INTERVIEW: A Killer’s Confessional; Chuck Borris on claims he killed 34 people

If you take Chuck Barris for his word, he was one of television’s most dangerous personalities. He created and produced the “Dating Game” and the “Newlywed Game,” among a slew of other lighthearted programs. He rose to fame hosting the goofy ’70s variety show the “Gong Show” and made millions selling his programs to the networks. In between producing and hosting mellow game show fare, he found the time to slip out of the country and kill 33 people as a covert assassin for the CIA.

In Hollywood, they say versatility is everything.

Barris makes these incredible claims in his 1984 autobiography “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” which was released last Friday as a film.

Barris’ success in show business never relied very heavily on truth. He landed a plum job as a management trainee at NBC by listing its board members as references on his application. He kept recalcitrant young contestants on the “Dating Game “from getting too vulgar by threatening arrest if their language got too lascivious. And he twisted the truth into just about anything in his pursuit of easy sex.

If you believe “Confessions,” Barris’ journeys took him on an amazing trip through American history in the 1960s and 1970s. He marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma as a CIA snitch, kept tabs on black militant movements in Harlem and assassinated enemies of Uncle Sam in London, West Berlin, Paris and Stockholm. But it wasn’t the killing that eventually got to him – it was the relentless criticism of his television shows.

Lying is par for the course in Hollywood. So is “Confessions” an autobiography or a work of fiction?

“Whether I was in the CIA or not in the CIA, or killed or didn’t kill, that’s not the least bit important to me,” Barris said in a recent interview with The Hatchet. “What’s important to me is whether you’re being entertained.”

I think we’re beginning to get at the truth.

Hatchet: How would you describe the premise of “Confessions?”

Chuck Barris: Here’s a guy getting crucified by the critics relentlessly for trying to entertain the public, meanwhile getting covert medals and presidential citations for killing.

H: How did the criticism of your shows affect you?

CB: “The Dating Game” went on the air in 1965. (The format) was a girl talking to three guys trying to find a date. I didn’t know where that was the end of civilization, but the Chicago Tribune said “daytime television hits all-time low.” I said, “Forget it. It’s television criticism, it doesn’t mean a thing.” Book critics mean something, film critics mean something, you’re going to pay money for those – but who’s going to listen to (TV critics)? But (the criticism) never stopped, it just went straight out and right up until I was doing the “Gong Show,” “The Newlywed Game,” “How’s Your Mother-in-law?” I never claimed these were Pulitzer Prize-winning, Nobel Prize shows.

H: You practically invented a genre of television. Did you have a formula for creating these shows?

CB: Yes. The whole idea was to keep them simple. Maybe in the ’60s and ’70s simplicity ruled; today it definitely doesn’t. But for the “Newlywed Game,” for example, all I needed were four couples, eight questions and a refrigerator.

H: How much of “Confessions” is true?

CB: That’s a question I won’t answer for very good reasons, or at least what I think are good reasons. My feeling about all that stuff is that when I wrote “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” in 1980, I was really bummed out. I was hurt and I was feeling awful about a lot of things. I checked into a hotel room and I wanted to get this anger out of my system. The only way to do it I thought was to cathartically write it down on paper.

H: Were you or were you not an assassin for the CIA?

CB: According to the journalists who talk to me constantly, they call the CIA and ask me, ‘Do you want to know what the CIA said?’ and I say, ‘Not really.’ And they say, ‘Well I’m going to tell you anyway.’ And then they say it’s absurd, it’s asinine. One guy (who spoke with the CIA) told me (that he was told), ‘We don’t make it a practice of saying who was in the CIA and who wasn’t in the CIA, but I’ll tell you this, Chuck Barris definitely was not.’ Again, who cares? I don’t care.

H: You’ve said you don’t want the ‘Gong Show’ to be your legacy. What do you want your legacy to be?

CB: That’s a reverse question. I never cared about my legacy, but I do care that my legacy will be the ‘Gong Show.’ It’s a negative legacy. If I die today, and I’m sure next week or next month, the paper will say ‘Chuck Barris Gonged at Last.’ Gong will always be attached to my name. That’s not what I want attached to my name. I’d rather they not attach anything to my name. I can’t truthfully say I’m ashamed of it, but I’m not unashamed of it. It was just a ridiculous period of time of my life, but to be remembered for that just doesn’t seem right.

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