Arthur Fleming Fazzin (May 1, 1924 – April 25, 1995) was an American actor and television host. He hosted the first version of the television game show Jeopardy!, which aired on NBC from 1964 until 1975.
Fleming was born in New York City. His parents, William and Marie Fazzin, had immigrated to the United States from Austria. They were a popular dance team in Europe and brought their show to America. Their son Art was a varsity letterman football player at James Monroe High School in New York City, standing 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 m), weighing 220 pounds (100 kg). He later attended Colgate and Cornell Universities, starring on the football team, as well as water polo teams at both colleges. Fleming was a World War II veteran who served in the U.S. Navy for three and a half years as the pilot of a patrol bomber in the Atlantic.
After leaving the Navy, Fleming became an announcer at a radio station in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Here, he first shortened his name to “Art Fleming”. His radio career later took him to Akron, Ohio, and back home to New York. He was the first announcer to deliver the slogan “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should” for Winston cigarettes.
Fleming’s acting career began at age four, when he appeared in a Broadway musical. His first television role was as a stunt double for Ralph Bellamy in the detective series Man Against Crime. In 1959 he starred as detective Ken Franklin in the ABC TV series International Detective, credited as Arthur Fleming. He also played attorney Jeremy Pitt in The Californians, an NBC Western set in San Francisco during the gold rush of the 1850s.
Fleming also appeared in many television commercials. He was first spotted by Merv Griffin on a commercial for Trans World Airlines. Griffin thought Fleming was “authoritative, yet warm and interesting”, and Fleming was invited to audition the be the host of Griffin’s new game show Jeopardy!. Fleming won the job, and hosted the show during its original run of March 30, 1964, to January 3, 1975, and again from October 2, 1978, to March 2, 1979. Rather than describe him as the “host” of the program, announcer Don Pardo introduced him by saying, “and here’s the star of Jeopardy!, Art Fleming” As “the world’s greatest quiz show’s” first host, Fleming earned two Emmy Award nominations. While he was host of Jeopardy!, Fleming never missed a taping.
Because he hosted a quiz show, and in part because he was an avid reader with multiple college degrees, Fleming earned a reputation as being a storehouse of trivia. While appearing as a guest star on Hollywood Squares (another NBC game show in the 1960s and 1970s), Fleming was once selected as the “secret square”. His question was, “In 1938, who won the Wimbledon women’s tennis championship?” Fleming picked Helen Wills Moody, one of the three choices read to him. The female contestant (who had selected Fleming) turned to Hollywood Squares MC Peter Marshall, saying, “Art Fleming would never lie! I agree!” He was right, and the contestant won $11,000. Fleming later said he did not know a thing about tennis and had guessed the answer. He hoped the contestant would disagree, thinking he was wrong.
Throughout his career, Fleming starred in about 5,000 episodes of television programs and 48 motion pictures. After Jeopardy!’s first cancellation in 1975, Fleming returned to acting. In 1977 he played the role of W. Averell Harriman in the movie MacArthur starring Gregory Peck, and appeared in the comedy film American Raspberry, and also appeared in episodes of Starsky and Hutch, Kingston: Confidential, and the 1976 TV miniseries The Moneychangers.
Fleming also hosted a radio version of College Bowl for CBS Radio from 1979 to 1982. He hosted the NBC radio weekend magazine Monitor during 1972. Fleming reprised his role as host of Jeopardy! in the 1982 movie Airplane II: The Sequel and in “Weird Al” Yankovic’s music video “I Lost on Jeopardy”. Fleming was also often called upon to host mock versions of Jeopardy! at trade shows and conventions.
Fleming was asked to reprise his role as Jeopardy! host when Merv Griffin began developing a revival of the show in 1983. He declined, later stating in 1989 that he did not like the direction the show had gone in moving the show to Hollywood (being partial to his native New York, he felt that the Hollywood setting made the show dumber and less realistic). As a result, Alex Trebek (a personal friend of Fleming’s) took the position instead and continued to host the program until his death in 2020. Fleming and the staff of the modern Jeopardy! had a somewhat public feud over the nature of the show’s clues, as Fleming believed that the writers were inserting hints into the clues to make the correct question seem obvious and easy to guess.
From 1979 to until his retirement in 1992, Fleming hosted a daily radio talk show on KMOX in St. Louis. On Sunday evenings, he occasionally co-hosted Trivia Spectacular with David Strauss, a St. Louis schoolteacher. He also hosted the syndicated radio program When Radio Was, as well as two installments of the PBS science program NOVA as part of the National Science Test, where a studio audience tested their knowledge of science against a celebrity panel.
Fleming was first married to actress Peggy Ann Ellis, who worked on The Merv Griffin Show. They had a daughter, Jan Marie Hanna and were divorced after five years. (Fleming denied having a child in a 1974 interview, conducted after his first divorce.) Despite insisting he would never marry again after his first divorce, Fleming married Becky Lynn in a private ceremony at Norman Vincent Peale’s home. He soon adopted Becky’s two children from a prior marriage. Together they had five grandchildren. In 1992, Fleming retired and the family moved to Crystal River, Florida. He remained active in charity work: he hosted fundraising videos for the Citrus County United Way and became involved with the Citrus County Abuse Shelter Association, Inc. (where Becky served as director). He also hosted a syndicated television program, called Senior America, which showcased seniors and senior activities.
Fleming died of pancreatic cancer at his home in Florida on April 25, 1995, six days before his 71st birthday. According to his obituary in the Los Angeles Times, he had been diagnosed with cancer two weeks before his death. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea.
|1957||A Hatful of Rain||Jack – Mounted Cop|
|1977||American Raspberry||Colonel Grant|
|1982||Airplane II: The Sequel||Himself|