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You Bet Your Life is an American comedy quiz series that aired on both radio and television. Gameplay on each episode of You Bet Your Life was generally secondary to Groucho’s comedic interplay with contestants and often with Fenneman. The program was rerun into the 1970s and later in syndication as The Best of Groucho, making it the first game show to have repeat episodes enter the syndication market. The mid-1940s was a lull in Groucho Marx’s career. His radio show Blue Ribbon Town, sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, had begun in March 1943 and had failed to catch on. During a radio appearance with Bob Hope in March 1947, Marx ad-libbed most of his performance after being forced to stand by in a waiting room for 40 minutes before going live on the air. After initial reluctance by Marx, Guedel was able to convince him to host the program once Marx realized the quiz would be only a backdrop for his contestant interviews and the storm of ad-libbing that they would elicit.
As Marx and the contestants were ad-libbing, he insisted that each show be filmed and edited before release to remove the risque or less interesting material. The show for the studio audience ran longer than the broadcast version. Contestant teams usually consisted of one male and one female, most selected from the studio audience. Each episode began with the introduction “And now, here he is: the one, the only” by Fenneman, who would pause, evoking the audience to finish the sentence by shouting in unison “GROUCHO!
The show’s band would then play a portion of the tune “Hooray for Captain Spaulding”, Marx’s signature song. Some show tension revolved around whether a contestant would say the “secret word”, a common word revealed to the audience at the outset of each episode. 100 prize, which would then be divided equally between that segment’s two-person team. After the contestants’ introduction and interview, the actual game began. From 1947 to 1956, couples were asked four questions.
20, wagering part or all of their bankroll for each question. A correct answer added the value of the question to their bankroll, while an incorrect answer did nothing. According to co-director Robert Dwan in his book As Long As They’re Laughing, Guedel changed the scoring format because too many couples were betting, and losing, most or all of their money. Incorrect answers now cut their bankroll to that point in half.
500 qualified the team to go for the jackpot question. The question was often patently obvious so there was virtually no chance that departing contestants would answer it incorrectly. Some examples include the following: “Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb? In all formats, one of the two players on the team could keep their half of the winnings while the other risked their half. In this case, all amounts being played for were divided in half. In the event of a tie, the tied couples wrote their answers on paper and all couples who answered correctly split the jackpot.
Seasonal Nielsen ratings covered the period between October and April of the following year. The rating number represents the percentage of homes tuned into that program. Nielsen also measured the radio version at tenth among radio shows in 1955. Despite not being involved with the quiz show scandals, the show’s popularity waned and You Bet Your Life fell out of the top 25. NBC ended the show in 1961. The radio program was sponsored by Allen Gellman, president of Elgin American, maker of watch cases and compacts, during its first two and a half seasons.