Monty Hall, the legendary host and co-creator of the iconic TV game show Let’s Make a Deal, died Saturday at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 96, and was preceded in death by his wife, Marilyn Hall, née Plottel, a writer, philanthropist, and Emmy-award winning television producer. Marilyn died this June, ending what was an almost 70 year marriage, at the age of 92.
I don’t bring up the fact that Monty Hall was recently widowed in the rote, relation-listing way of so many obituaries—survived by so-and-so, preceded in death by so-and-so—but to bring attention to what I believe to be the key to Hall’s monumental success as a television personality, and, I can only assume, as a person as well: His inherent mensch-iness. A seven decade marriage for normal people is astonishing, given the odds of longevity and simply, in practical terms, how long anyone can personally stand another human being; in the world of show business, it’s so anomalous as to beggar belief, like one of those people who claim to be like, 140 years old and then the Guinness book of World Records does some digging and it turns out they’re only like 110.
Think how lovely and patient and truthful and kind a person you have to be to make that work (of course, it may also help to be Canadian, as Monty Hall, born Monte Halparin, in Winnipeg, certainly was). As his daughter, the Tony-award winning actress Joanna Gleason (and, full disclosure, a person I personally adore) said about his passing in a moving post on Facebook: “He leaves the family so united in love for each other and for their parents that it’s a celebration whenever we get together.” I mean, who could want anything else?
And that was precisely the mien he used to such amazing effect on the show that would immortalize him. Most game show hosts have a smooth-talking smarm, necessary to make whatever Iowa schoolteacher nervously making her television debut feel easy enough to perform. But on Let’s Make a Deal, Hall’s task was more difficult that that: He had to make people feel comfortable enough to take risks, to— sometimes literally—give up a bird in the hand for two in the bush, and he had to do it while they were wearing ridiculous costumes and holding pun-filled signs and comical props, hoping to look outrageous enough to attract his attention. (As Hall recounted in a 2013 interview, at an early taping a woman carried a sign reading: “Roses are read, violets are blue; I came here to deal with you” and floodgates opened from there).
Always charming, always polite, Hall would offer to buy the contents of someone’s handbag for $100, somehow convince her to trade up for a luxury refrigerator, or $10,000, and end with her as the proud owner of, say, a baby camel, and somehow never make anyone feel cheated or disappointed, because it had all been such fun and such good television, and hey, baby camels need good homes, too. In another host’s hands, this could all feel exploitative or at least, glib; with Hall’s calm Canadian sense of camaraderie, it all felt like great sport, a wonderful adventure where you win some, you lose some; where you might be dressed up like an idiot but at least you enjoyed yourself. And when you think about it, isn’t that maybe the secret of life? I don’t know. But anyone who lives to age 96 and to be as beloved as Monty Hall must know the deal.