Long before the perpetual era of “reality TV” took foothold, a mischievous little series called Candid Camera offered us all the opportunity to laugh at other people on television. It also encouraged millions of viewers to ponder the unsettling realization that someone, somewhere, might just be pointing a camera at them.
Creator Alan Funt developed a taste for public humiliation, ironically enough, in the Army. He would secretly tape his fellow soldier’s complaints and broadcast them on Armed Forces Radio. His little stunts proved popular and, in 1948, Funt created a radio show called Candid Microphone, which would air on-and-off for thirty years. That led to the TV version called Candid Camera, premiering on NBC in 1949.
The show created unexpected scenarios with unsuspecting people as the dupes, and taped the proceedings. Funt would replace regular bowling balls at the alley with balls with no finger holes. A person would go help a lady who was having trouble with her car (usually Dorothy Collins, a frequent Candid Camera actor), only to lift the hood and find there was no engine. A border guard at the Pennsylvania-Delaware border would tell drivers that Delaware was closed for the day, and to come back tomorrow. People reactions as they tried to deal with these bizarre situations were often hilarious, and always caught on film.
In other segments, Funt would just tape people doing what they do, unaware they were being filmed. One classic was the traffic cop, who did his dance-like movements while background music played. Another time he placed a camera in a boys bathroom, capturing the conversations of youth as they preened in front of the mirror. But mostly, Funt featured completely made-up scenarios – talking vending machines, restaurant patrons who were served ridiculously small portions, people who read the newspaper over other people shoulders, eventually taking over the whole paper.
Producers once took Candid Camera to Moscow and played gags on unsuspecting Russians – without any of the required permission, of course. He did the luggage gag, where an actor asks for a passerby’s help with a piece of luggage, and the kind person finds that the luggage is unbelievably heavy. In a change of events though, one large Russian gentleman not only picked up the luggage, but ran off with it. That was the great thing about Candid Camera; you never knew what to expect.
Funt produced The New Candid Camera in 1974, featuring new gags combined with the old classic bits. Two other versions of the show aired in the early 1990s, one starting Funt and his son Peter, and one with hosts Dom DeLuise and Eva LaRue. Later on in the ‘90s, after Alan has passed away, Peter starred in a new iteration with co-host Suzanne Somers. Thanks to this endearing and enduring series, every generation of television viewers in the 20th century have had an outlet to laugh at the misfortunes of others, and inspired dozens of imitators to continue the tradition for years to come.
If you were an avid viewer of Candid Camera in your youth, we hope you’ll take a moment to share your memories and your favorite gags in our comments section, as we tip our hats to Alan Funt for sharing his sadistic, yet always-playful, sense of humor with all of us.