Once upon a time, avant-garde composers, surrealist painters, and Gonzo journalists made guest appearances on the most mainstream American game shows. It doesn’t happen much anymore.
We’ve shown you John Cage perform on I’ve Got a Secret in 1960; Salvador Dalí do his Dalí schtick on What’s My Line in 1952; and a young Frank Zappa turn a bicycle into a musical instrument on The Steve Allen Show in ’63. Now we can add to the list a young Hunter S. Thompson making an appearance on To Tell the Truth, one of the longest-running TV game shows in American history. The episode (above) aired on February 20, 1967, the year after Thompson published his first major book of journalism, Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. (See him get confronted by the Angels here.)
If you’re not familiar with the show, To Tell the Truth works like this:
The show features a panel of four celebrities whose object is the correct identification of a described contestant who has an unusual occupation or experience. This central character is accompanied by two impostors who pretend to be the central character; together, the three persons are said to belong to a “team of challengers.” The celebrity panelists question the three contestants; the impostors are allowed to lie but the central character is sworn “to tell the truth”. After questioning, the panel attempts to identify which of the three challengers is telling the truth and is thus the central character.
Given the whole premise of the show, Thompson, only 30 years old, was still an unrecognizable face on America’s cultural scene. But, with the publication of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas just around the corner, all of that was about to change.