Dennis James (Aug 24, 1917 – June 3, 1997) began his career on radio with WNEW in 1936. James got into the new medium of television in 1938, with an experimental station owned by TV pioneer, Alfred B. Dumont. The station, licensed after WWII as WABD-TV, was the flagship station of the Dumont Television network. WABD later became WNEW-TV (Metromedia) and is now WNYW-TV (Fox.) James’ earliest fame came as a wrestling announcer, charity fund-raising host and later as host of network game shows. He is best known as host of NBC’s daytime game show, “Name That Tune” (1974) and the nighttime “The Price Is Right.” (1972-1977.) WNEW1130 editors’ note
Dennis James, 79, TV Game Show Host and Announcer
By ROBERT McG. THOMAS Jr
Published: June 06, 1997
Dennis James, the perpetual television personality whose career as a ubiquitous game show host, announcer, actor and commercial spokesman extended from the primeval days of television to the present, died on Tuesday at his home in Palm Springs, Calif. He was 79 and had worked almost continuously since 1938.
His son Brad said the cause was lung cancer, a disease diagnosed in January, 30 years after Mr. James, long the voice of Old Gold cigarettes, had stopped smoking.
The more than half-century of commercial television has produced many performers far more famous than Mr. James, but from his first appearances on Allen B. DuMont’s experimental station in Passaic, N.J., in 1938 to his latest commercial for Physicans Mutual Insurance Company of Omaha, which has been running this week, few, surely, have been busier longer — or made more generous use of their celebrity.
As the host of a variety of televised fund-raising appeals, Mr. James has been credited with raising more than $1 billion for charity, including more than $700 million from his annual United Cerebral Palsy telethons.
If much of his career was spent as a peripheral figure, the announcer on Ted Mack’s ”Original Amateur Hour,” for example, and host of more than a dozen game, quiz and variety shows, including syndicated versions of ”The Price Is Right,” and ”Name That Tune,” there was a time when Mr. James was television’s most famous star, the man who was wowing television America while Milton Berle was still in pinafores.
Indeed, in 1946, when Mr. Berle’s vaunted ”Texaco Star Theater,” was two years away, Mr. James was riveting television audiences by giving comic hold-by-hold accounts — and providing the bone-crushing sound effects — for professional wrestling, the television rage at a time when the typical viewer was not a couch potato but someone standing on a sidewalk watching a flickering two-inch DuMont screen in a store window. The programs made Mr. James a star, and if his parents still wished he had become a doctor, by the early 1950’s he had quite a television practice: doing 13 live shows a week — and earning more than $500,000 a year.
A native of Jersey City, Mr. James, whose original name was Demie James Sposa, graduated from St. Peter’s College and passed up medical school to become an actor. After graduating from the Theater School of the Performing Arts at Carnegie Hall, he sold dog supplies at Abercrombie & Fitch before getting a job at a small radio station in New Jersey.
photos added by WNEW1130 editors