By Tim Hayes
In the 1970s, on Pittsburgh’s Channel 4, a 30-minute cultural touchstone was beamed into homes every evening at 7 p.m. Its name? “Bowling for Dollars.”
Hosted by local legend Nick Perry – who later served time in prison for masterminding the infamous “6-6-6” Pennsylvania Lottery fix – “Bowling for Dollars” gave local yonkos a chance at some fabulous cash prizes based on how many pins they could knock down given two rolls of the ball. Two strikes got you a hundred bucks, if memory serves, and the winnings sank dramatically from those towering heights.
Good old Nick proved a winning host, amiably chatting up each new bowler as they emerged from behind the cardboard-and-plywood set, giving them a chance to calm their nerves before approaching the two-lane, in-studio alley. What a TV station was doing with a two-lane bowling alley inside the building is a mystery that may never be adequately solved, but I digress.
I saw a neighbor or two take a shot on the show, along with a high-school classmate once. Yeah, they even let teenagers on. I’m telling you, “Bowling for Dollars” was a happening.
But there was one contestant in particular whose five minutes of fame scorched themselves into my brain so deeply that I can still see it, all these years later. Tony. Tony from Munhall.
Nick Perry, hand-held microphone at the ready, announces Tony from Munhall, who proudly springs into view. Now remember, this is circa 1976. Tony from Munhall is the walking, talking embodiment of every 70s cliché imaginable. He’s got the shades, even though the show obviously occurs indoors. He’s got the lime green combination disco/leisure suit with the lapels big enough to rival the back fins of a Cadillac. He’s got the polyester shirt with the buttons open enough to show off his chest fuzz and about 15 gold necklaces. He is oozing, radiating waves of cool, is Tony from Munhall.
At least in his own head, that is.
Nick, as was his style, asks whether Tony from Munhall would like to say hello to anyone out there in TV land. Tony from Munhall cocks his head, adjusts his shades, lets his slicked-back hair reflect those hot studio lights for a moment, points his finger right into the lens and says, “You know it, Nicky. I just want to say hi to all you cool cats and kitties out there.”
And the great moment arrives. Tony from Munhall strides over to the lanes, white leather shoes and super-wide bellbottoms moving smoothly. He nods to the tiny little bleachers where the live studio audience watched the proceedings, picks up his bowling ball, lines up his first toss….
…and promptly throws a gutter ball.
“Not to worry,” comes the calming voice of Nick Perry. “You still can make some money with the next ball, Tony.” His icy cool now starting to get a little slushy, Tony from Munhall shakes off the miscue, waits for the ball return, picks up the devilish three-holed sphere again, lines himself up and sends it down the alley…
…and throws ANOTHER gutter ball.
All of us cool cats and kitties across Pittsburgh may still be laughing to this day. I know I do, every time I think of it.
Here’s a tip, friends. Humility is a wonderful thing. More people should try it – especially those running for high political office (ahem, ahem). Tis a far, far better thing to under-promise and over-deliver, instead of taking the opposite approach.
They say pride goeth before the fall. Or, in this case, before TWO gutter balls. Just ask Tony from Munhall, who learned it the hard way. On live television. Not cool.
Copyright 2016 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting