The question: Who is Alex Trebek?
Roll over Pat Sajak and tell Vanna White the news. The buzz these days on the game-show circuit is all about the quick-witted majordomo of Jeopardy! Without benefit of a lissome letter turner or contestants getting hysterical over dinette sets, Trebek, 47, has ushered Jeopardy! into the No. 2 spot, just behind Wheel of Fortune. Now as the emcee of the new Classic Concentration, Trebek has added more viewers to his daily fold, making him a worthy rival to Pat and Vanna.
But forget the numbers. Insiders say that sophistication gives Alex the edge. "Frankly I think he's the best in the business," says veteran game-show host Jim (The Dating Game) Lange. "He's bright, quick and good-looking." Jefferson Graham, author of Come on Down: The Game Show Book, says, "The cliché host is a cross between your son-in-law and a used-car salesman. But Trebek could play James Bond in a movie. He brings a classy tone to a classy show."
Jeopardy!, which Trebek has hosted since its 1984 comeback, is the L.A. Law of game shows, the one people aren't embarrassed to admit they watch. With Trebek reading the answers and contestants responding in the form of questions, the show covers a broad range of Mensa-bait trivia categories, from Those Darn Etruscans to Shakespeare on Broadway, and draws the likes of systems analysts and college professors as fans.
Much credit for the show's cachet goes to Trebek. He's worked to give Jeopardy!a social conscience, adding such categories as Black America and Ms. to the format (well, hey, that's relevance in game shows). Above all, he says, "We try to reinforce the learning ethic. A question may arouse your curiosity to the point where you'll go to a library and take out a book on the subject. If we can get people interested in learning, maybe we'll help the country. But we're not on a crusade. We're a half-hour quiz show designed to entertain people."
Not that Alex will stoop to just any kind of blarney. In January he began hosting Value Television, a syndicated home-shopping program thinly disguised as a talk show, but exited in May. Normally serious and reserved, Trebek turns sarcastic when the subject is broached. Some of the show's products were "crap," he says, and his interview segements were reduced to, "Hi, how are you? Saw your new series. It was wonderful. Do you ever buy gifts? Cause here's a wonderful toaster oven."
Yes, Trebek has integrity. But what his friends are more concerned about is getting him some romance. On a recent show, after a contestant correctly guessed that flamingos mate but once a year, he remarked, "Flamingos and I have a great deal in common." Divorced seven years ago after a six-year marriage and no children, Trebek has since remained unhitched. "We have prospects for him," says his neighbor, actress Ruta Lee, "but it's never quite right. He liked Stefanie Powers—we set that up. He liked Rona Barrett for a while. What his friends think is right for Alex is never what Alex thinks is right for Alex."
He's also dated Beverly Sassoon and Falcon Crest actress Susan Sullivan, but he shares his tri-level, 10-room Hollywood Hills home (which he helped build) with a sweet, funny French-Canadian woman—his mom, Lucille. She moved in two years ago. Lucille divorced Alex's father, a Russian-born chef, in 1978. "I do Alex's banking and I run around doing errands for him," says Lucille. "I'm like his shopper." Alex likes the setup, but Lucille wouldn't mind being replaced by a wife. "The longer he stays single, the harder it's going to be," she says. "He's become so self-sufficient."
Self-sufficient? Try compulsively organized. According to Mom, Trebek puts all his light clothes on white hangers, all his dark clothes on brown hangers, arranges his spices alphabetically and likes to cook for exactly 10 guests. "If you move anything out of place, he lets you know about it," says Lucille. "I tell you, it's sickening." His friend Meredith MacRae says, "I heard, but I don't know for a fact, that someone once switched his basil and oregano and he threw a fit."
Such outbursts are apparently atypical, however. Growing up in Sudbury, Ontario, says Lucille, "He kept very much to himself. He'd sit on the steps and watch the other children play." An unstudious but gifted pupil, Trebek graduated with a philosophy degree from the University of Ottawa in 1961 and spent the next 12 years working with the Canadian Broadcasting Company. He switched to game shows in 1973, when producer Alan (Growing Pains) Thicke asked him to host The Wizard of Odds. After that, Trebek charmed his way through such shows as High Rollers, The $128,000 Question and Battlestars before joining Jeopardy!
So when's he going to charm his way into someone's affections? "That's a toughy," he answers, looking away. "I think I would like to get married or at least have a really important relationship." Then he neatly slides into the bromide. "But with all my travel and work, I really don't have the time. That makes it difficult." Well, he does keep busy. Besides taping Jeopardy! and Classic Concentration two days a week each, Trebek spends five months of the year on the road, making promotional appearances and conducting Jeopardy! contestant searches. But if his schedule doesn't include much time for amour, his mom still hasn't given up hope. "He's a wonderful son," she says, "and that only means he has the credentials of a good husband and a good father." Any takers?
- Susan Spillman.
The answer: He's the most dapper, brainy game-show host on TV; he drives a Jag, cooks gourmet meals, makes nearly $1 million a year and lives with his mother.