Tom Kennedy, Genial Journeyman of TV Game Shows, Dies at 93

Tom Kennedy, who earnestly shook the hands of losers and bestowed gee-whiz jollity on winners during a nearly 30-year career hosting television game shows, died on Oct. 7 at his home in Oxnard, Calif. He was 93.

His daughter Courtney Ellen Narz confirmed his death.

Mr. Kennedy’s longest reign as quizmaster was on “Name That Tune,” which was syndicated from 1974 to 1981. On that show, contestants guessed the titles of pop hits and American standards based on snippets played by a live band, or, more challengingly, a pianist hitting a handful of notes.

While the music played, Mr. Kennedy performed an avuncular dance, twisting his wrists and tapping his feet. Then, index cards in hand, he rendered the verdict on contestants’ answers. In one segment of the show, he ceremonially gave winners $100 bills one by one.

Prizes might also include a new Datsun car or an 11-day trip to Hawaii to “discover the aloha spirit.” Contestants would shriek, and Mr. Kennedy would gently encourage them. His characteristic remarks included “Isn’t that something?” and “She likes this game as much as I do.”

In the opening segments of many of the shows Mr. Kennedy hosted, he was introduced as the “star.” Many of his gigs were brief, but he glided into hosting jobs for 14 different shows.

Mr. Kennedy, center, while hosting the celebrity game show “You Don’t Say!” in 1968, joined by the actress June Lockhart and Jack Narz, Mr. Kennedy’s brother and fellow game show host.
Credit…Archive PL/Alamy Stock Photo

His genial tone gave him maturity as a young man and boyish energy as he aged. In 1958, as the host of “Dr. I.Q.” on ABC, he was introduced as “the wise man with a pleasant smile,” youthfully chipmunk-cheeked but clad in a tuxedo. By the time of “To Say the Least,” which he hosted on NBC in 1978, he was sporting aviator glasses, a plaid suit and a pink tie, though his hair had grayed.

Mr. Kennedy was born James Edward Narz on Feb. 26, 1927, in Louisville, Ky. His father, John Lawrence Narz, worked as a salesman for the Frigidaire Appliance Company, and his mother, Nellie (Flores) Narz, was a homemaker.

At the end of World War II, James spent a year in the military but did not see combat. After graduating from St. Xavier High School in Louisville, he took a Greyhound bus across the country to join his brother, Jack, in Los Angeles, where Jack was pursuing a career in radio. James obtained a license for radio announcing and engineering, and he sharpened what he later called his “hillbilly” accent.

He returned home to work for radio stations in Kentucky and Missouri, and also attended classes at the University of Missouri. At a college dance, he met Betty Gevedon. They married in 1952. Before he could graduate, he returned to Los Angeles, where more high-profile radio work awaited him.

Credit…ABC Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television, via Getty Images

In 1957, an offer to work as an announcer for Plymouth raised a conflict: James’s brother, Jack, was doing the same thing for the Ford Motor Company. That was one car-sponsoring Narz too many for ad agency representatives. James changed his name to Tom Kennedy.

“The fastest way to become known in America is to do a series of successful commercials,” he said in a 2018 interview about his career with the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters, a professional association. The work also gave Mr. Kennedy unexpected training.

“When I was doing commercials,” he explained, “I was called upon to do fashion shows, telethons, charity events of all kinds. That’s what groomed me to be a game show host.”

He stopped working, he said, only when “the phone stopped ringing.”

Mr. Kennedy’s wife died in 2011, and his brother died in 2008. In addition to his daughter Courtney, he is survived by another daughter, Linda Ann Narz; his son, James Edward Narz Jr.; his sister, Mary Lovett Scully; and a granddaughter.

Mr. Kennedy had watched some game shows as a fan before he ended up hosting them. He turned down one offer, he said in the 2018 interview, because the show relied excessively on chance, rather than skill and knowledge. He questioned the value of what he called “window dressing”: large cash prizes, slides, ringing bells, flashing lights, “dancing girls.”

Still, Mr. Kennedy conceded with a chuckle, “People love to see a spinning wheel.”

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