Peter Marshall

Huntington's famous son is certainly no square. In fact, he's one of the hippest game show hosts of all-time.

By Carter Taylor Seaton

Although Peter Marshall, best known as the Emmy Award-winning game show host of the Hollywood Squares, wasn't born in Huntington, his roots are deep in the city he calls home. Both his parents were born here and graduated from Huntington High School, as did Marshall in 1944 when he was known as Pete Lacock. Of his family, he says, “They’ve been in Huntington for eons.” In fact, he visited the family graves during a short visit to Huntington last year.

Marshall was born Ralph Pierre Lacock in 1926 and spent the first 10 years of his life in Clarksburg where his father was a pharmacist. Previously, he’d owned a pharmacy in Logan where Marshall’s sister, actress Joanne Dru, was born. When his father died, his mother moved the children to Huntington, where Marshall attended Buffington Elementary and Cammack Junior High School.

At 12, he went with his family to New York City where their mother got a job at Macy’s so his sister, who was only 16, could become a model. Show business beckoned young Pete as well. By age 14 he was working as an usher at the famed Paramount Theater at night and delivering laundry after his days at PS 165 where his classmate was Wally Cox, known best later as “Mr. Peepers.”

Marshall’s first real job in New York as a performer, however, was singing with the Bob Chester Band out of Detroit. He was 15 and on the road with the band making $50 a week. It was then his name changed. When the band leader said he couldn’t use a name like Lacock, Pete decided to change it to Marshall: the name John Roberts Powers had given his sister when she began to model for the famous agency. Marshall says, despite reports to the contrary, he didn’t copy the name from his hometown college, although he still follows Marshall’s football and basketball teams.

At 17, the seasoned show biz veteran returned to Huntington and HHS, as Pete Lacock, to finish high school.

“I had had a career, but going back to Huntington was like going back and just being a kid again,” he says. “It was wonderful.”

There he hung out at the Bon Ton restaurant and ice cream shop with his friends. He credits principal T. Smith Brewer with getting him through high school in two years instead of three. Two teachers stand out in his memory as well, English teacher Mrs. MacMillan, and social studies teacher Elizabeth Koletka. He says she was like an angel to him. Ever eager to perform, Pete joined the high school glee club as well.

Upon graduation in 1944, he went to California to sign a contract with 20th Century Fox but was drafted instead. Following two years with the Army in Italy, a former radio actor he had known tapped him to become a disc jockey. At 19 he was broadcasting over a 50,000 watt Italian radio station out of Naples. When he came home, he picked up his best friend, Jimmy Wilcox, and moved to Florida where he got another job in radio, this time as a singer. During his year there, he met and married his first wife Nadine Teaford, then moved back to New York to pursue his career. There he struggled for a while, until he met Tommy Noonan. Noonan’s brother, John Ireland, was dating - and subsequently married - Marshall’s sister Joanne. Marshall owed a dentist $67, so he suggested the two of them put together a comedy act to pay the bill. They clicked, and the duo enjoyed nightclub success in the early 1950s, sometimes appearing with legends like Sophie Tucker and Lenny Bruce. Appearances on television variety shows and in movies, including “Starlift,” “The Rookie” and “Swingin’ Along,” continued through the1960s.

In 1966, he was just finishing the Broadway show “Skyscrapers” when he was offered the job as host of the Hollywood Squares. According to him, he thought it would be a 13-week gig. It turned into more than 5,000 episodes over 16 years, winning him Emmys in 1974-75 and 1980-81 as the Outstanding Game Show Host and making him one of the most familiar faces on television.

“That was a wonderful show to do,” he recalls. Several of his close friends were regulars: George Gobel, Wally Cox, Cliff Arquette, Tom Poston and Rose Marie, who is still a very close friend. “It was the easiest job I ever had. I just showed up and asked questions. If we got a little risqué, we just let it go.”

Returning to acting in 1982, he had a cameo role as a radio personality in the film version of Annie. When “La Cage Aux Folles” opened in 1986 on Broadway, Marshall played the role of Georges in over 800 performances. Other Broadway credits include “The Music Man,” “High Button Shoes,” “Anything Goes,” “42nd Street” and the National Company of Neil Simon’s “Rumors.” In the touring company of “Rumors,” he played the Keith Albee.

“It was 10 or 12 years ago. That was very nostalgic,” he says. “My grandmother used to take me there for bingo because she wanted to win $1,000 to buy me a set of drums.”

After Hollywood Squares, he continued working in game shows, hosting Fantasy, All-Star Blitz, Yahtzee and Reel to Reel. In 2006, he received the Bill Cullen Award for Lifetime Achievement, and he was inducted into the American TV Game Show Hall of Fame in 2007.

Marshall says singing has always been a great love of his. Therefore, he was thrilled to host “Big Bands at Disneyland” on the Disney Channel. As host, he got to introduce and interview the big band leaders before their bands played. During an interview in 2007 for the Mouse Clubhouse, he said, “It was a great series. They were the leaders of the original bands. I was about the only guy left who sang with those bands that could talk about them.”

In 2000, he released a CD, “Boy Singer,” which he recorded at Capitol Records. It features old standards with new arrangements by some of the most famous big band arrangers, and has received critical acclaim.

Although, at 87, most people are retired, Marshall still works regularly. His show just sold out in San Diego. Recently he performed a concert with The Tex Beneke Band and the Modernaires, and, in January, played the Metropolitan Room in New York. While he and his wife, Laurie, live on a golf course in Encino, California, he says he hasn’t played very much in recent years. In 2002, he published his autobiography, “Backstage with the Original Hollywood Squares,” which he says sold out, leaving him with only two copies. Currently, he hosts a music radio show called “Music of Your Life,” which can be heard on Internet radio and on WIOI out of Portsmouth, Ohio.

While he’s been away from West Virginia most of his life, the “boy singer” has made such a mark on the entertainment world that he’s being inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in November.

“I’ve just been a very lucky guy,” he says. “I’ve been able to work all my life and I still work.”

Who knows what’s next for the boy once called Pete Lacock?

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