by Bob Barker with Digby Diehl
Center Street, 256 pages, $24.99.
Scheduled to be released April 6, 2009.
The best celebrity autobiographies offer something more than cocktail stories. Famous people have access and privilege, enabling them to witness history in a unique way. A successful celeb memoir offers a window into the world, rather than just a recounting of one's life. Which is why "Priceless Memories" by Bob Barker with Digby Diehl, is a pleasant surprise. Not only does Barker write about his days on the TV game show, "The Price is Right," he also touches on broadcasting's golden age, animal rights, the end of World War II and American life in the '50s.
Rather than telling the story chronologically, Barker begins by recounting what he believes to be the most important moment in his career - a phone call from t.v. legend Ralph Edwards. The broadcasting giant needed a host for his show "Truth or Consequences" and Barker fit the bill. After a tedious audition process, he became host of the show. He recounts his relationship with Mark Goodwin, another powerhouse game show producer, along with how he began hosting "The Price Is Right."
These stories are to be expected, after all, Bob Barker was on television for fifty years. He has seen technology change, prices increase and legends pass away. As he notes about his audience, "Then, of course, we had the long hair during the hippie period. There were times I would point over to someone in the audience and say, 'What about this girl?' And a man would stand up, with his long hair, and say, 'What do you mean, girl?'"
The memoir contains a few surprises, such as Barker's childhood on a South Dakota. He is one-eighth Sioux and grew up on a Native American reservation. Both his mother and his former wife, Dorothy Jo, are spoken of in glowing terms. Dorothy Jo passed away in 1981 from inoperable lung cancer. Barker doesn't dwell on her death, but astute readers will sense his profound loss. He touches briefly on his "on-again off-again" girlfriend who shares his passion for animal rights.
His work in the animal rights movement extended beyond his admonition to 'have your pets spayed or neutered.' Barker got 'The Price is Right' to stop using fur or leather prizes. They also stopped featuring fishing equipment and aquariums. "Out of my respect for my beliefs and my vegetarianism, the staff stopped putting meat on the grills and barbecues that we gave away." He was less successful in getting the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants to stop using fur coats, so he quit those lucrative jobs.
In the early-'80s, Barker and Mark Goodson decided to feature American-manufactured cars on 'The Price Is Right', rather than foreign imports. Despite corporate pressure, this practice continued for the duration of Barker's tenure.
Despite Internet reports to the contrary, Barker never gives readers the impression that he seriously considered roles in porn movies. As a funny aside, he tells readers that as a young man he went to meet a photographer for a modeling assignment. The photographer ended up being a porn director. Sensible readers will understand that these things happen all the time in the entertainment business, and there is no implication that it is anything more than a humorous story.
Indeed, it is Barker's humor and voice that readers will find most appealing. From the first sentence of the preface, "If you are fifty years old or younger, I have been on national television your entire life, and I would like to begin this book by telling you how I got there," you understand that this is Bob Barker talking. And he still worth listening to.