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The game-show boom of the 1970s fit the decade like a Qiana suit. Trendy hedonism, economic jitters and the explosion of color TV had given the country a thirst for freebies, and CBS spotted an opportunity. On September 4, 1972, the network began airing a daytime game show called The Price Is Right. Its premise was almost aggressively unremarkable: contestants guessed how much things cost, from canned tuna and toilet paper to sports cars. But its tall, dark host was a housewife's fantasy, and its three spokesmodels seemed both lusty and wholesome while presenting brand-name prizes in bikinis. In its first year, Price shot to the top of the ratings.


    Holly Hallstrom remembers that era well. "It was the perfect platform for my own personal brand of shameless exhibitionism," she says of her nineteen years as a Price Is Right spokesmodel. "There was really no time for rehearsal, and a lot of it was like" — she adopts a monotonous inflection — "Okay, go stand next to the refrigerator, make the sweeping arm gesture . . . But when we got to the silly stuff, I just loved it.

Barker's Beauties
Happier Times
Top: "Barker's Beauties," circa 1982: Holly Hallstrom, Janice Pennington, Dian Parkinson. Bottom: in happier times, and shoulder pads.

It was very creatively free."
    Holly was the redhead, which made her easy to distinguish from Janice, the blonde, and Dian, the other blonde. Together, the trio softened the show's fairly transparent existence as a vehicle for product placement. Holly, Janice and Dian worked as The Price is Right's main spokesmodels for a combined total of sixty-six years — unheard-of longevity, not just for their profession but television itself. They perched on Jacuzzis in the '70s, climbed StairMasters in the '80s and reclined on SUV hoods in the '90s. By the late 1980s, the three women had achieved recognition on par with Wheel of Fortune's iconic Vanna White. Holly looks back on those early years fondly.
    "Initially, I was just close with everyone," she says. "I had moved to L.A. for that show and I didn't know a soul, so these were all my new friends."
Her first day on the show, Holly didn't know when the camera was on or off, "so I just smiled all damn day long. The next day I could barely eat my breakfast!" Life was one breathless taping after another. The three women coasted on the exhilaration for years, partying together, once jetting to Janice's place in Aspen for a vacation. "We were like a giant family," recalls Holly. "A stage family."
    Then one night in 1989, Bob Barker took one of the models to bed, and it wasn't long before everything fell apart.

Holly Hallstrom
Holly Hallstrom, resident goofball (click to enlarge)

The first car ever won on The Price Is Right was an aquamarine 1972 Chevy Vega. Janice Pennington leaned on the door, respendent in a corn-yellow dress. During the taping of the show's debut episode, Janice was feeling pretty okay. Aside from the new game-show gig, she had recently been anointed Playboy's Playmate of the Month. She'd turned thirty that year, yet producers had deemed her young and sparkly enough to appear astride dishwashers and vacuum cleaners on the first game show to use spokesmodels as an integral part of the cast.
    Game-show spokesmodeling has never been the modeling industry's most glamorous sector. It's steady work that involves standing near products the average middle-class consumer can afford. Some would argue it requires an incalculable flair — "It's much more difficult than you might think, because it's not natural to be fondling a refrigerator," Janice insisted in a 1985 interview. Holly says she and the other models were told they were "moveable props." This sense of derision permeates pop culture — in L.A. Story, when Sarah Jessica Parker's character is asked why she's taking spokesmodeling classes (the idea of such a thing itself being part of the joke), she explains that she "always liked pointing."



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