It’s the darndest news: Art Linkletter has died.

The lanky, broad-smiling, grandfatherly man who could wrangle the most innocently outrageous remarks from children has died in Los Angeles at the age of 97.    Thousands of people who were kids on the “Art Linkletter’s House Party” on CBS-TV between 1952 and 1969 must feel a sting today on hearing the news.  His “People Are Funny” (1954-61) showcased more of his wit and wholesomeness in that early, unfolding era of TV.

At our house on the farm in Iowa, “House Party” typically was on TV during lunchtime.  Genial Art was so relaxed as he talked to studio audience people and guests about just about anything. He was so clever at turning answers to questions into something funny.  But the highlight of the show was the segment where three or four children sat in elevated chairs so Art could get the microphone right up to them and let them freely talk.  He’d ask a question that  required more than a yes-and-no response.  And then the kids would say, in fact, the “darndest things,”  which became a public phrase and a book title.

Many years later comedian Bill Cosby had Art on his show and showed segments of kids’ typical remarks on “House Party” with what they looked like as adults.  There was the segment where a boy was asked “what is the first thing that a fireman does when there is a four-alarm fire?” The boy responded, “He pulls his pants up.”   Another boy was asked what his father does for his mother around the house.  “He makes her a cocktail,” the youngster said. (Check out the YouTube shows).

A boy was asked what was the hardest thing about school for him, and he replied, “Buttoning my pants.”   Art talked to a girl about George Washington and he asked who George’s wife was.  “Miss America,” she said.   Another boy was asked who the boss was in his house and he said “both of them,” his mother and his father.  Art said, “Well, you’re a diplomat, aren’t you?   “No, I’m a Catholic Baptist,” he spouted.

Another girl was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up.  “A movie star,” she said.  Art asked her about what  a movie star does. She said “she has a movie star  breakfast, and goes to a movie star car and has a movie star lunch and then goes to a movie star studio….and then she goes to bed with another movie star.”  Art Linkletter would let the studio audience bellow and he made puzzling faces and moved on.

Bill Cosby noted, on his show that more than 20,000 children appeared on “House Party” from 1952 to 1970.  He then announced that the entire audience was made up of former guest children from those “House Party” shows.  They then flooded the stage and hugged him.

My home library has the 1962 book (75-cent Pocket Books) titled, “Kids STILL say the Darndest Things.”  It is illustrated with Peanuts cartoons by Charles M. Schultz.  It contains lots of children’s stories:  “Q: What does the mailman do for fun?  A: He  kisses the lady next door.”

“Q: What’s the difference between Democrats and Republicans.  A: One is real great for the country, but the other one’s just terrible.  Art asked the child, “Which is which?” Came the reply: “That’s the part I don’t know.”

“Stevie, what if you saw a hungry lion coming down the street,and he wanted to eat you?  Answer:  “I’d say, ‘Get away, I’m not cooked.”

“What does your dad do, Brenda? ”  “He has an unusual kind of job. He works in a dry cleaning plant taking marks out of men’s collars.”