Memphians lining the streets of downtown Memphis to watch the 1954 Thanksgiving Day parade probably gawked at the “space ship” (below) lumbering down Main. But the words “Mars Patrol” emblazoned on the side of the unusual float reassured them that no aliens were in their midst that day, for that was the title of a popular TV show hosted by a young Memphis State College student named Winston Conrad Martindale.
“Wink” Martindale, as he is better known today, was described by a reporter that year as an “atomically energized young man,” and that wasn’t just hype. He worked at three radio shows in his native Jackson, Tennessee, before moving to Memphis to take an announcer job with WHBQ — all this before he was 20. In 1955, he became captain of Mars Patrol, which showcased Flash Gordon films in between interviews with local kiddies.
Two years later, Wink became the popular host of a show called the Top Ten Dance Party (later renamed Talent Party and hosted by George Klein). Along the way, he recorded a handful of hit records, and his album Deck of Cards, a collection of religious and inspirational songs, sold close to a million copies.
Hollywood beckoned, and Wink moved to California, where he landed bit parts in a couple of unforgettable movies and got announcing jobs with several Los Angeles radio stations. It looked like he was set to land a plum role as the host of a new TV show patterned after Dance Party, but at the last minute ABC handed American Bandstand to a newcomer by the name of Dick Clark. The name sounds familiar …
Still, Wink did more than okay, hosting a number of daytime game shows before landing the job as emcee of the long-running hit Tic Tac Dough. In his long career he’s also hosted the shows Debt, Gambit, High Rollers, The Last Word, Trivial Pursuit, and Headline Chasers. In 2000, he published his autobiography, Winking at Life. It’s been a long and successful journey since the early flights of Mars Patrol.
PHOTOS COURTESY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS LIBRARIES