Monty Hall has enjoyed a spectacularly successful career in what he calls the game show field, to the point he will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Entertainment Emmys June 16 on HLN.
For that he is grateful, but . . . I would have preferred making my career in the sports field, Hall, 91, said Friday from his home in California.
It nearly happened.
Before he started Lets Make a Deal in 1963 a show he still owns, by the way Hall served as a color man for Rangers games on WINS radio, working alongside Jim Gordon in 1958-59 and 1959-60.
That was a lot of fun, he said.
Hall already was an experienced announcer and performer when he landed an interview with Herb Goren, then the Rangers public relations man, through a mutual cousin who suggested they meet. They shared an interest in hockey; Hall grew up in Winnipeg.
Goren asked Hall what he could do. I said, I do everything: actor, singer, sportscaster; Ill do anything, Hall recalled. So he said, Go see Les Keiter at WINS. Hes looking for a [Rangers] color man.
All I said was hello and he just hired me, Hall said. No tryout. I guess my qualifications were that I came from the Far North and played a little bit of hockey in my time. It was a dream job for me . . . Anyone who comes from there has hockey in their blood.
It hardly mattered that the Rangers were awful, finishing in last place by a wide margin in 1959-60. He got $50 per game but said he would have done it for free.
Actually, he told Keiter as much about 20 years later when Hall was a major television star and ended up sitting next to Keiter on a plane from New York to Los Angeles.
Keiter asked how much Hall had been paid. He said $50 per game. Then Keiter revealed the budget for paying Hall was $75. He pocketed the other $25. I didnt mind, Hall said. I told him I would have done it for nothing.
Given his relatively short term, Hall had some memorable moments in the old Garden.
He recalled a between-periods interview he did with coach Phil Watson early in that miserable 59-60 season. I said, Phil, whats up with the team? and he started in on each one of his players.
Among his rants, he said of goalie Gump Worsley, He drinks so much beer he cant stand in that cage.
Said Hall: When the next period started, I noticed he wasnt behind the bench. [General manager] Muzz Patrick fired him between periods!.
Upon Watsons death in 1991, Patrick told The New York Times that he had to fire his old roommate and friend not because he was losing but because he "sometimes talks too much."
Also that season, Hall was working on Nov. 1, 1959, when goaltending history was made.
One day during the warmup I noticed that [the Canadiens] Jacques Plante came out wearing a mask, and no one had worn a mask in hockey, he said.
Then the game started and Plante was hit in the face by a shot from Andy Bathgate, causing him to bleed profusely. With no backup goalie dressed, Hall had to fill time while waiting for Plante to receive stitches. I said, It wouldnt surprise me if he comes out wearing that mask, Hall recalled saying during the break.
So he did, as 15,000 people jumped up and booed him.
Hall also worked soccer and wrestling events in that era, but nothing could compare to hockey for a kid from what he called the cradle of hockey.
He grew up mostly playing shinny as a boy and was thrilled by his good fortune to be calling NHL games. He might have gone on to a long sportscasting career, but his sports days ended when he moved to California to host the game show Video Village in the fall of 1960.
Three years later he developed Lets Make a Deal, which made him an iconic game show host who now has appeared on the show in six different decades.
The show still is on the air, and he recently participated in a 50th anniversary celebration. He said he visits the studio sometimes to offer suggestions, few of which are followed, he said with a laugh.
As for hockey, Hall said he still follows the sport, checking results in the newspaper, although he laments the changes in the game.
Im a mild fan, because I dont see the game the way I used to see it, he said. I was brought up in one style of hockey where there was more finesse. Now the players are bigger, stronger, just hammer themselves against the boards.
Hall is happy to have the NHL back in his hometown, though.
According to my relatives back there, its the big thing in the city, he said. They get huge crowds and everyone acknowledges theyre the most vociferous crowd in the National Hockey League.
Hall said he keeps busy these days mostly with charity work, in addition to his informal consulting on Lets Make a Deal. He recently gave 16 hours of material to producers of the Daytime Emmys to prepare a montage honoring him, including clips from his show and guest spots on other programs, such as his famous appearance on The Odd Couple.
Im just happy I got a Lifetime Achievement Award in my lifetime, he said.
Rarely do people ask him about his time with the Rangers, but NBC announcer and avid Kings fan Al Michaels, who was a teenager in North Bellmore in the late 1950s, once saw Hall outside a restaurant in southern California and told him he had been an avid listener of those old Rangers games.
Said Hall: So at least I had one fan.