Allen Ludden, born Allen Packard Ellsworth, was the first child of Elmer Ellsworth, a Nebraska native living in Mineral Point, Wisconsin and working as an ice dealer; and his wife Leila M. Allen, a Wisconsin native and housewife. Elmer Ellsworth died the next winter at age 26, a victim of the worldwide Spanish flu epidemic, on January 6, 1919. When Allen was about five years old, Leila Ellsworth married Homer Ludden, Jr., an electrical engineer and the son of H.D. Ludden, the town physician, a Chicago native who had practiced in Mineral Point since 1906. Allen was given his adoptive father’s name and became Allen Ellsworth Ludden. The family lived briefly in the Wisconsin towns of Janesville, Elkhorn, Antigo and Waupaca before moving to Texas when Allen was still a small child. An English and dramatics major at the University of Texas, Ludden graduated with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1940 and received his Master of Arts in English from the same university in 1941. He served in the U.S. Army, received a Bronze Star, and was discharged with the rank of captain in 1946. During the late 1940s and early 1950s he carved out a career as an adviser for youth in teen magazine columns and on radio. His radio show for teenagers, Mind Your Manners, received a Peabody Award in 1950.
Ludden hosted many game shows, including the GE College Bowl, but he was most well known for hosting both the daytime and prime time versions of Password on CBS and ABC between 1961 and 1975. His opening TV catch phrase, “Hi doll,” was directed toward his beloved real-life mother-in-law, Tess White, mother of Betty White. He ended Password with a “password of the day,” and then “So long, see you tomorrow, I hope.” Ludden began hosting an updated version of the game, Password Plus, on NBC, in 1979, but chemotherapy treatments for stomach cancer forced him off the show in late October 1980. Tom Kennedy filled in as host during this time. Other shows hosted by Ludden include Liar’s Club, Win with the Stars, and Stumpers! He also hosted the original pilot for The Joker’s Wild and hosted a talk-variety show, Allen Ludden’s Gallery. As a panelist he appeared regularly on The Gong Show. At the request of the publishers Dodd, Mead & Co., Ludden wrote and published four books of “Plain Talk” advice, plus a youth novel, Roger Thomas, Actor (1959), all for young readers. He received the 1961 Horatio Alger Award. He released an album called Allen Ludden Sings His Favorite Songs on RCA Records in 1964.
After Ludden was diagnosed with stomach cancer in early 1980, he took a month-long leave of absence from Password Plus for chemotherapy treatment. In late October 1980, he slipped into a coma while on vacation. It was initially reported that he had suffered a stroke, but the coma was actually caused by high levels of calcium from medication taken to help fight the cancer. Tom Kennedy took over as host of Password Plus, and although Ludden hoped to return to the show, his cancer grew worse and he never returned. Ludden died in Los Angeles on June 9, 1981, just days before his 18th wedding anniversary with Betty White. He was 63. Ludden was buried beside his father in the Ellsworth family plot in Graceland Cemetery in his hometown of Mineral Point, Wisconsin.
- October, 05, 1917
- Mineral Point, Wisconsin
- June, 09, 1981
- Los Angeles, California
Cause of Death
- stomach cancer