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Who Loves You and Who Do You Love

The following post was submitted by Jennifer Lewis. You can find her on Facebook here.

There are a lot of cultural icons we can all cite who have impacted our lives, including but not limited to The Beatles, Steven Spielberg, James Dean, John Williams, Marilyn Monroe, George Lucas, Elvis, Harrison Ford, and so on.  With that being said, I want to recognize someone who had star power back in his day, but never rose to the heights of fame as those mentioned, although he has certainly impacted my life.  Richard Dawson (1932-2012). 

Richard Dawson’s presence throughout my life is undeniable.  It’s hard to say when and how he first came onto my cultural radar, but I’ll focus on his career and impact chronologically.  Richard Dawson was one of the loveable and heroic members of Hogan’s Heroes, playing British Corporal Newkirk.  His charisma, charm, and good looks in the role won me over, and he was my favorite on Hogan’s Heroes.  I have several memories of watching Hogan’s Heroes with my big brother, who was quite a mega-fan himself.  He even bought the Time/Life series collection on VHS!  I also have many fond memories of watching Hogan’s Heroes at 11:00 pm on a local channel with my Grandpa, followed by The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson during those fun summer stays.  The color palette and documentary footage used on Hogan’s Heroes made the show look like no other, and the writing, sets/locations, and acting were far better than it had any right to be for a network comedy.  Richard’s comedic timing, charm, good looks, accent, and impersonations really won my heart and captured my imagination.  

If Hogan’s Heroes is among my very favorite comedies, The Match Game is without question my all-time favorite game show.  My brother and I would watch it in syndication growing up, and I absolutely loved the wit and laid back charm of the show.  It always felt more like a party that happened to include a game which had some contestants you only saw when necessary, rather than a stressful game show with a clock counting down.   I loved the banter, playful insults, and the competition not only between contestants, but also between “the stars.”  Richard famously sat in the center of the bottom row, and was most every contestants’ “go to” during the final round if they wanted to win.  Some of the other star panelists eventually got so annoyed by and jealous of Richard always being selected, that they eventually introduced a wheel to be spun to decide for the contestant which star would be (hopefully) helping them to win big money.  In spite of the very fun partylike environment that host Gene Rayburn tried to control, or sometimes caused to lose control, Richard always took the contestants’ desire (and maybe their need) to win very seriously.  I remember him outright arguing with judges who unfairly ruled against the contestants because he was legitimately upset and genuinely advocating for these contestants who were deserving of the point the judges were denying them.  He was a champion for the contestants, and that really left an impact on me when I was young growing up in a blue-collar neighborhood.

The Family Feud was at one time America’s game show.  It was nighttime ratings juggernaut that blew away any and all competition.  Richard coined the expression, “Survey says,” and introduced the tradition of kissing his female contestants, which started when a female contestant was pretty scared and frozen, and Richard kindly and gently gave her a kiss on the cheek, noting that his mom would do the same for him when he was scared or nervous.  It was a family event in my house, in which my parents, brother, and I would watch it together and guess along on the answers, having good quality time and making memories.  

In 1987, Richard Dawson starred opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Running Man. Arguably, Richard’s portrayal of the evil and corrupt Damon Killian, host of the world’s most popular game show, The Running Man, is one of the most unexpected and yet surprisingly effective movie villains of the 1980s.  On paper, it must have looked ridiculous to cast Richard Dawson as the villain opposite the musclebound box office champion, but Richard Dawson was cast perfectly to play Damon Killian, and he absolutely nailed it.  I loved seeing Richard on the big screen in a feature film with one of the biggest stars on the planet at the time, and was thrilled that he exceeded expectations and was the perfect foil to Arnold.

I’m now a mother of teenagers, both of whom are fans of Richard’s as well.  I love having this shared experience with them, where we can sit down and enjoy watching The Match Game as a family, much like I did with my brother and my parents.  The kids caught on early that Richard was the best player, and it’s become a family rule of thumb that whatever Richard says is “the right answer.”  My kids are in German class, and also enjoy the thrills and laughs of Hogan’s Heroes.  As much as they have enjoyed watching Hogan’s Heroes, they really appreciated and loved Richard’s role in The Running Man, watching this man they loved on two different game shows and a comedy, now starring as the villain in an eerily prophetic dystopian Schwarzenegger film.  

I think it’s safe to say that we have all had some brush, no matter how minor, with Richard Dawson over the years.  He has been a North Star, a constant presence in my life, from my time spent watching him with my grandpa and family, to now watching him with my own kids as well.  While he’ll never be held to the same esteem as many other cultural notables, he has definitely left an indelible and lasting impact on my family and me. 

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