How Did the Tonight Show Save Twister From Oblivion?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to board games and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of all board game urban legends so far.

BOARD GAME URBAN LEGEND: Twister avoided going under by getting the game to appear on The Tonight Show.

Something that always perks my interest in a legend is when the dates don’t quite check out. In the case of this legend, the dates really don’t work. So I sort of surprise myself with my ultimate answer…

Twister, as you are all quite aware, is a very popular game for Milton Bradley where the contestants are the game pieces. You are randomly assigned colors on a board where you have to place your arms and legs.

1966_Twister_Cover

The object, then, is to be the last person left standing.

The game has an interesting history…

It was patented by Charles F. Foley and Neil Rabens, who were working under Reyn Guyer, from the Reynolds Guyer Agency of Design. There was a dispute over who actually came up with the idea first. I don’t think it’s something that will ever be solved for sure, but suffice it to say that while Foley and Rabens got the patent on the game, the rights all went to their boss, Guyer. They each left Guyer’s employ to go work on other games. Guyer sold the game to Milton Bradley.

As the story goes, Sears Roebuck turned down the game for their catalog in 1965. There weren’t a whole lot of games being sold by 1966, to the point where Milton Bradley just decided to stop making the game.

On May 3, 1966, Johnny Carson played Twister on The Tonight Show with Eva Gabor, from Green Acres…

gaborcarsontwister

People soon were VERY interested in the game and it became a smash success and it has been a hit ever since.

Now here’s the thing. Phillip Reed interestingly discovered a newspaper ad for Twister from April 1966, and it referenced Johnny Carson featuring the game on his show.

So the May 3, 1966 date seems off. However, Foley and Rabens had a falling out with Guyer after Twister became a hit, so they were not on good terms (there was even a lawsuit) and yet all of their stories about the events surrounding Milton Bradley threatening to pull Twister from stores due to low sales before the game appeared on the Tonight Show are nearly identical. There are some differing accounts of HOW the game got on there (one particularly interesting one involves the game being officially canceled by Milton Bradley, but the appearance on the Tonight Show having already been booked by a PR firm, so it went along as planned), but they all tell the same basic story that the game’s appearance on the Tonight Show saved it from extinction.

And since Carson and Gabor clearly DID play the game on the Tonight Show, I don’t think it’s a big deal that the most commonly assigned date for the episode is off.

So I’m willing to with this legend as…

STATUS: True

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is [email protected]

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