Friends, a couple of days ago while sharing an article on Twitter, I found that Patrick J. Doody posed the question if I remembered a short-lived game show called The Magnificent Marble Machine. The truth of the matter is I had never even heard of it – which seems odd as it did after all manage to feature a giant pinball machine as the main draw of the series. To be fair though when The Magnificent Marble Machine was being broadcast on NBC I was all but a toddler, so perhaps at some point it was on the television as I wheeled around the house in my walker with my Family giving chase?
Thanks to the IMDb listing we know that between 29 and 31 episodes of The Magnificent Marble Machine aired on NBC between July 7th of 1975 and March 12th of ’76. The series itself was the brainchild of both Merrill Heatter and Bob Quigley who would partner up in 1960 to form Heatter-Quigley Productions, with the sole purpose to produce game shows for daytime television. Together the two created the likes of the early ’70s blackjack inspired game show Gambit and the extremely long-running Hollywood Squares to name just a few. Although I was extremely surprised to learn that Heatter-Quigley Productions also had a hand in producing the classic Hanna-Barbera Wacky Races animated series. It turns out that the original idea was that contestants would bet on which of the racers would win the race on the show – with possibly Hanna-Barbera providing animation segments throughout the game show?
The Magnificent Marble Machine featured Art James (Mallrats) as host and before the show would receive some changes in 1976, contestants were teamed up with a celebrity partner. The contestants and celebrities would take turns attempting to solve blank word puzzles – generally relating to then relevant matters in popular culture. The pair who solved five puzzles first would then get to challenge the titular magnificent marble machine, the twelve foot long and 20 foot high pinball table. With the contestant and celebrity partner controlling the flippers by pressing down on oversized buttons. The overall goal was to keep the massive pinball in play for 60 seconds (when the flippers would be disabled) and avoiding the two ‘out’ holes located on the playfield – all the while striking bumpers to win prizes and points. If the pair were able to meet the target score on the magnificent marble machine, Art James would introduce the gold money ball, instead of points the contestant would wind up earning 200 dollars for striking any bumper or noisemaker. Afterwards as I understand it the contestant would be partnered up with the opposing celebrity guest and try to answer the most blank puzzles in an attempt to return on the next show.
The sad news as I found out is that it is believed only three episodes of The Magnificent Marble Machine have survived – due to NBC’s practice of reusing videotapes in an effort to save money. But thanks to that IMDb listing we know that the game show featured a staggering amount of celebrity guests including Adrienne Barbeau, Arte Johnson, Joan Rivers, Alex Trebek, Robert Reed, Chuck Woolery, Tony Randall, and Vicki Lawrence to name a few. Thankfully we have a full episode to share with you that features Florence Henderson and Roddy McDowall, and not to give too much away, it seems like you wanted the latter to help you play pinball!
VIDEO PROVIDED BY William Sydnor.
In closing out this article I think you can see why NBC really thought that The Magnificent Marble Machine was going to just kill it in the ratings. I want to thank Patrick J. Doody once again for giving me the heads up on this fascinating slice of game show history. For what it is worth Patrick and I both had the pleasure of writing for the Retroist back in the day – and while I decided to produce pedestrian podcasts and articles – my friend has managed to write, produce, and direct all manner of projects ranging from web series, award and cooking shows, feature films, and even video games like Silent Hill: Homecoming.