Answer: The original host of the TV game show “Jeopardy!”
Question: Who was Art Fleming?
Cue the music: “Doo-deee-doo-doo. Doo-deee-doo.”
Long before Alex Trebek urged contestants to phrase their responses in the form of a question, Fleming was the man with all the answers. And long before he became a national celebrity, Fleming was an Akron radio star.
The New York City native used his real name, Art Fazzin, when he joined WAKR (1590 AM) as morning host in 1949. The 24-year-old broadcaster came to Akron from a station in Durham, North Carolina.
Fazzin was a World War II veteran who had served as a bomber pilot in the Navy. Before enlisting in the military, he had been captain of Cornell’s football team.
Handsome and charming, Fazzin looked like a movie star, all 6-4 and 230 pounds of him. He spoke with a smooth, authoritative voice, and Akron audiences loved him.
“This is Art ('Nothin’ Fazes') Fazzin, telling you that things are really bouncing around the WAKR microphones on ‘Top O’ the Morning’ each weekday from 6 to 9 a.m.,” he gushed. “For a little cheer in your soul and a smile on your face, join me while I play your favorite tunes and keep you up to the minute on the time and the weather.”
The disc jockey filled the airwaves with such popular artists as Dinah Shore, Nat King Cole, Patti Page, Vaughn Monroe and the Andrews Sisters. Realizing that many people in the audience were applying shaving cream as they listened, he nicknamed his show “Foamin’ with Fazzin.”
Fazzin and his wife, Mildred, the staff pianist at WAKR, lived in a home overlooking North Reservoir on Portage Lakes Drive in Coventry, but Fazzin was too busy to enjoy it.
While “Top O’ the Morning” was his bread and butter, Fazzin hosted several shows.
On “Gabbin’ with the Gals,” he took a portable microphone to women’s club meetings for live interviews. On “Koffee Kapers,” he joked around with breakfast diners at restaurants. On “Musical Tune-O,” he played records while listeners marked special bingo cards with song titles.
His music programs included “Jukebox Serenade,” “Request Roundup,” “The Old Corral” and “Are You From Dixie?”
Fazzin also was known for on-air experiments. During a morning show in 1949, he announced that he would be on South Main Street between Market and Mill streets from 2:30 to 3 p.m.
“To those who could recognize him — by a clue he presented on the air — he would give two tickets to a downtown theater,” the Beacon Journal reported. “That afternoon he was swamped.”
Fazzin joined WAKR’s Alan Freed and Bob Wylie on an all-star softball team to raise money for polio. He announced University of Akron football games and emceed the All-American Soap Box Derby.
After three years, he was gone. Fazzin left Akron in 1952 to try his luck in New York City, telling friends: “I hope I can find steady work.”
As Beacon Journal columnist Art Cullison explained: “He plans to do freelance TV work in the big city and don’t be surprised if you see his face on some network video programs.”
Fazzin, who changed his name to Art Fleming, mailed a note in April 1952 to an Akron friend. "The lowliest extra in a crowd scene, who has no words, no action, no nothing, gets a minimum of $45,” he wrote. “If he has less than five lines in a half hour, he gets $85 and, if he has more than five lines, he gets $125 plus clothes expense, plus overtime rehearsal at five dollars an hour.”
Fleming began to pile up TV credits, including “The Loretta Young Show,” “The Ann Sothern Show,” “The Californians” and “International Detective.”
When he learned that producer Merv Griffin was auditioning hosts for an NBC game show, Fleming tried out on a whim. His friendly personality and self-assured manner won over Griffin.
The Beacon Journal carried this item on March 29, 1964, about a program debuting the next day on Cleveland’s KYW-TV (Channel 3), now WKYC: “Art Fleming is host for a new game show in which contestants are given answers for which they must come up with the proper questions. We kid you not.”
Fleming was paired with announcer Don Pardo, the future voice of “Saturday Night Live.” Fleming didn't think “Jeopardy!” would last more than a few months, but he ended up hosting 2,858 shows.
“Thank you, Don Pardo,” Fleming beamed each day. “Thank you, my friends. Thank you, players and viewers.”
The hit show peppered the TV audience with questions and answers — although not in that order. NBC aired “Jeopardy!” from 1964 to 1975. A nightly syndicated version ran from 1974 to 1975 and enjoyed a revival from 1978 to 1979.
Enjoying his job
Fleming said he learned something new on every episode of “Jeopardy!”
“It’s gratifying work,” he said in 1972. “The show is still as fresh to me as when I started. I’m going to stay with it to the end.”
After the show was canceled, Fleming was approached about hosting a revival in the early 1980s, but he declined to participate.
“Television today is the worst,” he fumed in 1982. “It’s at the level of intelligence of a 6-year-old. All the shows are copies of copies.”
He reprised his “Jeopardy!” role in 1984 for a video by Weird Al Yankovic, “I Lost on Jeopardy,” a parody of Greg Kihn’s song “(Our Love’s in) Jeopardy.”
Two months later, “Jeopardy!” returned Sept. 10, 1984, with Alex Trebek as the erudite host.
Fleming was a tough act to follow.
As Knight-Ridder TV columnist Mike Duffy groused Oct. 7, 1984: “The new ‘Jeopardy’ is a disgrace. It may get ratings, but it deserves no respect. The slicked-up new version of one of television’s few intelligent game shows is aimed straight at a pinhead pop-culture mentality.”
Answer: The guy who missed the mark.
Question: Who was Mike Duffy?
Trebek took the show to new heights and continues to serve as the host nearly 35 years later.
Art Fleming was inducted into the Akron Radio Hall of Fame on Oct. 1, 1986. He was 70 when he died April 25, 1995, of pancreatic cancer, the same illness that Trebek recently revealed he is battling.
“Jeopardy!” remains a giant in television, and viewers can thank a former Akron radio star for providing all the answers when contestants had so many questions.
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.