‘Hogan’s Heroes’: One Actor Became the First Host of ‘Family Feud’

by John Jamison
(Photo by CBS/Getty Images)

Richard Dawson was the host responsible for getting “Family Feud” off the ground and making it the household game show we all know and love today. But before he transitioned to hosting, he was an accomplished actor who many may remember from his role on “Hogan’s Heroes.”

From 1965 to 1971, Richard Dawson starred in all 168 episodes of the classic war comedy as Cpl. Peter Newkirk. It was the biggest role he’d landed in his then-young acting career. Before “Hogan’s Heroes,” Dawson made small appearances on shows like “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.”

That’s the type of work that presented itself to him in the early 1960s. But in 1965, he landed the role of Weaver in the film “King Rat.” His performance put him on the radar, and it actually earned him an audition for the now-iconic show.

They liked him so much that they had Dawson audition for the role of Colonel Hogan. But he was reportedly too British sounding to carry “Hogan’s Heroes” in the title role. Evidently, however, he turned in a solid audition, as the show kept him on, bumping him down to the more culturally appropriate role of Newkirk.

If you asked Dawson himself, however, the audition went terribly. In a 2010 interview with the Archive of American Television, Dawson talked about the process of getting the job on “Hogan’s Heroes.”

“I’m sure they have my audition tape somewhere. And they should show that tape to every actor and actress ever auditioning and say ‘choose any of the things he did, and avoid them,” Dawson said. “Then, there will be a good chance you’ll get the role.’ And I’m not putting myself down to be cute.”

The ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ Star’s Iconic Quirk on ‘Family Feud’

In 1976, Richard Dawson was tapped for the host role on the brand new game show “Family Feud.” Dawson was already a familiar face to the television audience. One, for his classic role of Newkirk on “Hogan’s Heroes.” And two, for his presence as a panelist on “Match Game” for five years in the mid-1970s.

But none of that would prove quite as recognizable as the controversial habit he developed as the host of “Family Feud.” Richard Dawson, without fail, greeted all the female contestants on the show with a kiss on the cheek. Which, considering his European origin, isn’t a crazy greeting by any means.

It all started when he wanted to help a struggling contestant.

“I said, ‘I’m gonna do something that my mom would do to me whenever I had a problem of any kind. … And I kissed her on the cheek, and I said, ‘That’s for luck.’ And she said, ‘Asparagus.’ … They went on to win,” Dawson said in his interview with the Archive of American Television.

He continued the practice with future contestants, and it got to the point of being controversial. Though, Dawson kept it up. And he was eventually vindicated by a survey of the “Family Feud” audience, who overwhelmingly supported the greeting.