One of the cool things about getting sick with any bug as a kid was staying home, lounging, and watching TV. The key was to be sick enough to stay home for a day or two, but not so sick that you couldn’t enjoy it. (It’s hard to do much more than just lay there and moan if he’s got a flu-like virus and a 105-degree fever.)
A well-known ABC game show “The Dating Game” hosted by Jim Lange, originally aired from 1965 to 1973, and then re-covered several times. If you were a pre-teen or teenager at the time and had nothing better to do, you would probably shoot the show, which aired mid-afternoon. It was the first of many shows created and wrapped by Chuck Barris (who later stepped out from behind the camera to host the absurd and hilarious “Gong Show”).
The “The Dating Game” format was straightforward, and typically featured a bachelor interviewing three unseen suitors out of sight, usually asked leading and flirtatious questions that invited them to engage in intelligent repartee. The bachelorette’s winning choice would then emerge from behind the screen and two would then presumably arrange to go out on a date.
The show was a success. Over the years, a who’s who of future celebrities have made appearances before they rose to fame, including Suzanne Somers and John Ritter (both famous for “Three’s Company”), Farrah Fawcett, Lindsay Wagner and Lee Majors (Bionic Woman and Six Million Dollar Man), Tom Selleck, Andy Kaufman, Steve Martin, Arnold Schwarzenegger and many more.
While dating was the overall goal of the show, it sometimes didn’t work. This was the case after a 1978 episode when Lange introduced number one bachelor Rodney Alcala as “a successful photographer who made his debut when his father found him in the darkroom at the age of 13. years, fully developed. Between takes, you might find him parachuting or riding a motorbike.
Later news articles noted that the technology did not exist for background checks and national databases. Therefore, those who worked on the series were unaware that Alcala had a very concerning track record. He was attractive and confident – or at least one of the nominee coordinators thought he was – and women should like him.
During the episode, Cheryl Bradshaw asked Alcala questions such as “What is your best time?” And “I’ll serve you for dinner.” What’s your name and what do you look like?
Bradshaw ended up choosing Alcala at the end of the show. Bachelor number two Jed Mills had a particular feeling about the selection and in subsequent interviews he described Alcala as “scary.” When Bradshaw and Alcala met face to face, the chemistry seemed to run out of steam almost noticeably, according to one of the show’s staff, and morphed into a “pretty lukewarm unit.”
The next day, Bradshaw called the show’s office and spoke to nominees coordinator Ellen Metzger, who recalled on ABC’s “20/20” that Bradshaw said, “Ellen, I can’t date this guy. There are some weird vibrations coming out of him. He’s very weird. I’m not comfortable. Is that going to be a problem? Metzger of course said it wouldn’t be at all.
Even though all of the couples who dated after the show were chaperoned, it’s a very good thing Bradshaw had the intuition to notice that something was wrong with Alcala. When Lange introduced him, there was no way at the time to know that Alcala was in the midst of a wave of murders, having already killed at least five women and being charged with attempted murder of a young girl. 8 years old.
The photographer, who enticed the women in by offering to take their photos, was ultimately convicted of killing a 12-year-old girl and four women in Orange County, Calif., And two women in New York City, all between 1971 and 1979. He was also suspected of or linked to other murders in Los Angeles, Seattle, Arizona, New Hampshire and Marin County, California, and possibly many more.
Alcala, 77, died a few weeks ago of natural causes in a hospital in Kings County, California. He was on death row in California. Even though many serial murderers reach a level of notoriety, for my part, I had never heard of Alcala until the news of his death and was totally unaware of his connection to one of the Stones of touch of the pop cultural entertainment of my youth.