Allen Funt Dies At 84

Candid Camera creator Allen Funt has died, reports CBS News Correspondent John Roberts. He was 84. The television prankster whose CBS program thrived on America's willingness to laugh at itself and created a trademark phrase, died Sunday in Pebble Beach.

Funt died of complications from the 1993 stroke that forced him into retirement, the show reported in a written release.

In a CBS News interview in the mid-'60s, Funt said the show may look fun, but isn't so easy.

"It still remains a very challenging problem to approach a stranger and to gain enough confidence to have a little bit of a rapport with him quickly," he said, "because every time it takes you long, you waste film, you waste time, and you waste subject."

"He invented Candid Camera because of its pure simplicity," says his son, Peter Funt. "He didn't need actors. He didn't need scripts. He didn't really need anything except the next person to walk through that door."

Candid Camera, which aired off and on from 1948 to 1990 with Funt as host, secretly filmed people confronted with talking mailboxes or trick coffee cups. "Smile! You're on Candid Camera!" was the victim's tipoff.

Startled bowlers would see balls returned minus finger holes. A car would roll down a hill and stop, and passers-by asked to check on the trouble would find it lacked an engine.

The show was the precursor of reality-genre television shows such as COPS and MTV's The Real World.

"People toss around the word pioneer all the time but Allen Funt was really one of those rare people who was a pioneer. He created what has become an entire programming genre," said Michael Naidus, a spokesman for CBS-TV.

"This is an ideaÂ…that's still making people smile after 51years, and that's a remarkable accomplishment that my dad deserves so much credit for," says Peter Funt. "He was truly a TV pioneer."

CBS now airs Candid Camera, hosted by Peter Funt and Suzanne Somers, on Friday evenings.

Funt himself appeared in many of the gags, along with such regulars over the years as Dorothy Collins (in the 1960s) and comedian and author Fannie Flagg (Fried Green Tomatoes) in the 1970s. A young Woody Allen appeared in some early shows.

The TV program was born of Funt's Candid Microphone, a radio show the New York native originated after his Army service in World War II. He was working as artist for an ad agency but looking for a different job.

Funt said he learned a lot from observing ordinary people.

"I learned the power of radio watching Eleanor Roosevelt do her show," he recalled in a 198interview with The Associated Press. "I used to go up to Hyde Park and hold her papers. I was just a messenger, but it planted the bug of radio in me."

"I got my hands on an old wire recorder that was the forerunner of tape recorders," Funt said. "That's how it began. In those days, we had to lug around these enormous recorders and camera equipment and find a place to conceal them."

In 1948, Candid Camera appeared on ABC. The next year, it went to NBC. CBS had it the next year. The show returned briefly to NBC in 1953, then was picked up by CBS in 1960 for a seven-year run.

A syndicated version ran from 1974-78. In the 1989-90 season, CBS aired a number of Candid Camera specials featuring Funt and his son, Peter, as co-hosts.

In 1991, Funt produced a new version with comedian Dom DeLuise as host.

Throughout the years, Funt was never trapped by a hidden camera.

"When I'd travel, a location station might try it," he told the AP. "But it's awfully hard to catch someone who does this for a living. ... No, nobody ever really turned the tables on me."

Funt was born in New York City and graduated from high school at age 15. He later earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

After his stroke, Funt remained an inspiration to his family, said his son, Peter Funt.

"Our entire family was inspired by his courage," he said in a written release Monday. "He endured many hospitalizations and treatments, yet did so with good spirit and a ferocious will to live."

CBS This Morning Co-Anchor Mark McEwen reports that Funt's family says he was a complex man who loved simple things, and the thing that made him most proud was to hear people say he made them smile."

He is survived by his five children.