Revisiting the X-Rated ’70s Prank Film That Scandalized America
“What Do You Say to a Naked Lady?” was more “Punk’d” than porn, but it still got people talking
The bulk of Allen Funt’s career revolved around his curiosity for reaction. He had a lifelong fixation on creating scenarios and documenting how his subjects responded to their unusual circumstances, but approached what would otherwise be clinical work with a mischievous zeal. He was no methodical researcher and came upon his insights casually, if at all. His earliest gigs, as the mind behind the wackiest stunts on NBC Radio’s Truth or Consequences and a punch-up man for Eleanor Roosevelt on her radio commentaries, hinged on his ability to play the public like a piano. He’d cut out the middleman with his own show in 1947, The Candid Microphone, in which a young Funt pulled a fast one on unsuspecting dupes and a 27-pound mic unit hidden in a park or office captured their flummoxing.
Funt believed he had happened upon a schematic with tremendous potential, and shopped a televised equivalent to ABC in 1948 with the title’s The dropped, Facebook-style. One year later, he crossed town to NBC and tweaked it once more to Candid Camera, which stuck for the next six decades of broadcasts. The show let the tactfully concealed cameras roll as oblivious marks landed in assorted put-ons, from desk drawers mechanically popping open to more elaborate tomfoolery involving Funt’s squadron of actor plants. (Millennial and Gen Z readers: this was the Punk’d of its time, and the one where they pranked then-former President Harry Truman was that era’s Justin Timberlake crying episode.)
As creator and host, Funt masterminded hundreds and hundreds of ruses, leaning on his yen for amateur psychology and sociology more and more as the years went by. Some segments dispensed with the wool-pulling entirely and chronicled revealing interviews between Funt and ordinary folks. He found the peculiarities of homo sapiens endlessly fascinating.
The other thing to know about Allen Funt is that, like many red-blooded Americans, he enjoyed looking at people with their clothes off. It was the marriage of these two great passions — quirks of pathology and full-frontal nudity — that yielded the illuminating historical footnote What Do You Say to a Naked Lady? 50 years ago this month.