City gets the ‘Squares’ — and Peter Marshall to host

By By Marta Tankersley
Staff writer
FestivALL is bringing a unique event, “The West Virginia Squares,” presented by the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame and featuring Mountain State celebrities, young scholars and West Virginia native Peter Marshall, the original host of the popular game show “Hollywood Squares,” to Charleston Monday and Tuesday evenings.
West Virginia Music Hall of Famer Billy Edd Wheeler will be one of the stars of “The West Virginia Squares.”
“Three’s Company” star and West Virginia native Joyce DeWitt will be starring in “The West Virginia Squares,” which is being taped by PBS at the Clay Center on Monday and Tuesday evenings.
Tony Award-winning Mountain State native Michael Cerveris will join other stars in a spin-off of the popular TV game show “Hollywood Squares” during FestivALL.

“Pick a star, win a prize,” iconic NBC television game show host and West Virginia native Peter Marshall would say at the start of each and every game of “The Hollywood Squares” during his more than 15 years with the program.

It’s a phrase he’ll be bringing back to vogue during FestivALL, when he will host and co-produce the PBS taping of four segments called “The West Virginia Squares” at the Clay Center on Monday and Tuesday, beginning at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

“I just love coming home,” Marshall said in a telephone interview. “I love the people there and it reminds me of my youth.”

Marshall was born in Clarksburg, lived in Wheeling for a time, but got his stage name from Marshall College — now Marshall University — in Huntington, where he lived with his grandparents before going to New York City to begin his career at the age of 12, according to event sponsor West Virginia Music Hall of Fame Director Michael Lipton.

“Peter has been very involved with this event and is just an incredible guy,” Lipton said.

There will be a bonus fifth round called “Hillbilly Squares” featuring “Vaudeville-style off-color humor” presented at 10 p.m. Tuesday, Lipton said.

“The uncensored version won’t be recorded and has nothing to do with PBS,” he said. “It’s intended to let the stars reveal their senses of humor and is recommended only for adult audiences.

“Peter will be going by his given name, Pierre LaCock, in this no-holds-barred segment. If you want to see it, you have to be there!”

The game show traditionally features nine stars arranged in a tic-tac-toe format who answer questions, right or wrong, and the contestant must agree or disagree.

During his reign on the popular show, Marshall described the rules by telling audiences, “The object for the players is to get three stars in a row, either across, up-and-down or diagonally; it is up to them to figure out if a star is giving a correct answer or making one up; that’s how they get the squares.”

Featured stars are all native West Virginians and include Wheeling native Joyce DeWitt, who played Janet Wood on the TV show “Three’s Company”; two 2008 West Virginia Music Hall of Fame inductees — Billy Edd Wheeler and Charlie McCoy; 2011 “America’s Got Talent” winner Landau Eugene Murphy Jr.; Tony Award winner Michael Cerveris; Donnie Davisson of the Davisson Brothers Band; Autumn Blair of “Chasing Nashville” fame; and Miss West Virginia USA 2014 Charisse Haislop.

Local “celebrities” will include Charleston Mayor Danny Jones; “Mountain Stage” host Larry Groce; radio personality Steve Bishop; Bil Lepp, five-time winner of the West Virginia Liars Contest; and pianist Bob Thompson.

Before each show gets started, the audience will be treated to a warm-up with songs performed by Marshall, Murphy, McCoy and Thompson.

Contestants for the more traditional games will include middle-school-age winners of the 2014 West Virginia Golden Horseshoe, the annual West Virginia Department of Education contest that promotes learning state history. Contestants for the adult version are yet to be announced.

Questions on Monday will deal with music in the Mountain State. Tuesday’s topic will be West Virginia history.

“The Hollywood Squares” first aired in 1966 and ran almost uninterrupted through 2004.

Marshall hosted more than 5,000 episodes between 1966 and 1981 and won five Emmy Awards, according to Lipton. In 2013, TV Guide ranked “The Hollywood Squares” No. 7 in its list of the “60 Greatest Game Shows of All Time.”

Locally, Marshall co-hosted the 2011 West Virginia Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony and was himself inducted in 2013.

At 88, Marshall has enjoyed a long career as a writer, recording artist and actor. He has more than 40 credits listed on the Internet Movie Database website of information related to the entertainment industry.

He was honored with a proclamation by Jones marking Saturday as Peter Marshall Day. He also was scheduled to serve as the grand marshal of the FestivALL Art Parade on Saturday.

Marshall is excited to have the opportunity to showcase his home state, its stars and young scholars in this unique way.

“We’re going to have a lot of fun doing ‘West Virginia Squares,” he said. “I hope you will join us!”

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