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Awards & Honors: 2002 National Humanities Medalist

Art Linkletter

For decades, Art Linkletter has been synonymous with laughter. Two of his television shows, House Party and People Are Funny, hold the top places for the longest-running shows in broadcast television history. Now in his ninetieth year, Linkletter is known as an entertainer, an author, a businessman, and a philanthropist.

His philanthropic work began early. “I’ve been mentoring kids for forty years,” he says. He is a member of the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, which offers educational support and college scholarships to help students overcome adversity and earn a degree. He also served on the Presidential Commission to Improve Reading in the United States. The suicide of one of his daughters in 1969 prompted Linkletter to become involved in anti-drug campaigns.

“I do a lot for Springfield College, the YMCA’s college,” Linkletter explains. “The YMCA was a big influence on me. The people there were like my father and mother. I know how important it was, keeping me on the straight and narrow.”

His early years have influenced the direction of his philanthropy. “I was an orphan, abandoned at birth,” Linkletter explains of his beginnings in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. “I was adopted by an older couple. My father, a Baptist minister, was sixty.”

The family soon moved to San Diego, California, where Linkletter grew up. “I was surrounded by the church, by the humanities, and by the philosophy of religious people,” he says, and by a pervasive spirit of giving. “My father took in hurt people wherever we were.”

After high school, Linkletter spent a few years working in New York before heading back to San Diego State College and a planned career as an English professor. A phone call from a local radio station changed his trajectory. The station manager asked him to take on a weekly show. “I didn’t have any show business talents like singing or dance,” Linkletter says. “My specialty was man-in- the-street shows.” House Party started off as a radio show and then moved to television, where it stayed for twenty-five years. People Are Funny lasted nineteen years. Many other shows followed, including Kids Say the Darndest Things, which has been running off and on for forty-five years.

Show business was never Linkletter’s only interest. He began writing books in the 1950s, and the count is now nearly two dozen. Among them are three autobiographies, along with his bestsellers, Kids Say the Darndest Things and Old Age Is Not for Sissies.

As he has grown older, Linkletter has become involved in organizations supporting seniors. Among them are UCLA’s PLATO Society for over-fifties (Partners in Learning, Actively Teaching Ourselves). The society builds on its association with UCLA by encouraging seniors to pursue learning, offering a range of seminars, lectures, and weekly meetings. Linkletter is also involved in the UCLA Center for Aging and the French Foundation for Alzheimer’s Research.

“I believe in lifelong learning. One of the things I preach to seniors is never stop learning, volunteering, expanding your consciousness, and doing things that keep life interesting.”

Linkletter is still busy spreading his message. “I do about seventy speaking engagements a year,” he says. “A big part of life is having a passion for what you do . . . . I’ll never quit.”

By LR