Monty Hall, the game show host who bedeviled and delighted contestants with a variety of doors, boxes, and dreaded “Zonks” on the long-running Let’s Make A Deal, has died. Hall was 96.
Originally hailing from Canada, Hall (whose birth name was Monte Halparin) got his start in Winnipeg-area radio before eventually making his way to the States. There, he quickly drifted into the life of the journeyman TV presenter, hosting a variety of kids’ shows and game shows, and even spending a season as a radio analyst for the New York Rangers hockey team.
Hall made his big break in the early ’60s, when he co-developed and hosted Let’s Make A Deal for NBC. Aggressively simple—with gameplay broken down into a series of simple yes or no decisions, without any information to inform the choice—the show succeeded almost entirely on the charm of its crazily dressed audience members and its high-paced energy. Much of that came from Hall himself, whose combination of mischievousness and sympathy quickly transformed him into one of the most iconic game show hosts of all time, wandering through the crowd apparently on a whim, handing out cash for random objects, and always standing by to guide players through the make-or-break choices of “The Big Deal.”
Outside of Deal—which ran, with him as host, for more than 20 years—Hall also hosted a number of other shows, although only one of his other co-creations, Split Second, garnered much success. Outside his work on TV, he was also notable for his charitable giving, which earned him both the Order Of Canada and the Order Of Manitoba in his native land.
Hall even lent his name to a famous logic problem, “The Monty Hall problem,” based on his legacy of door-based deal-making. For his part, though, Hall was less interested in the question of which door contestants should open as a logic puzzle than as an exercise in human psychology; asked about it once by The New York Times, he told a reporter, “They’d think the odds on their door had now gone up to 1 in 2, so they hated to give up the door no matter how much money I offered. By opening that door we were applying pressure. We called it the Henry James treatment,” he said, revealing a moment of delighted, manipulative glee that belied his smiling TV persona. “It was The Turn of the Screw.”
Hall died earlier today in his California home. According to Variety, his death was a result of heart failure.