LOS ANGELES - Art Linkletter, who as the gently mischievous host of TV's "People Are Funny" and "House Party" in the 1950s and '60s delighted viewers with his ability to get kids - and grownups - to say the darndest things on national television, died yesterday. He was 97.
Linkletter died at his home in the Bel-Air section of Los Angeles, said his son-in-law Art Hershey, husband of Sharon Linkletter.
"He lived a long, full, pure life, and the Lord had need for him," Hershey said.
Linkletter had been ill "in the last few weeks time, but bear in mind he was 97 years old. He wasn't eating well, and the aging process took him," Hershey said.
Linkletter hadn't been diagnosed with any life-threatening disease, he said.
Linkletter was known on TV for his funny interviews with children and ordinary folks. He also collected their comments in a number of best-selling books.
"Art Linkletter's House Party," one of television's longest-running variety shows, debuted on radio in 1944 and was seen on CBS-TV from 1952 to 1969.
"On 'House Party,' I would talk to you and bring out the fact that you had been letting your boss beat you at golf over a period of months as part of your campaign to get a raise," Linkletter wrote.
"All the while, without your knowledge, your boss would be sitting a few feet away listening, and at the appropriate moment, I would bring you together," he wrote. "Now, that's funny, because the laugh arises out of a real situation."
Linkletter's programs - like many of today's reality TV shows - often relied on ordinary people sharing too much information on national television.
But his shows were far gentler than today's often mean-spirited productions. His guests experienced, at most, mild embarrassment instead of utter humiliation. When Linkletter elicited an all-too-revealing remark from a guest, he did it with devilish charm, not malice.
Although "House Party" had many features, the best known was the daily interviews with schoolchildren.
Linkletter collected quotes from children into "Kids Say the Darndest Things," and it sold in the millions. The book "70 Years of Best Sellers 1895-1965" ranked "Kids Say the Darndest Things" as the 15th top-seller among nonfiction books in that period.
The prime-time "People Are Funny," which began on radio in 1942 and ran on TV from 1954 to 1961, emphasized slapstick humor and audience participation - things like throwing a pie in the face of a contestant who couldn't tell his Social Security number in five seconds, or asking him to go out and cash a check written on the side of a watermelon.
The down-to-earth charm of Linkletter's broadcast persona seemed to be mirrored by his private life with his wife of more than a half century, Lois. They had five children, whom he wrote about in his books and called the "Links."
But in 1969, his 20-year-old daughter, Diane, jumped to her death from her sixth-floor Hollywood apartment. He blamed her death on LSD use, but toxicology tests found no LSD in her body after she died.
Still, the tragedy prompted Linkletter to become a crusader against drugs.
A son, Robert, died in a car accident in 1980. Another son, Jack Linkletter, was 70 when he died of lymphoma in 2007.
Art Linkletter got his first taste of broadcasting with a part-time job while attending San Diego State College in the early 1930s. He graduated in 1934.
"I was studying to be an English professor," Linkletter once said. "But as they say, life is what happens to you while you're making other plans."
Linkletter was born Arthur Gordon Kelly on July 17, 1912, in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. His unwed mother put him up for adoption when he was a baby; when he was about 7, he and his adoptive parents moved to the U.S., eventually settling in San Diego.
After leaving daily broadcasting in 1969, Linkletter continued to write, lecture and appear in television commercials.