Today would have been the 82nd birthday of Bert Convy, born Bernard Whalen Convy in St. Louis, MO on July 23, 1933. He was a game-show fixture in the ’70s, appearing on the panels of such shows as To Tell The Truth and Match Game. He went on to host many game shows through the years, winning a Best Game Show Host Emmy Award for Tattletales in 1977. Not too many guys appeared in the original Broadway cast of Fiddler on the Roof and played two years of minor-league baseball. Those achievements, however, are not why I honor his memory. No, today I bring you Bert Convy, Rock Icon.
Let me backtrack a little. (Actually, since the song in question is from 1958 and the following story is from 1994 or 1995, I guess I’m actually going forward. Whatever.) During my sophomore year in Stanford’s Kimball Hall dormitory, I was friends with seniors Rick and Mike. (I used to discuss comedy with Mike, who became a screenwriter after graduation. I had a bit of a crush on Rick, so I was most likely too concerned with seeming witty and charming to say anything memorable to him.) They introduced me to their buddy Josh, a garage-rock buff from Coalinga. During one of our occasional chats about records, Josh insisted I phone his dorm room to listen to his outgoing voice-mail message.
“Just trust me.”
A couple of hours later, I did. That’s when I first heard “The Gorilla.”
“It’s Elizabeth, Josh,” I barked into the phone. “GET ME A COPY!”
He did. As I examined the Monster Bop compilation track listing, the incongruity floored me. “Bert Convy,” I breathed. “Bert Convy? The host of Win, Lose, or Draw, Bert Convy?”
Yes, folks, it’s that Bert Convy, and he’s responsible for a lot of what I love about “The Gorilla.” Sure, it would be brilliant enough with the twangy guitar hook, or that crazed saxophone. Yet, only a suave future game show host could convince me that the zoo would be the hangout of choice for a group of hip, happenin’ teens. Convy’s sunny delivery of the verses turns perfectly as hysteria builds in the chorus, leading up to that echo-laden portent of doom: “GO-RIL-LAAAAAA!”
It’s still glorious. Thank you, Josh, and bless you, Bert Convy!