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Multiple Years / Bill Cullen Secret Disability
The affable Bill Cullen is largely considered one of the greatest TV game show hosts ever. (One poll lists him as THE greatest.) Witty and charming, Cullen was a fixture as a game show host and as a regular panelist on I've Got a Secret for years. One source claims he earned $300,000 in 1958--an extraordinary sum for that era. During his impressive broadcasting career which spanned from radio sports commentary in 1942 to his umpteenth TV game show gig in 1986, Cullen hid an obvious physical disability: As a toddler in 1921 he had been stricken by polio. As a teen he was further crippled in a motorcycle mishap. The end result was that Cullen had severe mobility issues until the day he died. As was the norm at the time, the TV networks did their best to hide Cullen's disability as a kindness to him. Every game show he hosted he was never shown walking to his place; he was always already seated behind a podium and stayed that way for the show's duration. On July 9, 1961 he was a mystery guest on the original What's My Line. Usually the WML mystery guest would be shown signing in and then walking a few feet to sit beside host John Daly. When Cullen entered, the camera focused on the blindfolded panelists until he was seated--which must have puzzled millions of viewers that night. Mel Brooks related a horribly awkward story about a time he appeared on the Cullen-hosted game show Eye Guess in the late 1960s. At the end of the tapings, Brooks walked toward Cullen's desk to thank him for having him on. Cullen walked towards Brooks with his arms flailing and his feet turned over at the ankles. Brooks thought Cullen was doing a deliberately comical walk, so Brooks mimicked it! Brooks was aghast when someone shouted that Cullen was disabled. Cullen, however, laughed loudly and told Brooks he was glad someone finally had the courage to poke fun at him. Cullen said he always felt self-conscious about the special treatment he received. Cullen also suffered through pancreatic surgery in the late 1960s. He was never as robust looking afterwards. A lifelong smoker, Cullen succumbed to lung cancer in 1990 at age 70.