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'Life' and How They Lived It

7 Sep, 2005 By: Brendan Howard

Ralph Edwards gives actress Betty White the script of her episode of "This Is Your Life."

Gary Edwards … this is your life!

As a boy, he idolized Roy Rogers. Walking backstage on his father's TV show, “This Is Your Life,” as a kid, he visited Rogers' horse, Trigger, and sat on the crooning cowboy's lap.

Tough life.

The weekly TV show aired from 1958 to 1961, with Gary's dad, Ralph, as the host. Later versions with different hosts popped up in the 1960s, '70s, '80s and '90s. Each episode featured a surprised famous person, athlete or regular Joe who would try to guess the identity of backstage readers of his or her life story and then meet them one by one. At the end, they were presented with prizes and a book of their life stories, which were Ralph's actual scripts with notes, according to his son.

R2 Entertainment May 31 released the 18-episode This Is Your Life: The Ultimate Collection (three-DVD set $49.99), with episodes featuring legends from sports, film and TV, as well as inspiring stories from real-life heroes. With more volumes on the way, producers were coy about a possible resurrection of the show on TV.

Asked which episodes are the best, Gary replied, “From an archivist's standpoint, they're all treasures.”

Gary also said the film is in amazing shape: “We've got 99.9 percent of the shows.”That makes it easier for R2 and the folks at Ralph Edwards Productions, who are looking for episodes for a possible Volume 2.

Gary Edwards said his father always looked for shows “that could help a cause.” For instance, the inspirational tale of hero Rear Admiral Samuel Fuqua led to a plea for donations to a Pearl Harbor monument. The donations were the seed money for the monument there today.

In picking shows for the DVD, Gary Edwards said producers were careful not to include people who didn't want be on the disc — even if copyright law is on their side.

“It was Ralph's tradition: We would not do it if they didn't want to be a part of it,” his son said.

If a surprised subject showed up on the day of filming and didn't want to do it — even after the show's producers had gotten the go-ahead from the subject's close relative or spouse, and a manager or agent — the producers respected that and went with a backup show.

It's a respect that's lacking in most reality TV today.

“‘This Is Your Life' was like a tribute. They were not there to roast,” Gary said. “If it's edgy, they've probably already talked about it before.”

Case in point: Johnny Cash talked about his former pill addiction, but it was already a subject covered in the press, and it was a demon he was proud to have conquered.“It looks like it was invasive,” said producer Bianca Pino, “but everybody felt it would be OK.”

At the start of each season, Ralph would gather the crew to review another important rule: Never do a show about him. If you did, you'd be fired.

Ralph worried if he were a subject, viewers wouldn't see him as an objective host anymore.

“Ralph felt if there was a show about him, he'd never be able to step back again,” Pino said.

Today, Ralph has had to step away for health reasons. Described as “92 and frail” by his son, Ralph has given his blessing to the project.

And he's still remembered fondly around the offices at Ralph Edwards Productions. His love for people was never a put-on, according to Pino, who said he's known as “The Gentleman.”

“He was always available for people,” Pino said. “He was always asking everybody, ‘Are you OK? Do you have everything you need?’

Ralph Edwards Productions also is home to lots of other classic TV shows, but Gary Edwards laughingly said not to expect the famous “Name That Tune” on DVD anytime soon: “‘Name That Tune'? I'm not sure we could handle the licensing on that.”

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