Art Linkletter, who died May 26 at 97, was one of the small handful of personalities from television's early days who helped America get comfortable with the still scrappy medium. He was not a ham like Uncle Miltie or an innovator like Steve Allen but rather a skilled, ever self-effacing communicator who mastered the art of bringing out the foibles of ordinary folks. As host of People Are Funny, a reality-TV forerunner that ran from 1954 to 1961, he got audience members to participate in wild stunts without ever seeming cruel or condescending. On House Party, his daytime variety show that ran on CBS from 1952 to 1969, he coaxed hilarity out of a daily panel of children, a segment he later turned into the best-selling book Kids Say the Darndest Things. After his daughter's suicide in 1969, which he blamed on her LSD use, Linkletter became an antidrug crusader, and he was long a supporter of conservative causes. But his appeal was all-embracing.
This text originally appeared in the June 7, 2010 issue of TIME Magazine.