Peggy Keener: The four stages of man are infancy, childhood, adolescence and obsolescence

Published 5:25 pm Friday, May 3, 2024

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I want to share with you the life of someone who it would be fair to say, we all admired … and even loved.

This very special man was born Gordon Arthur Kelly in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Within weeks of his birth, he was abandoned. For the remainder of his life, he had no contact with his birth parents or his siblings. Fortunately he was adopted as an infant by an itinerant evangelical preacher and his wife.

At age 5, his family moved to San Diego where he lived until his high school graduation at age 16. These were the desperate days of the Great Depression. In search of any odd job he could find, he rode trains around the country looking for work. And in doing so, he met a wide variety of people, something that would help shape him for the rest of his life.

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Upon returning home in 1934, he graduated from San Diego State Teachers College where he was a member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity as well as a regular on the basketball and swimming teams. But rather than pursuing a career in teaching, he chose instead a job on the radio.

In the 1940s and 50s, he worked in Hollywood with John Guedel on a pioneering radio show called, “People Are Funny.” The show ran from 1942-1959 and involved audience participation, contests, and gags while serving as a prototype for future game shows. During this time he also became the emcee for the radio variety show, “House Party.” A highlight of the program was a segment called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”

And now you know who I’m talking about. Yes, none other than Art Linkletter, one of America’s all-time most lovable treasures. He proved to be a brilliant interviewer never slandering, belittling, ridiculing or insulting the guests on his shows. Rather, he uplifted each person, rejoicing in their uniqueness. Frequently those guests left the show feeling more than they were when they arrived because he had the uncanny ability to truly touch upon and understand the human condition.

Children were his favorite guests. It was a guarantee that at least once in every program, one of them would, indeed, say the darndest of darndest things, spilling the most private of family beans. I do think, however, that some of the backstage mothers coached their little darlings to say something truly outrageous in order to highlight the child’s charm and innocence.

But, did we care? No, we simply laughed along with the nonsense—the priceless entertainment—reveling with Art as he masterfully dug his way into the children’s confidences with a shovel that rather than steel, felt more like a candy cane.

We, the listening audience, would all wait for that moment, that delicious moment when some child would invariably declare the very thing his mother had warned him never ever to declare—under threat of no allowance for the rest of his life. And I do suspect that in many cases we at home were gosh darned glad it wasn’t our child up there on that national stage divulging the family’s most egregious skeletons no matter how adorable he was.

Obviously, the children found Art to be absolutely trustworthy and kind. It is therefore tragically ironic that this man, this father to all children, had a son who committed suicide. Afterward Linkletter, in an effort to right this hated, wasteful wrong, became an anti-drug-user campaigner as well as an adviser on drug policy to President Richard Nixon.

In his lifetime, Art authored more than twenty books including the best sellers, “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” “I Wish I’d Said That” and “Old Age Is Not for Sissies.” Then in 2003, he had the great honor of receiving an Emmy Award for lifetime achievement, a recognition well deserved.

“Sometimes I’m asked by kids why I condemn marijuana when I haven’t even tried it,” he said. “I tell them that the greatest obstetricians in the world have never been pregnant.”

“In the depths of the Depression, you didn’t ask what the job entailed, how much the pay was or what the stock options were. You simply said, ‘yes.’”

“One of the wonderful things about going to a small college is that you can get into everything.”

“I’ve learned it’s always better to have a small percentage of a big success than a hundred percent of nothing.”

“I stand fearlessly for small dogs, the American flag, motherhood and the Bible. That’s why people love me.”

And people did love him. Art Linkletter had nine grandchildren and fifteen great-grandchildren. He died on May 26, 2010 in Los Angeles at the age of 97. It is my hope that it was a gentle passing.