Back in the day before networks would dominate daytime programing with an endless barrage of talk shows (that now all seem to be made up of groups of people sitting around tables and gossiping), morning and afternoon television would consist of a myriad of game shows and daytime soaps.
These shows would dominate daytime programming for so long that they would become synonymous with ‘daytime television’ for generations of viewers. If you were home sick it was the only stuff on you could find to watch.
Some of those soaps felt they had been on the air forever. A few seemed to have run for acouple centuries in some capacity. I think a few started out as cave paintings.
As the daytime television landscape changed most of these game shows and soaps would gradually fade away and now their reruns idly reside on The Game Show Network and The Soap Opera Network. It seems any program can find a home today.
One of the most popular and enduring daytime programs would be The Price Is Right. An hour-long game show that would consist of contestants to “come on down” and guess the prices of ordinary household products.
Over forty years after its debut it still airs. But the golden years were when it was hosted by Bob Barker and he had a team of models to help feature the products to viewers. These models would become known as Barker’s Beauties.
Everyday Barker would be surrounded by this trio of lovely ladies whose main contribution to the show was to respectfully point to products, help do the grunt work with the pricing games, such as flipping carboard signs around and keep up with an ever-changing wardrobe throughout the show.
Like with any great team there has been a continual change of players through the years, but the real Hall of Fame ladies that made up Barker’s Beauties, the key three were – Janice Pennington, Dian Parkinson and Holly Hallstrom.
They would help Barker with the games from the mid-70’s up to the 90’s. From there the trio began to get broken up, all leaving the show having very little love for Bob. As a result The Tower of Barker started to crash to the ground. More on that in a bit.
They were attractive gals who most of the time upstaged the products you were meant to be focusing on. It wasn’t always easy to get your gears winding about the retail price of a bottle of Palmolive dish detergent when there was a hot babe standing next to it!
I’d venture a guess that Barker and the shows producers knew exactly what they were doing with their Beauties, what their contribution to the show was and the tantalizing allure they had on its viewers.
They were essentially eye-candy and no one seemed to have any kind of problem with that or tried to pretend they were something different. In the late 70’s and througout the 80’s it didn’t seem to bother anyone that this innocent price guessing game show was objectifying women in this manner. Everyone just rolled with it.
Plus, we have to remember the time when The Price Is Right and Barker’s Beauties enjoyed it’s most popular years and was in its heyday. This was a time when most people only had three television stations to watch. There wasn’t easy access to porn and nudie magazines were something sold in the back of seedy little stores. So to most young kids, – and even to their fathers – seeing a sexy woman stand in front of a camera seductively rubbing a grandfather clock was nirvana.
And this was being shown in the middle of the day! This was programming for the whole family. You could always say you were staring so intensely at the tv screen because you were really trying to figure out the price of this garbage! In reality you were dreaming how great it would be to have a jello wrestling match with the Beauties.
With the help of the popularity of the show Barker’s Beauties became one the most recognizable group of gals on television. And they didn’t even have to release a sex tape or embarrass themselves on some reality show. They were the daytime equivalent of Charlie’s Angels.
Pennington was one of the original Barker Beauties and served as the show’s longest running model. She joined the show from the start in 1972 when she was one of the two featured models with Anitra Ford.
When I was old enough to get around to experiencing the show I always viewed Pennington as the ‘Mom Model’. She was obviously older than the two other girls and seemed to be the classier and more mature of the bunch.
I always had her pegged as the leader of the trio. She was the no-nonsense worker. She did her job and never tried to upstage the products or Bob. She would dutifully hand Barker his ridiculously long microphone at the beginning of every show for twenty-nine years.
A year before landing The Price Is Right Pennington was Playboy’s Playmate of the Month in May 1971.
I would imagine her Playboy appearance helped land her the slot on this gameshow. It certainly couldn’t have hurt. Just looking at her photos one could see she was attractive….and I’m sure she could point to products. There might have been some concern over how she looked with clothing on, but that seemed like a minor problem to overcome. She seemed like an ideal candidate!
Had I seen Pennington back during this time she could have easily been my favorite Beauty, but I wasn’t treated to seeing the early 70’s version of her on the show. I never even knew about her Playboy layout until years later and when I discovered she posed nude I was shocked! ‘Janice? No she would never do that!’. Luckily she did and we can admire her pictorial today.
During most of her run on The Price Is Right she seemed to have the least problems with Bob and the show. Heck, she worked there for twenty-nine years so things couldn’t have been too bad.
There was an accident on the show in 1988 where a camera knocked Pennington unconscious and she fell into contestants row. She recovered, but surgery resulted in leaving her with scars and leaving one of her shoulders slightly shorter than the other. Her days of modeling swimsuits were over after that. Yet, she would outlast her partner Beauties finally leaving the show in 2000 in some mysterious circumstances.
Pennington was ‘dismissed’ after taping a show in October of 2000. No mention of her departure was announced on the show and Barker, who at that time was also the shows executive producer, never spoke to her. Apparently Pennington signed a settlement forbidding her to discuss the details of her dismissal, so likely we’ll never know exactly what happened.
The popular belief is that the then fifty-eight year old Pennington was let go to make room for younger models to attract a younger audience. Along with it being Barker’s way of retaliating against Pennington for testifying in a wrongful termination suit brought on by Hallstrom against Barker.
You would never think with the fun jovial chats between the four of them on the show in front of the cameras things were so ugly behind the scenes. But there’s juicer stuff to discover.
Parkinson was the sexy Beauty. With her blonde hair and toned body we would typically see her sporting a bikini when a trip to Hawaii was up for grabs. She appeared to be the ‘Bad Barker Beauty’.
She was the one you could have the most fun with behind the set and furniture displays. She probably would have won the top slot of being the most popular Barker Beauty for male viewers.
She was the winner of 1965 Miss World USA contest. Not sure what that title exactly is, but it means she was very good looking.
Parkinson joined Price in 1975, not soon after Pettington. She seemed to be the Beauty most willing to wear a two-piece bathing suit every show. She would also eventually be the one to give Barker his biggest headache.
With Parkinson’s sexy looks and knack for looking great in swimsuits she parlayed her Price fame into other modeling venues. She would have her own sexy posters throughout the eighties.
That seemed to be the thing for stretch. Any good looking television star or sexy model would have their own poster for boys to hang up on their walls. I guess it started with that Farrah poster and it just kept running throughout the eighties. As I remember Parkinson had quite a few of them.
She then upped the stakes and dropped her threads when she appeared in Playboy in 1991 and 1993. It didn’t much lead to anything for her. Unless you want to count her appearing in a VHS Centerfold video, but that used to be a package deal.
No one on daytime television at this time wore a bikini as great as Dian! Just check out this compilation of clips! You forget all about the prizes they’re talking about.
The classic Price Is Right began its end in 1993 with Parkinson’s exit from the show. She was allowed to say goodbye to the home and studio audience and said she was leaving to ‘pursue other interests’. Perhaps to make more posters.
At the time tabloid reports were circulating the rumor that Parkinson left because of a nasty feud between her and Pennington. Although the two didn’t get along very well and the show tried not to pair them up and be forced to cooperate at pointing towards bathroom cleansers together, it was not the main reason why Parkinson had left.
A year later Price Is Right fans would find out why. Parkinson was responsible for the most high-profile scandal on The Price Is Right. In 1994 she sued Barker and the show for $8 million, claiming that she had been forced to have sex with Barker in order to keep her job. Barker admitted to a consensual sexual relationship with Parkinson for a year and a half.
The wrongful termination suit was dismissed, but the sexual harassment charge stayed. However, Parkinson would end up dropping it in 1995 saying the lawsuit was inflicting medical distress on her well-being and she lacked insufficient funds to pay for her legal fees.
Barker is really sounding like a skunk here. He seemed more concerned with getting pets spayed and neutered than treating his Beauties very kindly. It makes you wonder what else was going on behind those giant sliding doors.
Barker felt vindicated. Parkinson slowly disappeared from the public eye and the pristine wholesome image of The Price Is Right would start to tarnish. It would be helped further along a few years later by my favorite Barker Beauty.
Three of the Barker Beauties Dian Parkinson, Holly Hailstorm and Kathleen Bradley appearing on The Vicki Lawrence Show in 1993 – this was during much happier times.
The one redhead in the bunch. Holly was undoubtedly my favorite Barker Beauty. She seemed to have more of a personality than Janice or Dian.
Granted we would rarely have time to get to know their individual personalities throughout the show. They would spend most of their on-air time pointing to furniture and revealing prices. But in the few instances where they got to speak Holly was always a standout and her easygoing attitude and smile when she modeled the products won her over for me.
She was funny and had a more bubbly demeanor than the other Beauties. While Janice was business and Dian was sexy, Holly looked to be having a grand old time. And she looked awfully cute to boot! She would be the one I’d take with me if I won the trip on that showcase showdown.
When Anitra Ford left the show in 1977 Holly arrived to fill the vacant slot and would become the final member of the classic Barker Beauties team that we would have until the early 90’s.
Holly became a fan favorite. She was kind of clumsy at times and when things would go wrong it was entertaining to see how she handled it. Usually she was ready to laugh at herself and not afraid to look silly.
It was always a real treat when she donned some swimwear. That was mainly Dian’s thing who would consistently wear bikinis. So when Holly got into a bathing suit it became a great episode! She usually would wear a one-piece, but still I was all eyes!
Sadly we never got a Playboy layout from her. She could have done a poster at least though!
An amusing clip of Holly getting pranked by her fellow models
One of the things I most remember from the time I would watch this show was Holly during the closing credits. Since I had such a crush on Holly back then I would just watch to see what she would do as the credits zipped past Barker and his Beauties.
Along with all the waving and smiling everyone did Holly would always hold up a peace sign at the camera. Always! I would begin to start to look for that everytime I watched the show.
I started to suspect that maybe it was a personal message to her mother or someone. Sort of like how Carol Burnett would famously tug on her ear, which began as a secret message to her grandmother.
Could there be a secret message hidden behind Holly flashing the peace sign? I never found out. That would be a fun mystery to unravel. But it was probably just a simple and clear message she wanted to give to viewers.
In 1995 things continued to get ugly for Barker and The Price Is Right. You know, for a show whose main job is to showcase mop cleaner and ugly furniture there sure was a lot of drama going on behind the scenes!
Holly was ‘dismissed’ from The Price Is Right. She said she was let go by Barker because she had gained fourteen pounds due to a prescription medication she was taking.
Then she later alleged along with her weight gain, the reason she was given the boot was because she refused to support Barker during Parkinson’s lawsuit and didn’t go along with the stories Barker had instructed her to say. Holly refused and was subsequently escorted off the stage.
Barker sued Holly for slander, but ended up dropping the suit. Barker was ordered to pay all of Holly’s legal bills. Then Holly countersued Barker for age, weight and medical discrimination, wrongful termination and malicious prosecution.
After a long prolonged court proceeding finally in 2005 Holly received a multi-million dollar settlement. She started a foundation for people who have been the victim of wrongful and malicious treatment in their workplace but don’t have the funds to fight it.
Obviously I wasn’t around to witness exactly what happened, but I figure something must of been going on that made Holly so angry and passionate and willing to endure such a long struggle.
During the extended court case Holly had to sell all her possessions and was apparently living out of her car for a stretch, but as she said, “I refused to give up and let that evil old bastard win.”
In case you didn’t pick up on it, Holly’s referring to Bob Barker in that statement.
Plus, with the consistent rocky dismissals of each of the Beauties I’m tempted to say there seemed to be a bit of pattern here and Barker was probably not the great guy he portrayed to his television audience.
Holly ultimately won her lawsuit – and it had major fallout for the show and the shows models.
Pennington and the newest Barker Beauty Kathleen Bradley who arrived in 1990, were both fired after they both ironically testified during Barker’s lost lawsuit against Holly. Bradley would go on to write a kind of tell-all book about her experiences with The Price Is Right titled ‘Backstage At The Price Is Right: Memoirs of a Barker Beauty’.
Could all these beauties just have been troublemakers and Barker was the misunderstood innocent victim? I find that hard to believe. You would think at least one Beauty would have something nice to say about him after all the years they worked together.
In more recent years The Price Is Right was hit with a more seemingly innocuous scandal. In 2008 a contestant made a perfect bid during the showcase Showdown – something that never happened before in the history of the show. This caused a lot of questions and theories of how someone could have accomplished this feat. The story was covered in the wonderful 2017 documentary Perfect Bid: The Contestant Who Knew Too Much. Price Is Right fans should definitely go watch it.
But that incident seems insignificant compared to the scandals that the show faced by the accusations of The Beauties against Barker and the producers.
After Hailstorm left, there had been six women – models and production assistants – who were ‘dismissed’ (there’s that word again) from The Price Is Right by the hands of Barker. Hailstorm refused to let him get away with her actions, despite her having a lot to lose she was the only one to speak up against Barke at the time. She was unmarried with no children, but was adamant she was going to stand up to “the miserable tyranny at the hands of a mad dictator”.
She’s talking about Barker again.
Whoa. I’m proud of her! I’m glad Holly was always my favorite Barker Beauty!
You can hear a little more from Holly herself after she won her lawsuit against Barker and the show.
As Barker continued to host the show there would be a roster of rotating models, some with recognizable names and who would go onto bigger things Cindy Margolis, Gena Lee Nolin, Nikki Ziering, Claudia Jordan – but none would come close to the popularity and close association to the show as those three original Barker Beauties became.
In 2007 during Barker’s retirement from the show he was celebrated and was heralded as a game show icon. He had become a television institution and with a whole lot of fanfare and acclaim being heaped upon him. Not one of the original Barker’s Beauties were part of it.
When asked about his four most famous Beauties during the shows run Barker responded, “They’ve been such a problem. I don’t want to say anything about them. They’re disgusting; I don’t want to mention them.”
I guess he doesn’t like them any more than they like him.
With Drew Carey picking up the hosting duties the models are no longer referred to as ‘Beauties’. That term is viewed as derogatory and sexist today. So they are simply called ‘The Price Is Right Models”. That name sounds awfully boring in comparison doesn’t it?
Despite the politically correct name changed that has been given to the models since Barker left, the show has still continued to get its fair share of lawsuits from its models, including a pregnancy lawsuit and a sexual harassment lawsuit. I guess the show doesn’t realize just because you change their titles doesn’t automatically change the conditions and attitudes these women are subjected to. A simple name change isn’t enough.
Or perhaps if they begin calling them The Price is Right Ladies will solve all the problems.
I miss the Beauties and think they got screwed. Ever since the Beauty scandals started up I viewed Barker much differently. Even just recently with the celebration of his ninetieth birthday I couldn’t help but look at him with narrow eyes thinking, all that hugging contestants and being so gung-ho for animals means nothing.
He didn’t treat his Beauties very kindly. He can’t be that nice of a guy. His Beauties couldn’t all be wrong.
Let’s end on a fun product mishap involving Holly and a difficult Gibson refrigerator.