1950s live television: tricks of carnival game swindlers

This is a fascinating seven-minute segment from a 1950s television show called You Asked for It, which exposes the tricks of crooked carnival concession games. Robert Haskell, the vice president of the Society of American Magicians at the time, demonstrated the props and chicanery used by dishonest midway game operators that make it impossible to win. [via]

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  1. Several years back, DH and I went to the county fair. There was a booth that featured swinging targets and a paintball gun at about 20 paces. The objective was to cover the target with paint. This was before paintball was a common sporting event, and most of the other contestants 'shot from the hip', unloading the pellets in a single burst; naturally, they were having little success. DH paid and started banging away at the target, but only one pellet at a time. After the first few shots to 'range in' the gun, he was hitting consistently. With 2-3 pellets left, he called over the barker to evaluate coverage. The barker frowned and pointed at a couple of spots; DH obliged and painted the indicated places. The barker shook his head, pointed at an (invisible) clear fleck and immediately hosed down the target, preventing anyone from examining it. We were startled to hear a chorus of 'boos' from the audience we didn't know had gathered behind us.

  2. Not a real smart carny, risking the wrath of the mob (or at least his reputation with potential future marks) for one cheap stuffed animal or beer mirror or whatever.

  3. Diction in 1950s radio and television has such a distinct cadence. Something of the vaudeville and carnie to it, maybe? Neat clip.

  4. That was great: the skill and inventiveness of people separating marks from their money is pretty admirable impressive. After that, I had to watch the episode where the same guy dealt cards (immediately after a guy wrestling a chimpanzee and a jazz pianist* - that show was pretty... eclectic...). I've met one guy who demonstrated exactly what he did: shuffle, cut, and deal full houses to opponents and a royal straight flush to himself; a walking advertisement not to play for money with strangers.

    * ETA, thats a guy wrestling with a chimpanzee, comma, followed by a jazz pianist. Note to self: coffee, then post.

  5. It's a more theatrical version the Mid-Atlantic accent (think Cary Grant or Katharine Hepburn), which was standard in early radio and movies and got carried over into early TV. It was used because it was considered an upper-class American accent and because the clipped diction and louder theatrical tone were needed to carry over primitive mics and transmitters. In certain situations (this one being appropriate) that carnival barker twist was added to it.

    In the first half of the 20th century actors and announcers were specifically trained to enunciate that way. Once broadcast technology improved and American society became a bit more circumspect about signalling social class it went out of style.

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