For decades, Monty Hall lived a double life: ebullient game show host and celebrity to millions by day, and when not on camera, indefatigable fundraiser and philanthropist for Jewish and other causes.
Renowned for co-creating and hosting “Let’s Make a Deal,” Hall was equally if not more proud of raising, by some estimates, more than $1 billion for charity.
Monte Halparin was born on August 25, 1921, in Winnipeg, Canada, the son of Rose and Maurice. His Orthodox family was in the kosher meat business, and Hall grew up delivering orders on his bicycle. His mother, Rose, was a schoolteacher, performer and Hadassah regional president who Hall once called a “combination of Golda Meir and [Yiddish actress] Molly Picon.”
The family struggled and lived in close quarters. Hall couldn’t afford to stay in college, so he dropped out. Fortunately, a Jewish businessman and friend of the family, Max Freed, altered the trajectory of Hall’s life. When Hall was 19, Freed, 10 years Hall’s senior, offered to pay for Hall’s college education, but with three conditions: His grades had to be B-plus or higher, he had to report regularly on his progress to Freed, and, most importantly, he had to promise that one day he would do the same for a kid who needed help.
Hall seized the opportunity. He re-enrolled at the University of Manitoba, frequently checking in with Freed to inform him of his grades. In 1945, he earned his degree.
While he was in college, Hall performed in musical theater productions and worked an evening job as a radio disc jockey. After graduating, he moved to Toronto, where he worked at a radio station. There, his boss told him to shorten his name from Halparin to Hall. Restless and looking for bigger opportunities, Hall moved to New York in 1955 and transitioned to television. Five years later, he moved to Hollywood.
While he was in Hollywood, his big break was co-creating “Let’s Make a Deal” with Stefan Hatos. “Let’s Make a Deal” was a game show inspired by the Frank Stockton short story “The Lady, or The Tiger?” in which a man’s choices result either in love or death. “Let’s Make a Deal” debuted in late 1963 in NBC’s daytime lineup. It aired until 1968 before it moved to ABC, where it ran until 1976.
The show became one of the most successful in television history. Hall hosted 4,700 episodes of the show.
Part of the appeal of “Let’s Make a Deal” was the audience members who dressed up in costumes in hopes of being picked by Hall to appear on the show.
Additionally, the show’s legacy was its inclusiveness, Hall said.
“‘Let’s Make a Deal’ was the first television show that used black people, brown people, yellow people, old people, fat people, skinny people, because we felt this was a cross section of America,” Hall told the Archive of American Television in a 2002 interview.
Among Hall’s other claims to fame, “Let’s Make a Deal” gave rise to a classic probability puzzle. After a contestant has chosen one door, and then the host offers him the opportunity to change his mind and choose another, should he? Would changing his mind put the odds of a better prize in his favor? Hall himself once said that in “The Monty Hall Problem,” as it came to be called, the contestant’s choice matters less than the way the host manipulates the player.
Hall and his late wife, Marilyn, who died in June, raised three children: Richard, a television producer; actress Joanna Gleason; and Sharon, also a television producer. The couple was married for nearly 70 years. The Halls met in Canada, wed in 1947, and moved to New York together, before finally settling in Beverly Hills. Marilyn Hall was as an actress, writer, producer, and philanthropist.
“My parents kept show business as far away from our house as possible,” Gleason once told the magazine Playbill. “It was a very normal upbringing. It just happened to be that at certain times of the day, you’d turn on the TV and there’d be my father.”
In 2013, Hall was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 40th Daytime Emmy Awards ceremony. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1973.
Hall had a lifelong commitment to Judaism. He was a longtime friend of the late Rabbi Jacob Pressman of Temple Beth Am, where the family belonged. In 2005, Hall had his second bar mitzvah at Temple Shalom for the Arts — today known as Temple of the Arts. In later years, he attended IKAR.
Hall credited his commitment to Judaism and his mother for his devotion to charitable giving. He spent much of his life raising money for charity. Causes he supported included the children’s charity Variety International, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and Israel Tennis Centers. He also was a regular presence on the gala circuit, emceeing events benefiting Hadassah, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center, and the Jewish Home for the Aging (now the Los Angeles Jewish Home), among countless others.
In a 2014 Jewish Journal video series titled “Mondays With Monty,” Hall recounted an exchange with his father, who’d stopped going to synagogue. His father told him that he expressed his religion through his devotion to his family. Hall said he couldn’t argue with that. In fact, in the 2002 interview with the Archive of American Television, he said he wanted to be remembered for being someone who did his best for his family.
Hall more than lived up to his promise to Max Freed to help others in need, becoming a major fundraiser for countless charities.
“I’d like to be remembered as somebody who cared, who cared for other people, who did his best, who did his best for his family, for his friends, for the community, for the country and continued to do it,” Hall said. “I think what you do with your life is your epitaph.”
Hall is survived by his children, Joanna Gleason (Chris Sarandon), Richard Hall, and Sharon Hall (Todd Ellis Kessler), and his grandchildren, Aaron David Gleason, Mikka Tokuda-Hall, Maggie Tokuda-Hall, Jack Kessler, and Levi Kessler.
Reprinted with permission from the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles