The death of Dick Van Patten reminded me of an episode of “To Tell the Truth” that I saw in the early 1980s.
This was a later episode of what aficionados call “TTTT” – years after Bud Collyer and Garry Moore hosted the show. The host for this episode was a guy named Robin Ward, whom I had never heard of and don’t think I’ve seen since.
This episode included a segment featuring Tom Braden, the journalist who wrote the book on which “Eight Is Enough” was based and whom Van Patten played on TV, though the name was changed to Tom Bradford.
Braden later became the co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire,” where he sparred with Patrick Buchanan every night.
I wonder whether Braden would have been offered the job if he hadn’t been famous for “Eight Is Enough.” I say this because although I’m sure he was a capable journalist, he had all the TV charisma of a baked potato that had been left in the rain for two days. He always seemed tired and sometimes dyspeptic, like a guy who gets up in the middle of the night and wishes he hadn’t had that fourth burrito.
But Braden wasn’t the only TV host of that era who always seemed tired. Around the time that Braden was glumly holding forth on “Crossfire,” Charlie Rose was burning the 2 a.m. oil as host of “CBS News Nightwatch,” which I often watched after getting home from my late shift at the newspaper.
Rose had good guests and was an excellent interviewer. But his eyes always seemed droopy, to the point where I was sure that he wasn’t the real host of “Nightwatch” – the real host, I figured, was some guy who never showed up for work because he was sozzled or otherwise indisposed, and every night a production assistant with a key to Rose’s home would rush into Rose’s bedroom and jostle him: “Charlie1 You gotta do the show! The dirty so-and-so stiffed us again!”
And every night, after he signed off the show and the floor manager gave him the “all clear,” Charlie would collapse on the floor, and when it came time to do CBS’ morning show, folks such as Bill Kurtis, Diane Sawyer and Charles Osgood would considerately tiptoe around him until he finally woke up and quietly went home.
I can’t recall whether Tom Braden seemed sleepy on “To Tell the Truth” because the main thing I remember about that segment was one of the impostors – No. 3, to be exact.
No. 3 looked awfully familiar. I was sure I recognized him. But no, it can’t be, I told myself, but the resemblance is way too uncanny….
Finally the real Tom Braden, asked to “please stand up,” did so, and it was time to meet the fakers.
And it turned out that No. 3, one of the two guys pretending to be the father of eight kids, was indeed the guy I thought he was.
He was a former president of my alma mater.
And a Jesuit priest.