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"Welcome, welcome, welcome to your DeSoto-Plymouth dealer. Say the Secret Word and divide a hundred dollars — it's a common word, something you always have with you."
—The most well-known version of Groucho Marx's introductory spiel to contestants. [1]

Comedy Game Show that ran from 1947-61, hosted by Groucho Marx, who established a career in radio (later television) after the break-up of the Marx Brothers.

At the start of each show, the audience was informed of the night's Secret Word. If any contestant happened to say it while they were on the air, they won an extra $100. If the word was said, a stuffed duck dropped from the ceiling with the $100 attached.

The quiz consisted of question-and-answer rounds in which contestants bet all or part of an initial purse on their ability to answer the questions in a chosen category. The questions weren't really that difficult, and the two members of a team were allowed to collaborate. The format itself changed over the years, though:

  • 1947-53: Couples began with $20 and could risk any part of it on questions. Four were asked, with a maximum payout of $320.
  • 1953-54: While the starting value was dropped, couples now answered questions ranging from $10-$100 in $10 increments. The more a question was worth, the harder it was, with no penalty for a wrong answer and a maximum payout of $320 ($100-$90-$80-$70).
  • 1954-56: Around March 1954, the starting point became $100 and wrong answers now halved the bankroll; the maximum payout was now $440. Probably the most recognizable format.

During the first nine seasons, couples who won a very negligible amount were asked an obvious-answer question for $25, such as "Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?". Amusingly, the couple received the money even if they got it wrong!

  • 1956-59: The goal was now to give four consecutive right answers for $1,000, as two consecutive wrong answers ended the game. Probably as a result, the show went to using just two couples. (A score display was added to Groucho's podium by April 1957.)
  • 1959-61: Returned to the "four questions" structure, but now being chosen from a tray with slots marked "$100", "$200", and "$300" (as before, with appropriate difficulty). While the maximum payout was $1,200, only $500 was needed to win; as was the case from 1953-54, there was no penalty for wrong answers.

But none of this was really the point of the show — it was really about Groucho interacting with interesting people while getting off whatever zingers he could.

Syndicated revivals starred Buddy Hackett (1980-81) and Bill Cosby (1992-93). There were also three unsold pilots with Richard Dawson (of Family Feud fame) in 1988 for NBC.


Game Show Tropes in use:

  • Bonus Round: The jackpot question, which had several payouts depending on the era.
    • 1947-56: Played by the highest-scoring couple. Began at $1,000, increasing by $500 each week until won.
    • 1956-57?: Worth a flat $2,000, although only if a winning couple elected to risk half their $1,000 (from this point onward, it was very possible for half of a couple to leave {in which case all amounts were halved}, and even for the bonus game to not be used at all).
    • 1957?-59: The winning couple picked a number and spun a 10-space wheel. If the number was landed on, they played for $10,000; otherwise, the same $2,000.
    • 1959-61: Same as above, except the other half of the couple chooses a second number for $5,000.
  • Bonus Space: The Secret Word, which awarded $100 (briefly increased to $101 during the 1955-56 season) if uttered. When that happened, a toy duck came down on a wire with the money. Once, Harpo Marx came down with the money instead!
  • Carried by the Host: It wasn't so much a Game Show as it was Groucho flexing his interviewing skills, which is why he took the job in the first place.
  • Game Show Appearance:
    • The Jack Benny Program once had Benny appear on You Bet Your Life, but was confronted with the jackpot question of (paraphrasing) "Jack Benny has always claimed to be 39 years old, but what is his real age?"
    • In Living Color did a Cosby-era spoof titled "You Bet Your Career", with has-been stars competing for a walk-on role in current sitcoms.
  • Personnel:
  • Think Music
  • Unexpectedly Obscure Answer: The Secret Word in the Hackett era, which was uttered by a contestant exactly once.
Tropes used in You Bet Your Life include:
  • Animated Credits Opening: Several, but most notably the one with a cartoon Groucho and three others singing the praises of the 1955 "new DeSoto".

 Groucho: Oh, drive the new DeSoto at your DeSoto-Plymouth dealers todaaaaaaay!

 Woman: I love my husband.

Groucho: I love my cigar, too, but I take it out once in a while.

  • Edited for Syndication: Syndicated reruns were called "The Best Of Groucho", with the NBC logo blurred or burned-out and the picture "blown up" to hide the sponsor logos. (Not to be confused with Summertime repeats of the same name, which had a new intro and commercials; at least one 1957 repeat had a unique Prom intro and every mention of DeSoto replaced by Prom.)
  • Expy: Two For The Money, a similar 1950s game which was half host Herb Shriner talking to the contestants, half playing the game.
  • Forgotten Theme Tune Lyrics: "Hello, I Must Be Going (Hurray for Captain Spaulding!)" from the Marx Brothers classic Animal Crackers.
  • Keep Circulating the Tapes: Some episodes, such as Groucho's Grand Finale and the only color episode of the original run, have not been seen in many years.
    • The Hackett version had no circulating episodes until one showed up in February 2010. Amazingly, it is also the only time in this run that the Secret Word was said.
  • Long Runner: The Marx era lasted 14 years, and the television version is one of the few primetime games to last a decade.
  • Mascot: The Secret Word Duck, called Julius during the Marx era and Leonard during Hackett's (Leonard was Hackett's real first name).
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: A piece of equipment lowered from above during a scene of the movie "Crash of the Moons" led Crow T. Robot to quip in an imitation of Groucho's voice. "Say the secret word and Bill Cosby rips your show off."
  • Self-Deprecation: Often used by Groucho in response to his introduction.

 Fenneman: And now, here he is — the one, the only...

Audience: Groucho!

Groucho: Is that bum still in town? Oh, that's me!

Notes

  1. (Alternately, "something you see every day" or "something you can find around the house".)
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