Chief among the colorful characters whom Franz Lidz encountered in reporting his rollicking May 1, 1989, story on the game show (and burgeoning cultural phenomenon) Jeopardy!—then in the fifth season of its current incarnation—were the show's creator, Merv Griffin, and its host, Alex Trebek. Lidz caught up with Griffin in an elevator of an Atlantic City casino and was granted a 13-minute audience with the portly song-and-dance man turned mogul. "He was wearing a flowing caftan, and he looked like he had a three-ring circus under there," Lidz recalls. "Like a Gatling gun, I reeled off the questions that I had. He answered all of them." Lidz also introduced readers to the "natty, clipped and aloof" Trebek, seven years before Will Ferrell lampooned the host's fastidiousness in the first of Saturday Night Live's beloved "Celebrity Jeopardy!" sketches. Trebek, Lidz revealed, alphabetized his spice rack. "The buzz in Hollywood is that Trebek once threw a fit when someone switched the basil and the oregano," Lidz wrote.
This is an article from the May 4, 2009 issue
Griffin died in 2007, but some 4,600 episodes after Lidz's story appeared in SI, Trebek, 68, is still seen parrying with the show's contestants every weeknight. "People still have a view of me as being kind of aloof, maybe a little smart-alecky," says Trebek, who has two children with his wife of 19 years, Jean Currivan-Trebek. "I try not to be. How do you correct somebody, if somebody gives you an incorrect response, without appearing authoritative and, in the minds of some people, a little snobby? But I think I've mellowed. I leave it to the viewers to determine whether that's true or not."
As for the basil and the oregano? "I don't look after the spice rack anymore," Trebek says. "But I do hang my shirts by color in the closet."