After having experienced the 1960s and 1970s during my childhood, I thought I had heard and seen just about everything on TV. U.S. presidential candidate Richard Nixon appeared briefly on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In to help him secure the youth vote. The U.S. Communist Party held a fundraiser on TV and raised about $1000. Legendary singer James Brown performed one of his sexually-charged tunes doing a star-studded telethon to raise money for the Democratic Party.
Brown must have really been into the song because in the middle of it he started taking off his pants! After a few seconds the camera focused in on his face and remained there for the rest of his performance. Afterward, the embarrassed hosts pretended like it never happened and moved onto the next act. Controversy was the name of the game back then if you wanted ratings, but the most outrageous TV event of all took place behind the scenes on The Dating Game without anyone even knowing about it.
The Dating Game was the brainchild of TV game show wiz Chuck Barris who also created The Newlywed Game and The Gong Show. ABC bought the concept and the show began airing in December of 1965. It became so popular that ABC created a prime time version in 1966. Altogether, the show ran from 1965 until 1999 with a couple of revivals and four hosts beginning with Jim Lange and ending with Chuck Woolery.
Because of the show’s popularity a lot of aspiring actors and performers wanted to be contestants for the FaceTime the program provided, especially after the primetime version began. Among those that appeared on The Dating Game before they became famous or at the very beginning of their entertainment careers were Michael Jackson, Burt Reynolds, Farrah Fawcett, Suzanne Somers, Lindsay Wagner, Leif Garrett, Tom Selleck, Lee Majors, The Carpenters, Andy Kaufman, Steve Martin, John Ritter, Phil Hartman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dusty Springfield, Maureen McCormick, Barry Williams, Sally Field, Richard Dawson and Paul Lynde.
The show had a fun format. Three guys (Batchelors) would answer playful questions put to them by a girl (Bachelorette) who was separated from them by a wall. She could not see her suitors. After a designated period of time she had to pick one. Reactions varied, but at least the Bachelorettes could look forward to an awesome evening or three. The prize was a chaperoned date to some exotic location or an expensive staycation. The chaperone was a good idea in case you got stuck with a guy who was a little too touchy and feely. It was also helpful if you happen to be Cheryl Bradshaw.
In 1978 Cheryl was a Bachelorette on The Dating Game. Her choice of three guys included Rodney Alcala who was Bachelor Number #1. He was introduced as a professional photographer that enjoyed skydiving and motorcycling as hobbies. Bachelor Number #2, Jed Mills, who sat next to Alcala later said, “He was creepy. Definitely creepy,” However, he was a smooth talker and easily able to be affable when it suited him. Maybe that’s why Cheryl Bradshaw chose him as the winner.
As soon as Alcala walked around the wall and met her, he grinned and said, “We’re going to have a great time together, Cheryl.” Or not. After she had a conversation with him backstage, Cheryl later told a newspaper reporter that Alcala made her feel ill and she refused the date. Good move. In 1968 he was convicted of raping an eight year old girl. During and after his Dating Game appearance he was killing girls earning him the nickname, “The Dating Game Killer.” One detective called him a “Killing Machine” during a trial in 2010. He may have been killing since the late 1960s. He was already a serial rapist and serial killer by that time.
Alcala used photography as a way to get girls and boys to go with him, promising professional photos or a modeling assignment. He asked them to strip naked, or made them do so, then photographed and raped them. He enjoyed strangling the girls until they were almost unconscious, then reviving them. He did this several times and may have raped them each time as well until he finally killed them. He also photographed teenage boys nude and in various sexual poses. He tended to let them go. One survivor said he had several nude young girls at the session and liked posing them with teen boys.
Still on parole for the rape and some pot busts, Alcala’s parole officer inexplicably allowed him to travel to New York in 1977 for an alleged photography assignment. While there Alcala killed Ellen Jane Hover (23). She was the daughter of the owner of Ciro’s in Hollywood. Her remains were later found on the Rockefeller Estate in Westchester County. Acala raped and killed in several states and the exact number of his victims remains unknown. He photographed hundreds of girls and teen boys. The identities of most of those in the photos remains unknown. He was sentenced to death in California.
It’s unknown if Chuck Barris was on the Dating Game set the day the episode with Rodney Alcala was taped. If he was then there is the possibility that two serial killers who murdered for entirely different reasons would have set an even more macabre record for a TV game show. The obvious question is was Chuck Barris a contract killer for the CIA as indicated in the book ‘Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind’. It’s a tough question to answer. Some of those close to the entertainment entrepreneur when he died at age 87 chose to weigh in on the controversy, but their opinions were split.
The type of recruitment and assignments described in the book are actually somewhat Atypical of a covert government agency. On one hand it’s not too difficult to find out about those procedures. On the other hand the book is written in a manner that makes the reader believe someone actually experienced those things. However, those situations could just as easily apply to an organization like the Mossad as it could the CIA. So that’s another possibility.
Watching the Gong Show exposes Barris as a moody guy experiencing emotions in a manner which says that things more important than the show were going on in his life. Those could have been family things given his tumultuous relationships and the drug and alcohol addictions that eventually took his daughter’s life. While many believe that Chuck’s CIA story was probably just him imaging another life, I say the jury is still out on the story until more facts or witnesses appear.
Want more? Read Guide To Serial Killers: The Best of the Worst