Mention the name "Captain" Jack Duffy and if the other person smiles, he or she is between the ages of 45 and 55 and lkely grew up in the Toronto/Hamilton/Niagara region.
Duffy, who died Monday in Toronto at 81, was one of the stars of Party Game, a fondly-remembered suppertime charades series produced out of Hamilton, Ont.'s CHCH. (The Toronto Star's Richard Ouzounian has a tribute to Duffy here.)
Party Game ran for 11 seasons, from 1970 through 1980, and was basically a swingers party disguised as a charades show. The crummy basement paneling, shag carpeting, bad art and cheap-ass couches pre-dated (and likely influenced) Wayne's World. The laugh track was loud, jarring and completely unnecessary. The announcer was billed as "Gardiner Westbound," which is still funny if you commute between Toronto and Hamilton.
Hard to express the appeal of Party Game if you didn't live through it, but there was something very cool happening amidst all that corniness.
Duffy's "Home Team" charade mates were Dinah Christie and the late Billy Van and they were practically unbeatable at charades. Van was all id, a leering loose cannon. Christie was always professional, girlishly glamorous yet one of the boys. Duffy kinda made it all seem legit. He was an expert player, but he also had a face that made you think he had worked his way up through a 1001 burlesque halls. The Montreal-native started out as a CBC radio singer and even toured with the famed Tommy Dorsey band.
You can check out a clip of Captain Jack in action on YouTube here. (Somebody has disabled the embedding code, unfortunately.) What a blast from the past, that bit where a member of the Home Team would get right to the word by finding a sound alike and then chopping one hand through the alphabet.
That YouTube clip is probably the only place you can ever catch a glimpse of Party Game because 'CH, like a lot of other local market stations back in the days of bulky 2-inch tape, erased almost the entire run of the series, re-using the masters by taping over them. Only one or two original master tapes exist, or at least that was the case a few years ago when I interviewed Stacey Case in Toronto. He was the entrepreneur who hosted the Hilarious House of Frightenstein reunion in 2005, an homage to another 'CH classic starring Billy Van from the early '70s.
Case had rooted around in search of old Frightenstein and Party Game tapes, tracking down the producer of both series, Rafe Markowitz. The rumour that the Frightenstein masters had all been destroyed turned out to be false, thankfully (it airs now on TVLand), but, except for a few snippets, Party Game is probably history, as is almost the entire run of another 'CH classic, Tiny Talent Time, victims of the same tape-over thriftiness which has stolen so many hours of NBC's early Tonight Shows.
Christie had only one hour of Party Game in her personal collection when I spoke with her in 2005. If I'm wrong and more Party Game tapes exist, somebody clue me in and please clue in programmers at TVtropolis, TVLand or Deja-View--this stuff is like crack to Boomers.
There was certainly something intoxicating watching all those weekday afternoon shows back in 1970, '71, '72 and beyond. I was just transitioning from grade school to high school and after years of racing home to kiddie fare like Buffalo's bizarre time killer Commander Tom, the suspiciously well lubricated tomfoolery on shows like Match Game and Party Game was like staying up till midnight while the adults partied in the other room.
The original host of Party Game, former CHUM radio morning man Al Boliska, seemed to be in on the joke, a bit of a co-conspirator. When he died (on his 40th birthday), Bill Walker took over. The epitome of tone and diction, Walker was more formally trained as an announcer but always seemed a bit of a principal in that room, which kinda worked opposite bad boy Van. Walker also sported those wild '70s plaid jackets long before Grapes brought them all out of the closet.
A rotating series of Canadian guest celebrities would be booked each week to play the other team. Jayne Eastwood got in on a few games, as did Dave Broadfoot, but few stand out as much as buxom Quebec actress Nicole Morin. Zut alors! I'm sure I wasn't the only horny 13-year-old tuning in each week to see if she was on the series.
What's missing more than anything on TV today is a sense of playfulness. Party Game had it in spades. Captain Jack set the tone. One syllable, sounds like "tank." Thanks Captain Jack.