Today, we say Happy Birthday to the original man behind “Jeopardy!” — Art Fleming. Born on May 1, 1924, Fleming is remembered for being the host of the first version of the television game show “Jeopardy!,” which aired on NBC from 1964 until 1975.
He was born to parents William and Marie Fazzin, who immigrated to New York City from Austria. In high school, Fleming was a successful athlete on his high schools’ football team. He later attended Colgate and Cornell Universities, where he had a spot on the football and water polo teams at both colleges.
After graduating from college, he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II for three and a half years. After his time in the Navy, Fleming entered the world of entertainment when he became an announcer at a radio station.
Later, in 1959, he began acting. He first starred as detective Ken Franklin in the ABC TV series “International Detective.” He also played attorney Jeremy Pitt in “The Californians,” an NBC Western. He first grabbed the attention of game show creator, Merv Griffin, when he appeared in a commercial for Trans World Airlines. Griffin later invited Fleming to audition for the host of Griffin’s new quiz show, “Jeopardy!”
Art Fleming Lands Hosting Gig on ‘Jeopardy!’
After nailing the audition, Fleming hosted the show during its original run from 1964 to 1975 and again from 1978 to 1979. Additionally, Fleming starred in 48 films. After the show was canceled in 1975, Fleming returned to acting. He starred in MacArthur and appeared in American Raspberry and appeared in Starsky and Hutch’s episodes, “Kingston: Confidential,” and the miniseries “The Moneychangers.”
Later, in 1983, Griffin began planning a revival of “Jeopardy!” and asked Fleming if he would return as its host. However, Fleming turned down the offer. As a result, Alex Trebek (a close friend of Fleming’s) took on the role that would make him a household name.
Afterward, Fleming returned to radio. He moved to St. Louis to work in radio, where he co-hosted a midday talk show with Mary Phelan and a weekend radio game show called “Games People Play.”
On Sunday nights, he also co-hosted “Trivia Spectacular” alongside David Strauss, who worked as a schoolteacher. Fleming also hosted the radio program: “When Radio Was.”
Fleming died of pancreatic cancer in Florida on April 25, 1995, six days before his 71st birthday. According to his obituary, he had been diagnosed with cancer merely two weeks before his death.