Bang a Gong for Chuck Barris

Was Chuck Barris a CIA Assassin?

By Buck Wolf

Jan. 7, 2003 --   Talk about the unknown comic: If you believe Chuck Barris, he had a secret life as a CIA assassin.

Barris is certainly guilty of many offenses. He was a pioneer of reality TV, bringing to life The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game and other unscripted programs designed to allow participants to humiliate themselves before a national audience. He then stepped in front of the camera with his most infamous creation, The Gong Show.

But while Barris was destroying American culture, was he also executing enemy spies? In Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, a 1980 autobiography, the TV legend offers this self-assessment:

"My name is Charles Hirsch Barris. I have written pop songs, I have been a television producer. I am responsible for polluting the airwaves with mind-numbing puerile entertainment. In addition, I have murdered 33 human beings."

Now, George Clooney, in his directorial debut, is bringing the Barris story to the big screen — depicting the funny man as a hit man. The movie opens nationally Jan. 17, starring Clooney, Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore and Sam Rockwell as a gong-and-gun-wielding Barris.

Clooney isn't sure whether the spy games are all in Barris' head. "I made it a point never to ask Chuck," he says. "I thought if I was going to tell the story, I thought I should do it without knowing the answer. It's a fascinating story either way."

Sure, Barris may have created the CIA gimmick to create interest in the book. Not a bad idea. It's hard to check. The CIA doesn't comment on questions about its personnel. Maybe I'm a special agent, too. Prove I'm not.

However, Barris offers a disturbingly detailed account in the book. Detailing one mission, he writes:

"I jammed my automatic into his mouth. The front of the silencer broke teeth as it went in … I pulled the trigger three times. The man's eyes remained surprised while the back of his head splattered against the wall of the church."

It's also a little disturbing that winners on The Dating Game received free trips to "Swingin' West Berlin" and "Beautiful Helsinki." Why not Miami? Barris purportedly chose the vacation destinations and traveled as a chaperon to create a cover for his cloak-and-dagger games.