Peter Funt honors the life and legacy of his father, Allen Funt, in the new documentary on digital platforms, Mister Candid Camera.
Smile…you’re on Candid Camera!
Allen Funt changed the game when Candid Camera premiered on August 10, 1948, on television. The television program followed a series of Candid Microphone short films. Various forms would air on TV between 1948-2010 over numerous TV networks. As Peter Funt says about the initial criticism to the show, the “earliest sequences did test the boundaries.”
“I think the best rule is that you never want to put a person in a predicament to which he’s not equal,” Allen Funt says in an archival clip.
It later became a weekly segment on Garry Moore’s CBS variety show. Legendary comedian Carol Burnett discusses those years because she was on the show at the time. “Totally honest laughter. You can’t help but watch and see the reactions of people who don’t know that they are being filmed.” After this season, it was back as a weekly series.
Arthur Godfrey came on as a co-host to Allen Funt and left after one season. Durwood Kirby would replace him during the next season. Both Kirby and Funt developed great chemistry together. The iconic theme song was added in the mid-60s. Unfortunately, some people would write books that were critical of the series. Funt took exception to the criticism from the likes of Liz Smith and Joan Rivers, of course. Peter Funt would also join the series in the 1960s before later coming on as a co-host in the 1980s.
At one point, Funt and company took a trip to the old Soviet Union. Unfortunately, William Paley was uncomfortable airing it on CBS because of the Cold War. However, he eventually relented and it aired in 1961. In the 1960s, the show became the second most popular show in America behind The Beverly Hillbillies and in Peter Funt’s words, “the critics continued to complain the show was too cruel.”
Peter describes how Allen would look for more challenges after 15 years on the job. One such challenge was Tell It To The Camera, which saw him visiting prisons. He was invited to speak at a class at Cornell University but hesitated due to the amount of parking tickets. Strings were pulled, he spoke, and he later donated all his films and recordings to Cornell.
In as much as this film is about his professional life, it is also about his personal life. This means, going into both his marriages and drugs to lose weight. There’s a clip from The Tonight Show about the Eastern Airlines hijacking. To no surprise, passengers spot Allen Funt on the plan and believe it’s a Candid Camera gimmick. A few years later, it was learned that close friend and accountant Seymour Goldes swindled him nearly $2 million during a five-year period. All of this was transpiring during Funt’s second marriage. Because of the embezzlement, Funt had to sell his paintings. There is a clip from 1970’s What Do You Say to a Naked Lady and it features brief nudity. Because Naked Lady was a hit, Money Talks would also follow.
One clip from 1974’s Nashville five seasons features Dolly Parton. Buster Keaton, Jayne Mansfield, and Phil Silvers were among the celebrity guest stars. The sports stars make for great experiences, including Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Jackie Robinson. Allen Funt wanted to meet Jackie Robinson and he was booked in 1967 as a co-host. Muhammad Ali made numerous appearances. We see a memorable clip from 1975 featuring Ali and Funt in conversation. Ali has no idea that he is on camera but you sense a completely authentic location. Following the time in Nashville, Funt would relocate to Los Angeles after his divorce from Marilyn Laron. Several anniversary shows and special would follow.
Here’s how much of a mentsch that Funt was: an interview clip shows Paul Newman sharing a memory John Huston being a fan of Candid Camera. Because of Huston being sick, Funt sent over tapes for the filmmaker to watch. Newman describes how Huston found that the laughter would remove the pain for a few hours. I’m not crying, you’re crying!
Because of needing the money, Funt decided to reluctantly syndicate the series with Dom DeLuise as host. It just wasn’t the same. Not allowing Funt on set definitely did not do any favors. Meanwhile, Fox was producing a copycat show and a lawsuit followed. In 1993, Funt suffered from a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. No idea how much the legal battles took a toll on his physical health. His final years would not be his best years. After the 50th anniversary special on CBS, a new weekly series would follow. Funt would die 11 days before his 85th birthday in 1999. His last great prank? You HAVE to listen to Peter Funt telling it!
The hard part about watching the documentary is that the clips are so hysterical that you can’t help but rewatch them. Seriously. Sometimes, it might be to listen to a quote again but I’ve been howling with laughter during the clips. It is never not hysterical when we see the reveals that they are on Candid Camera. There is such a rich history of archives that there is enough material for several clip shows featuring only the greatest highlights from the series. No Emmys, Peabody, Golden Globe, or even a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and yet, this is a man who made so many people laugh.
Mister Candid Camera, much like the series, is critic-proof but it’s so much fun to dive into the many clips through the years in this wonderful tribute to Allen Funt. For more history on the series, please check out the Television Academy page.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Peter Funt
FEATURING: Peter Funt, Allen Funt, Sonny Fox, Ann Richardson, Fannie Flagg, Howie Mandel, Pat Duval, Glenn Hammer, Carol Burnett, Dr. James Maas, Tom Lynch, Philip Reed, Ray Richmond
Shout! Factory released Mister Candid Camera on Digital/VOD on August 2, 2022. Grade: 3.5/5
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