Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Get Ready to Forget the "Match Game" Star! #2: Elaine Joyce

OKAY, for all those times she appeared on Match Game as is, I should have profiled  Elaine Joyce (her maiden name is Pinchot) first. I had to see more than a few MG reruns on Game Show Network (GSN) before I saw one with her, and when I did, the memories began to flow like water. Research filled in the many gaps.

This opening shot (from a Match Game '75) is synonymous with how I remember first seeing her back in the '70s; she's one of the few celebrities who looked good in this stylized... uh, "bowl cut" hairdo. (Bad example: Robbie Rist.)

Some of you might remember her more via her marriage to Bobby Van (born Robert Jack Stein); they often did joint appearances on some shows, such as Tattletales and an episode of CHiPs. Both are best known as performers in musicals, though they had done their own fair share of movies and TV shows. When they got married in 1968, he was 39, and she was 22. At the time of the MG'75 taping, Bobby was hosting the short-lived game show Showoffs, which Elaine was promoting with her note. He'd go on to host two more, but his debut came under unfortunate circumstances.

The original choice for emcee was Larry Blyden, previously the last host of What's My Line? (the syndicated version). He taped the pilot for ABC (a formality as the Mark Goodson and Bill Todman production was a shoo-in) in late May of '75. Shortly after, he would die in a car accident while on vacation in Morocco, about three weeks before the production resumed. Rather than delay the program's premiere (for a period of mourning), they selected Bobby as a last moment replacement. A pall was cast over the set during Showoffs' run; Bobby didn't altogether click with viewers, too, and the show only ran six months after its June 30th bow.

The union of Elaine and Bobby would sadly end when he died of cancer on July 31, 1980. In 1981, while she worked on the sitcom Mr. Merlin, she got a fan letter from one J. D. Salinger (yes, the author of Catcher in the Rye); after a period of correspondence, a secret relationship followed. While this odd pairing went on, Elaine married John Levoff, a TV producer, with whom she had a son, Michael. (She had a daughter, Taylor, with Bobby.) Beyond a May '82 newspaper report that Salinger was spotted in Jacksonville, FL, to see a play Elaine was in, their affair lasted quietly through the latter '80s, and her second marriage crumbled in due course.

Into the '90s, Elaine was keeping busy with parts in shows as diverse as Beverly Hills, 90210, Murder, She Wrote and Days of Our Lives. In 1999, she got married to her third husband, Neil Simon (The Odd Couple and... [shudder] ...The Odd Couple II movie), and they are together to the present day. They've even collaborated together, as illustrated by this poster of a show she did in 2007. Considering her connections to Salinger and Simon, the evidence strongly suggests Elaine is anything but the intellectual lightweight she sometimes portrayed in some of her many film and TV roles. (This is not implying Bobby Van was an idiot, too; his only bad judgement call seems to have been participating in the awful musical remake of Lost Horizon in 1973!)

From all the MG episodes I've watched, she is a lot of fun to see in action; I must also add there are the moments she can be  grating, but such is a fate that fell upon all those who graced the CBS TV studio where MG was recorded in mini-marathon sessions. (Five shows on Saturday, five shows on Sunday, and then a two-week break before it started all over again.) She was a semi-regular, compared to those like Richard Dawson or host Gene Rayburn, but she was on so many times, she's as readily remembered by fans as the "veterans" of the show are. The people who saw Elaine on MG really liked her; otherwise, the producers would've stopped asking her to return at some point.

Did the other celebrity panelists feel the same toward her? At least, there was one known contrarian. Before her death in 2007 (almost four months to the day after Charles Nelson Reilly passed on), Brett Somers sat down for an interview (included on the 2006 The Best of Match Game DVD set, available from Mill Creek) where she said of Elaine (and I quote):

"I never shared [my dressing room] with Elaine Joyce. I was never crazy about her."

"I used to sit in the 'dummy' seat... Elaine Joyce sat there a lot."

The reruns demonstrate why Brett still harbored the feelings she did long after the show was over. Elaine (about 29 at the time of the MG'75 era) is very outgoing and friendly, notably so with the men in front of the camera and behind. In the week's worth of installments I recently saw, director Marc Breslow heavily favors Elaine with more shots of her on-camera than what's usual with the celebrity regulars and semi-regulars. That this is very noticeable in the last few shows might be due to everybody having returned from the notorious dinner breaks that occured during a pause in taping (where more than a few were said to have often returned in a tipsy state, though this has yet to be verified).

Here, she is playfully flirting with Gene more than usual... not that Gene's complaining. (Neither would Brother Fang.) Actually, Elaine's personality is intoxicating without the prompting of alcohol; at her most affable, it's easy to figure out why Bobby Van (or anyone else) fell head over heels for her.

How she appears on these programs is, of course, only one facet of her personae. She is certainly a strong woman who has had to cope with (among other things) the death of her first husband and a career of ups and downs before finding love the third time around; hopefully, it's for keeps.
What more can I say about this remarkable lady? I think I've renewed my membership in her fan club! True, she's no Meryl Streep, but then, I don't expect her to be.

In closing, how do you respond to Brett's remarks, Elaine?

Fair enough....

Keeping it trivial....

Fang Shih-yu, Shaolin ______.


  1. This was a really interesting post, Fang. Lots of good info. I don't recall ever seeing 'The Match Game', but I will look for it when I peruse the satellite guide. My TV stays on TV Land most of the time anyways, lol.

  2. Thank you, venoms5!

    The moment I read of Elaine Joyce meeting J. D. Salinger and marrying Neil Simon, I knew this was a post worth writing!

    Type her name in on YouTube, and you'll get a wide sampling of videos with her, including Match Game appearances and more!

    The Showoffs reference was a last-minute addition, spurred on by her little note; the history of that game show is more interesting than the actual game!

    I'll sometimes watch TV Land for All in the Family, and that's about it! It was much better when the channel started; how I miss reruns of Honey West! :o)

  3. Yeah, TV LAND has become inundated with a lot of newer shows and reality programming. I understand why they're doing it to attract more viewers, and it's apparently working. I do miss the days when TV LAND was THE home for great old shows.

  4. They also had an array of short-lived TV shows (Coronet Blue, a cool drama) and rare specials (the one comedy show with Rob Reiner that introduced Spinal Tap).

    The last cool thing TV Land did was broadcast the "classic" 39 episodes of The Honeymooners uncut after Art Carney died.

    It seems like Gunsmoke (those danged color episodes with Festus) has been on there from DAY ONE!

    How is Hot in Cleveland? Jane Leeves and Valerie Bertinelli look great in the promos!

  5. HOT IN CLEVELAND was funny and reminded me A LOT of THE GOLDEN GIRLS.

  6. Thanks for the tip, venoms5! I'll give it a look in the future!

  7. Is this the Elaine Joyce that often appeared
    on Dick Clarks 25,00. Pyramid?

  8. @ Anonymous: She certainly is!

    The latest cycle of The $25,000 Pyramid reruns currently on GSN (check your listings for the time in your area) has her and Bill Cullen on; I believe these shows are about 12 years after the current reruns of her on Match Game '74 on GSN seen during the 11am-noon timeslot. (She was back on Pyramid only a few weeks after giving birth to her second child, Michael!)

    If you go on YouTube, you'll be able to see more of her other appearance on game shows like Tattletales; just type in her name, and you'll get more than a few results!

    Thanks for reading the blog!

    1. Are you still online? I would live to chat with you.

  9. I have always been in love with Elaine Joyce and always will be I wonder if she is a passionate kisser

  10. I thought she was adorable and I loved her with Bonny Van.

  11. She's fun to watch. Personality is positively contagious.

  12. Wondered what happened to this pixie. I always knew her from Match Game and Tattletales. Never knew Bobby Van was Jewish. And I was surprised to see Elaine Joyce is now married to Neil Simon! She must be a delight to be with.

  13. Wondered what happened to this pixie. I always knew her from Match Game and Tattletales. Never knew Bobby Van was Jewish. And I was surprised to see Elaine Joyce is now married to Neil Simon! She must be a delight to be with.

  14. Bobby Van and Elaine Joyce were an adorable and talented couple and two of the nicest people I ever met. Elaine is very smart, as was Bobby. It is such a shame that he left us way too soon.

  15. I've been watching the reruns on BUZZR Tv. It takes me way back when I was just a young lad. I would watch with me grandmother. Happy times.

  16. Absolutely love Elaine Joyce's bubbly personality and I've always thought her and Bobby Van were so good together. Loved them on the game shows together. I like Brett Somers on Match Game, too, but I've read there are a few women she did not care for on the game show, possibly because she was jealous. That is sad to hear.