Famed Winnipegger Monty Hall dead at 96

Monty Hall — the engaging, smooth-talking Winnipeg-born host of Let's Make a Deal for 23 years on all three U.S. broadcast TV networks — died Saturday. He was 96.

Hall co-created Let's Make a Deal, which debuted on NBC in 1963 and became a TV staple

Monty Hall arrives at the Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala at the Palm Springs Convention Center in Palm Springs, Calif. on Jan. 4, 2014. (ordan Strauss, Invision/The Associated Press)

If not for the prejudice of the times, Monte Halperin, the Jewish butcher's kid from Winnipeg's north end, might have entered medical school and Monty Hall would never have been born.

Hall, the engaging, smooth-talking host of Let's Make a Deal for 23 years on all three U.S. broadcast TV networks died Saturday, he was 96.

But in 2002, around the time he was being named to the Order of Manitoba, he recalled that it had been his dream to become a doctor, not an actor.

"Every poor kid wants to get into some kind of profession and, in my case, I wanted to get into medicine to become a doctor," said Hall, a product of the same north-end Winnipeg schools that produced Guess Who frontman Burton Cummings and comedian David Steinberg.

"I applied at the end of my pre-med and I applied the following year. (He wasn't accepted.) My dreams of medicine evaporated."

At the time, there was a secret quota system in place designed to severely restrict access to medical school for Jewish students. It ended shortly after Hall gave up on his dream.

Instead, Hall turned to his other talent: performing.

He had been active in student theatre at the University of Manitoba and worked at a radio station in Winnipeg. After a short stint at the Canadian Wheat Board, he moved to Toronto and continued to work in radio.

While there, he developed and hosted the quiz show Who Am I for CFRB and hosted a CBC television dance program.

He moved to the United States in 1955, where he worked for NBC on radio and television and later CBS, hosting various programs.

He hosted the game show Keep Talking in 1958 but his career path was sealed for certain when, with partner Stefan Hatos, he co-created Let's Make a Deal and in 1963 started offering contestants "Door No. 1, door No. 2 or door No.3."

Telescope: Monty Hall

52 years ago
Duration 21:42
Daytime game show great and Winnipeg native Monty Hall smiles once more for the CBC cameras.

Although it was off the air twice (from 1977-80 and 1981-84) the show was a popular staple of daytime television on NBC, CBS and ABC for decades. It ended its run on NBC in 1991 before returning to CBS in 2009 with Wayne Brady as host.

"It was just amazing and it was one-of-a-kind really," said Michelle Morin, a Prince Albert, Sask., resident who grew up watching the show wondering what door a guest was going to go for.

Hatos and Hall created other shows — Split Second, Chain Letter3 for the MoneyAnybody's Guess — but none ever reached the same enduring level of popularity as Let's Make a Deal.

'Wore Winnipeg on his sleeve'

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said Hall was a true ambassador for the prairie city in Hollywood.

"He wore Winnipeg on his sleeve and in his heart," Bowman told CBC Saturday night.

Hall and his show even spawned a mathematical brain teaser. The Monty Hall Problem uses his familiar doors to teach a little bit about odds and probabilities.

Outside the studio, Hall became a major fundraiser for Variety Clubs International and other charitable causes.

With his wife Marilyn he had three children who all went into entertainment. Daughter Joanna Gleason won a Tony award in 1987 for her role in Broadway's Into the Woods and has worked in television and film. Daughter Sharon Hall and son Richard Hall also both worked behind the scenes in television.

'You can't take Canada out of the boy' 

Besides the Order of Manitoba, he was made a member of the Order of Canada and has his name on Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto, as well as Hollywood's more famous original and another in Palm Springs.

Although he became an American citizen and raised his family in Beverly Hills, Hall never forgot Canada or his hometown and made many visits back to Winnipeg.

"You can take the boy out of Canada but you can't take Canada out of the boy," he once said. "I still follow and pull for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and I still pull for Canada when they play the Olympic hockey."

Sharon Hall says her father died of heart failure at his home in Beverly Hills. She says Hall enjoyed his fame and never turned down an autograph or a chance to use his name to help others.

She estimates he raised nearly $1 billion US for charity over his lifetime.

With files from the CBC's Austin Grabish