This Man Was Jeopardy’s First Host. Who Was Art Fleming?

By | January 15, 2019

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Left: Art Fleming in a 'Jeopardy!' publicity photo. Right: Fleming in a cameo appearance in 'Airplane II: The Sequel' (1982). Sources: (NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images); IMDB

Today, we associate Alex Trebek with the TV quiz show Jeopardy!, but the first host of the program was Art Fleming, a man whose charisma helped make the Jeopardy! a big hit for a decade, and then some. We hardly question the authenticity of quiz shows these days, nor do we suspect champions like Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter, Austin Rogers, and Buzzy Cohen of anything but genius. But Jeopardy!'s first host was in a different position, having to repair the reputation of quiz shows in the wake of the quiz-show scandals of the 1950s. (The contest-fixing was documented in the well known film 1994 Quiz Show.) The dignified and well-spoken Fleming fit the bill, earning the audience's trust and building the original Jeopardy! into a pop culture phenomenon. Art Fleming was not the most famous person who has hosted Jeopardy, but he certainly broke ground on the institution.

Art Fleming Was A WWII Navy Pilot Who Dreamed Of Being An Actor

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Art Fleming’s parents were Austrian dancers who dreamed of making it big in America. When that didn’t happen, they turned their attention on their young son, Art, who was born in New York City. Art Fleming did land a role in a Broadway musical when he was just a lad, but he hoped to find work as an actor after graduating from school. World War II derailed that dream and Fleming became a Navy pilot. Following the war, Fleming did find acting jobs in New York, mostly radio and television commercials.