Linkletter: Man of Many Riches

By Selle, Robert R. | The World and I, May 2002 | Go to article overview

Linkletter: Man of Many Riches


Selle, Robert R., The World and I


Art Linkletter started life in circumstances about as forlorn and hopeless as one can imagine. He was abandoned by his biological parents in the backwater Canadian plains town of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and raised in an orphanage until he was adopted by a poor couple in their sixties.

Buoyed by an irrepressible humor, optimism, and fearlessness, however, he bootstrapped himself into the entertainment arena, ultimately becoming the star host of two of the longest-running shows in broadcast history: House Party, which ran on daytime CBS-TV and radio for 25 years, and People Are Funny, which aired on nighttime NBC-TV and radio for 19 years. He also entered the world of business, where he leveraged his huge entertainment earnings into millions more dollars in over 40 enterprises. He has written 26 books, including Kids Say the Darnedest Things, which is one of the top 14 best-sellers in American publishing history, and freely donates his time and talent to Christian missionary groups and other charitable organizations.

Once utterly bereft of kin, he is now the proud patriarch of a thriving, prosperous extended family of 27 people, including 3 children (originally 5, but 2 died, 1 by drug involvement and 1 in an auto accident), 8 grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren.

"My pride and joy is being the guy who holds the tent pole in the middle and keeps the merry-go-round running," says the 89-year-old entertainer in an interview. "I have a part in every one of their lives. My family is my greatest success in life."

Linkletter, who has won two Emmy Awards and one Grammy Award and has received 14 honorary doctorates, is in business with most of his children and grandchildren and brings them from all over the world-- Indonesia, New York, and Seattle, among other places--once a year for a big family gathering at a California resort. They spend a week together, cooking, eating and talking, having business meetings and fun, and deepening their relationships with each other. When they are apart, they talk together by email and on the telephone. They always come together in crises.

THE IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY

"One sad thing about today's civilization," he remarks, "is that families are disintegrating. But I'm holding mine together by will."

He says that the family is the basis of society: "If you have a sick family, and you have sick children who grow up to have a sick life, that makes a sick world. That's the root of America's problems." The solution to these problems, he advises, is to go the opposite way and "make the family stronger."

Linkletter's adoptive father was a shoemaker during the week and a Baptist preacher on Sundays. The entertainer jokes that because of his father's long graces before meals, no hot food ever touched his lips before he was 15. They moved from Moose Jaw to Lowell, Massachusetts, and lived there several years before pulling up roots and migrating to San Pedro, California. There, young Art attended grammar school. Then the family shifted to San Diego, where the boy went to high school and college.

Because he graduated from high school at the age of 15, having skipped some grades, Art decided to see the world for a while before attending college. So, with his parents' blessing and their great trust that "the Lord would protect" him, he set off hitchhiking around America. He already had considerable practice in this art, having hitched everywhere around Southern California to go to events of interest to him. On the hitchhiking trail, he also learned the gentle art of hopping freight trains. The adventurous adolescent also stepped up to hopping passenger trains, riding at the front of the train in the passageway between the mail car and engine.

The year 1929 found the 17-year-old boy working at a typing job (he blazed along at 90 words a minute on a manual typewriter) in the bond department of the National City Bank on Wall Street in New York City. …

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