Sigh. It was just over two years ago that Alex Trebek, arguably the most-watched TV personality in history, having hosted a mind-boggling 37 seasons of Jeopardy right up until 2020, died of pancreatic cancer.
So from Jeopardy’s revival in 1984 up until 2020 we all know what he was up to, aside from his numerous TV and film appearances where he played himself. But what about pre-Jeopardy Alex?
I could have sworn he was born in Montréal but I was wrong. He was born in Sudbury, Ontario, to an Anglophone Dad (who was a Ukrainian-born chef whose second language was English) and a Francophone Mom. That’s handy if you live in an officially bilingual country and those are its two languages. At 13 he started working (presumably part-time) as a bellhop at the hotel his Dad worked at. He graduated with a degree in Philosophy from the University of Ottawa, which is something every Philosophy major should trot out at the first hint of an eyeroll from doubters of the value of such a degree.
While still at UofO (is that what it’s called?) Alex joined the CBC where he did all kinds of things, at one point reading the national news on CBC radio. Here is one of the most Canadian things I have ever read: In 1971 Alex was short-listed to succeed Ward Cornell as host of Hockey Night in Canada and was the favorite, but ultimately didn’t get the job because someone very high up at the CBC didn’t want a mustachio’d host. This mystifies me, since some of my Canadian relatives have mustaches, including a couple of women.
In 1973 Alex moved to the US and got into the game show racket. At one point he was hosting High Rollers in the US and The $128,000 Question in Toronto, making him one of only two men to simultaneously host shows in both countries. I had forgotten this, but during that era it was common for game show hosts to go on other game shows. In 1980 (not clear how this worked) he appeared on Card Sharks (a show he was hosting?) as a contestant during a celebrity charity week. I MUST find this episode somewhere, because the other contestants were Allen Ludden, Gene Rayburn, Bill Cullen, Tom Kennedy, Wink Martindale, Jim Lange, and Jack Clark. Alex managed to squeak out a win against second-place Bill Cullen. Game Show Nirvana.
Then he landed at Jeopardy. He and Art Fleming, a close friend, the original host from when it was on in the 1960s, worked on the revival. Art Fleming left the project over “creative differences” (sadly, wikipedia doesn’t say what those were) so Alex went it alone, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Here is a very good wintry way to celebrate the life of Alex Trebek. This is a hearty French Canadian meat pie that is the perfect meal to ward off the chill of a Québéc winter.
What is Tourtière Trebek?
1 pound ground pork
3/4 pound ground veal
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup red wine, beef stock or water
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
Salt and pepper
Pastry for double-crust pie (9 inch)
Milk or lightly beaten egg
In large pan, combine meat, onions, seasonings and wine; cook over low heat for 1 hour.
Drain fat. Stir in bread crumbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Let cool for about 45 minutes.
Roll out pastry and line a 9-inch pie plate. Spoon in filling; cover with pastry. Cut steam vents in top and seal edges. Brush lightly with milk or egg. Bake in 350 degrees F. oven for 1 hour or until pastry is golden brown.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.