Growing up in Pasadena in the 1940s and ’50s, Bob Eubanks loved to watch game shows and
considered Cary Grant, Howard Hughes, Buddy Hackett and top game show host Bill Cullen among his idols. He was a child model as well, and the confluence of his passion for pop culture and his love of the camera combined to prepare him for a seven-decade career as one of the most beloved radio and TV hosts in America.
A member of the Class of 1955 at Pasadena High School, Eubanks went on to become an indelible part of Pasadena’s worldwide image as the co-host for 40 years of KTLA Channel 5’s coverage of the Rose Parade. He was also the longtime host of the wildly popular TV game shows “The Newlywed Game” and “Card Sharks,” but his 1960s run as one of LA’s most popular radio deejays might have given him his most remarkable experiences.
While working the mic for KRLA 870 AM from 6 to 9 p.m. nightly, Eubanks saw and heard firsthand just how big the Beatles phenomenon was becoming. When the young rockers decided to tour America, they set their sights on performing at the legendary Hollywood Bowl, but no established promoter would meet their asking price of $25,000 for three nights of shows.
Seeing a huge opportunity, Eubanks took the risk of borrowing that fee against the value of his home and stepped up to become the man who brought the Fab Four to one of America’s most famous concert venues. That gamble paid off with three sold-out shows that not only made Eubanks instantly wealthy, but started a long secondary career as the manager for other rock and country music icons, including Dolly Parton at her peak.
Eubanks will be sharing his favorite stories from his three years working with the Beatles this Saturday at the Alex Theatre, when he presents “Backstage with the Beatles.” The 90-minute extravaganza combines his stories with rare video clips and footage of himself and the band, in addition to live performances of several of the Beatles’ greatest hits by the tribute band Ticket to Ride.
“The Beatles did the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, and 70 million people watched as they announced they would tour America,” recalls Eubanks, who started high school at Glendale High before switching to Pasadena High. “Their agents went through normal promoters and they turned them down because the Beatles wanted $25,000 and no one would give them that when Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald were the top stars and made $10,000.
“I borrowed it off my house and that’s how we could get them,” he continues. “Because I was in radio I could feel what was going on. The first concert we sold out in three and a half hours. I had asked the box office guy if we could sell out in a day and he said, ‘Are you kidding me? Maybe a week.’ Then after three hours he came me and told me they were out completely.”
Eubanks also took the Beatles to Dodger Stadium, where they were able to sell a healthy 40,000 seats but not quite sell out because they weren’t allowed to sell the center-field bleacher seats. He still filled the bleachers by inviting schools and programs for the blind to bring participants there, where they could enjoy the excitement anyway by sitting next to the best part of the stadium’s sound system.
Eubanks created the “Backstage” show a year ago and has presented it several times across Southern California, with plans to take it across the country on tour. He already keeps active by hosting “Hollywood’s Greatest Game Shows” and “The Not-So-Newlywed Game” in theaters from coast to coast.
“’Backstage’ is a fun, one of a kind show, and I tell backstage stories from the Beatles shows,” explains Eubanks. “About 80 percent of them happened to me at the Hollywood Bowl in 1964 and ’65, and then Dodger Stadium was in ‘66. I tell stories that lead up to music, like talking about a very famous actress who wanted to meet John, and I told him ‘She loves you!’ Then, the band kicks right into the song ‘She Loves You.’
“I found a wonderful tribute band, Ticket To Ride,” he adds. “They are incredible. You can close your eyes and think it’s the Beatles. I’m so proud of the show because nobody else can do it. I’m one of the only people alive who produced a Beatles concert all three years they toured the US. All I can tell you is you will be shocked, amazed and entertained.”
Eubanks parlayed his success with the Beatles into managing other rock bands including two years of Rolling Stones tours. However, as the destructive drug culture started to dominate the rock and roll world, he switched to managing country artists in 1972 and handled Merle Haggard for 10 years in addition to the tours of Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell and Marty Robbins.
The 81-year-old Eubanks currently lives in the San Fernando Valley with his wife, successful interior designer Deborah James, and their young son. He married her in 2004, two years after his first wife Irma passed away. His own life has quirky details that also shock, amaze and entertain, such as his career as a professional rodeo cowboy, and the fact that he was the last person to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the 20th century.
The winner of nine Emmy Awards including a Lifetime Achievement Award and the broadcasting industry’s Golden Mic Award, Eubanks was also named by “TV Guide” as one of the top five game show hosts of all time. He was particularly beloved for “The Newlywed Game,” where he asked questions of newlywed couples that often involved a wink and a double entendre.
“The producers wanted me to say ‘make love’ when asking about contestants’ sex lives, and I wouldn’t do it because I didn’t think you should have to explain that to your children until you want to,” says Eubanks. “So I said ‘making whoopee’ because it’s a way Frank Sinatra described that, and I figured that’s a little classier by being vague and funny and a parent could figure out a different explanation if their kids asked.
“If you get dirty, you only have one place to go: dirtier,” adds Eubanks. “’Newlywed Game’ was the first time we looked into people’s bedrooms. I’m proud of what we did and I don’t think we did anything off color. It was a comedy show that happened to have a game.”
Regarding his retirement from Rose Parade coverage in 2016, Eubanks admits having “mixed feelings” about his departure with co-host Stephanie Edwards. The two were legendary for their comical banter throughout the parade, and were replaced by the more straightforward team of “Entertainment Tonight” hosts Leeza Gibbons and Mark Steines in 2017.
“We wanted to quit while we were ahead and our ratings were twice all the channels that showed the parade, combined,” notes Eubanks. “Vin Scully said he didn’t want to have someone tell him he had to go and that was the idea, so did we leave a little early? I don’t know. Mark and Leeza do a good job. I miss it a little bit, and so does my accountant.”
After 64 years as a host on radio, TV and the stage, Eubanks has a strong idea of the key to success in that field. He notes that “a good host stays out of the way of the format, and is someone who works between the contestant and the audience. The moment the host tries to ‘out-star’ the contestant or format, they blow it.”
He certainly hasn’t blown it in any of his colorful career moves. Asked about the key to his success in so many fields even into today, Eubanks notes that he has always made sure he was adaptable to necessary career shifts.
“I have a theory in life that you have to take your strengths and apply them in other areas,” says Eubanks. “I’ve been in the rodeo world a while as a ranch owner, and then took my knowledge of horses and put it to work with the Rose Parade.
“You keep reinventing yourself,” he concludes. “No one will hire me to do a game show now, so I take a live one on the road called ‘Hollywood’s Greatest Game Shows,’ which is our version of nine different games. That’s just a lot of fun, but the Beatles show is where my heart is.”
“Backstage With the Beatles” is performed at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 4, at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Tickets are $25 to $70, with $100 VIP tickets including a pre-show reception with Bob Eubanks and Ticket to Ride. Call (818) 243-2539 or visit alextheatre.org.