For over 30 years, starting in the early 1960s, Monty Hall hosted Let’s Make a Deal, one of the most popular game shows in television history. He was not only the show’s impresario, he created and produced it, and today, at 91, he is still involved with its creative evolution.
But while Hall has fond memories of the thousands of “deals” he made on his show, when I met him for lunch the other day at the Hillcrest Country Club, he had other deals in mind.
In particular, he told me about a deal he made more than 75 years ago with a Jewish man named Max Freed.
Hall had dropped out of college after his first year because he couldn’t afford to continue. He was living with his family in Winnipeg, a city of long winters in western Canada that attracted many Jews from Ukraine. The Hall clan spent many years struggling financially and living in close quarters.
Max Freed, on the other hand, was anything but struggling. He was a 29-year-old playboy with a thriving clothing company who wore fancy suits and had a reputation around town for living the good life.
One fateful day, Freed bumped into Hall’s father, a kosher butcher, and asked him: “Was that your boy I saw yesterday washing the floors of a warehouse?” The father responded that yes, that was his son.
“Well,” Freed said, “tell him to come by my office tomorrow.”
When Hall showed up the next day, Freed made him an offer. If Hall returned to college, Freed would pay for all his schooling expenses, but with three conditions.
One, Hall’s grades had to be B-plus or higher. Two, Freed wanted a monthly report on his progress. And three, Hall had to promise that one day he’d do the same for another kid. (Freed also asked him to keep the deal confidential, a request Hall gladly ignored nearly 75 years later at our lunch.)
Hall, with the support of his family, jumped at the deal, so Freed asked him to get back to him with a budget.
As Freed reviewed the budget, which included tuition and living expenses, he noticed that Hall had put in only 25 cents for lunch. “Don’t you want a drink with your lunch?” he asked. “Go ahead and add 5 cents for a Coke, and throw in something for haircuts, too.”
Once they agreed on the budget, Hall promptly resumed his studies at the University of Manitoba.
For the next three years, Hall thrived. He was the first Jewish student to become president of the student body, a prestigious position. He had excellent grades and reported regularly to Freed, who kept a close eye on his progress.
Hall’s accomplishments, however, were not enough to get him into medical school, so after graduation he moved to Toronto and began a career in radio broadcasting.
Hall had a restless personality and was always on the lookout for new opportunities. He moved to the United States and began working in television, creating and producing shows. His big break came when he sold Let’s Make a Deal to a major network.
Hall went way beyond his promise to help another kid get an education. He helped charities raise more than $1 billion.
As Hall became one of the best-known names in television, Max Freed was becoming very proud of his “investment.” The two always kept in touch, becoming so close that Freed’s son once said to Hall: “I think he loves you more than he loves me!”
But it wasn’t just Hall’s fame and success that made Freed proud — it was also his charitable work. Hall went way beyond his original promise to help another kid get an education. In fact, he became one of America’s most celebrated fundraisers, helping charities of all stripes raise more than $1 billion.
In the charity world today, Hall is known as the man who doesn’t say no.
A few years ago, Hall heard from a doctor that Freed, by then 99, was nearing the end. He took the first flight to Winnipeg to be near him.
When Hall got to his bedside, he moved his face “nose to nose” with Freed, who was now “mostly blind and mostly deaf.” They talked and reminisced for about 20 minutes.
Finally, putting his mouth close to his friend’s ear, Hall said to the man who had picked him up 75 years earlier while he was washing floors in Winnipeg: “Max, you gave me a life.”
Max Freed, the former playboy who invested in that little Jewish boy he hardly knew, replied, in a barely audible voice: “No, Monty, you gave me a life.”
This article originally appeared in The Jewish Journal.