rest in peace.
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