What's My Line? (TV Series 1950–1967) Poster


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Long-standing 50s/60s late-night parlor game -- the ultimate in black-and-white sophistication and wit.
gbrumburgh14 April 2001
"What's My Line?" is hailed as the longest running PRIME TIME quiz show in TV history. And for very good reason. It was, and is, unparalleled in style, wit, and sophistication. I recently saw this series again on "Game Show Network" and madly taped many of these classic episodes that instantly brought back fond memories of a time when something as minor as a silly little game show aimed for class.

In Buffalo, where I was raised, the show came on at 10:30 p.m. on Sunday nights, right after "Candid Camera." That was pretty late for an elementary kid on a school night. If I was lucky, I could cajole my mother into letting me see "Camera," but "What's My Line?" was out of the question. Invariably, the sneak that I was, I'd carefully creep down and sit on the stairs out of harm's way (meaning my mother) and catch my favorite show.

Three of the four panelists of "What's My Line?" were regulars. They were joined by one "special guest" each week (after regular Fred Allen died in 1956). Many of the guests were painfully out of their element here and couldn't hold a candle to the pros. But sometimes a big "film star" like John Payne, Jane Powell, or even Frank Sinatra would grace the panel, making for a special evening. Normally, however, it was a well-known entertainer or personality (Johnny Carson, Joey Bishop, Tony Randall, Gore Vidal, Zsa Zsa Gabor) who was there to promote a book or upcoming appearance.

For some reason, one of my favorite parts was the introduction of the panelists and moderator ("Let's meet our What's My Line" panel!"). The ladies with their sweeping gowns and gents with their penguin tuxedos just seemed to make gloriously stylish entrances that always seemed to get the evening off to a grand start.

The parlor game was quite simple. The four panelists had to guess the occupation (normally unusual -- i.e., cow dentist) of a contestant by asking yes-or-no questions. The only hint given was if the contestant was salaried and dealt in a service or with a product. A total of ten "no" answers and the game was over. The contestant would win a HUGE pot of $50.00. Such questions asked were: "Does your work take you outdoors?" or "Is your product a liquid as opposed to a solid?" Steve Allen, a one-time regular, is credited with introducing into the American vernacular, "Is it bigger than a bread box?" Each evening after two or three occupations were played out, the panel would be blindfolded and a "mystery guest" (usually in the entertainment field, but not always) would try to be identified using the same yes-or-no questioning. The mystery guests were no slouches either. Major stars (Barbra Streisand, Joe DiMaggio, The Supremes, Dustin Hoffman) would appear for added thrills. Sometimes I would cover my own eyes to see if I could guess who it was.

The elite panel of New York-based personalities were a major contributing factor to the success of "What's My Line." Dorothy Kilgallen, the razor-tongued syndicated columnist of "The Voice of Broadway," was on the panel from its inception and was easily the show's most fervent game player -- prone to anxiety, I understand, when she was on a losing streak. I remember her at times even challenging the moderator and being slightly perturbed if she "unfairly" got a "no" answer. But Dorothy always gave it her all and those of us who were major game enthusiasts related to the competitive spirit in her. Arlene Francis was a stylish actress of stage, screen and TV and easily provided the show with its warmth and witty one-liners, not to mention slightly off-color double-entendres. Her formal gowns were quite extreme for a game show but always an attention-getter. Droll Bennett Cerf was the stocky, avuncular publisher from Random House whose relaxed, ingratiating style was a special treat -- known best for inundating the audience and panelists with groan-producing jokes.

The glue, however, that held it all together was the erudite moderator John Charles Daly, a respected journalist and newscaster on his own and remarkably eloquent when put on the spot. Marvelously witty and a master of the English language, he was quite astounding (and artfully verbose) at times when having to give an explanation to a "yes" or "no" answer. Daly, along with "To Tell the Truth" host Bud Collyer, were the last of a quickly dying breed -- they were amiable but cultivated gentleman who knew how to have sophisticated fun. Gentlemen you wanted to emulate. They succeeded in giving a simple little parlor game show some poise and dignity. "The Price Is Right" host Bob Barker certainly possesses a classy style but the contestants and game show set-up lends itself to total trailer park mentality.

"What's My Line?" suffered an insurmountable loss when Dorothy Kilgallen died suddenly and mysteriously from an overdose of barbiturates in 1965 (probably a suicide). She was terribly missed, considering she was part of the "family" from the very first telecast. The show finally went off the air in 1967, and though it quickly returned in syndication with panelist Arlene Francis, it had lost all its charm and elegance. With regular team members like Soupy Sales, what could one expect?

If I could turn back the hands of time, I'm sure I would set it for 10:30 p.m. on Sunday evening. That was a magic half-hour for me, whether my mother knew it or not. It was worth being dead tired on Monday morning.
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An urbane, witty, and entertaining program
LACUES3 January 2005
"What's My Line" is one of my favorite programs. The host, John Daly, was an excellent host. He was erudite, respectful, and professional, unlike succeeding game show hosts, who, for the most part, try to be comedians. The panel was also insightful, witty, and humorous without being crude and trying to be funny. They were truly classy people. Even more important to me is to see the civility that existed on that program compared to current programming. It certainly was a different time in terms of respect, manners, and sophistication. As an earlier reviewer, game show formats now appeal to the lowest denominator. Noteworthy is the conduct of the audience. No loud cheering, yelling, and other obnoxious behavior on " What's My line".

How I miss the golden age of television...It was certainly heads and shoulders above most of today's programs which try to pass for entertainment. As we have progressed in so many areas in the past forty years. we have certainly declined in the quality, civility, and humaneness of that earlier era.
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"And now, let's meet our What's My Line? panel!"
Sweet Charity9 January 2004
I don't think there are words in the English vocabulary that can fully capture the deep love I have for this game show and the admiration I feel for its panel. A highly sophisticated and glamorous show, "What's My Line?" keeps you on the edge of your seat for an hour and a half as you watch the celebrity panel try to guess the occupation of a guest or the identity of the mystery guest. Truly, this show fully encompasses what the fifties and sixties were all about. First on the panel, you have tart-tongued syndicated columnist Dorothy Kilgallen. Quick and smart, Dorothy always took the game seriously but never failed to through in a joke or two each telecast. Then there was Random House's very own Bennett Cerf, a remarkable publisher whose calm, cool demeanor and relaxed sense of humor perfectly complimented the show. My favorite regular panelist, however, was the beautiful actress of stage and screen, Miss Arlene Francis. Glamorous, warm, erudite, and fantastically witty, she was such an asset to the show. There was always a fourth panelist -- usually someone along the lines of Steve Allen, Fred Allen, Tony Randall, Martin Gabel (Arlene's husband), etc.

And then, there was the man who was head of it all: journalist John Charles Daly. One of the most fabulously linguistic and learned men I have ever seen in action, he was the perfect host as he brought laughter and sophistication to every episode. I prefer "What's My Line?" in its first incarnation, when John Daly was host and Dorothy Kilgallen still alive. It's a marvelous show, and I cannot thank Game Show Network enough for showing it in reruns, even if they do only air at 4:30 in the morning. Many thanks to the wonderful panel and host -- I've always felt they were like old friends in my home.
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Thank Goodness For GSN B/W Overnite!
BennettManor13 April 2003
The best "What My Lines" to me are the ones from the 1950's I tape 7 days a week from the Game Show Network.

There is so much history. I have seen many notable people/celebrities from the 50's--Conrad Hilton (Hilton Hotels), Rodgers & Hammerstein, Jo Stafford, Walt Disney, Jane Powell, Lucy & Desi, just to name a few.

Also, as stated here, there's a class and sophistication that is evident from the very beginning of the shows.

Arlene and Dorothy would be introduced and would gracefully appear in the most glamourous/classy dresses and evening gowns.

I loved Bennett Ceif. He was so intelligent and funny. He was publisher and was well versed on so many subjects.

I am taping every one I can because I know in another 10 to 20 years these may never be available again. I also enjoy watching them every evening--it's just as fresh as when they first aired.
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The Original, The Best
Sargebri25 June 2003
I have recently begun watching this show late at night on the Game Show network and I was surprised at how straight it was compared to the more comedic syndicated version hosted by Larry Blyden. John Daly pretty much treated this show as if it were Face the Nation or Meet the Press or other shows of that ilk. However, the big intangible that made this show as great as it was, was the chemistry between the panelists, especially between Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf and Dorothy Kilgallen. Sure the Allens, Steve and Fred, were also on the panel, but everyone remembers the "big three" of Arlene, Bennett and Dolly Mae. Also, special kudos must go to Phyllis Newman and Aileen "Suzy Knickerbocker" Mehle. Phyllis and Suzy did admirably filling in for Dorothy in the days after her tragic death. Also, Tony Randall and Martin Gabel were great in their roles as the two of them were pretty much permanent guest panelists on the show. This show will always be a perfect example of style, sophistication and downright fun.
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A True TV Gem!
lisado30 August 2001
Watching reruns of the original What's My Line on the Game Show Network (which has just cancelled its "Black & White Sunday Night," much to my dismay) reminds me of what is missing in today's entertainment: Genuine wit and intelligence. The celebrity participants in this and other "early TV" panel shows simply sparkle in a natural way that is rarely if ever seen in today's world of airbrushed, stage-managed "images." There's an innocence, too, that could never be duplicated 40+ years beyond the heyday of these shows. It's really sad these programs can't find appreciation among a new audience, but perhaps the very qualities that seem so appealing are what hinder that. I hope some day this version of this show gets another chance to captivate audiences the way it captivates me.
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De Gustibus Non Est Disputandem
anais42026 November 2004
Suffering an obsession with the JFK Assassination, I discovered a Ms. Dorothy Kilgallon entangled in the mess. After researching this incredible woman, I started watching 'What's My Line'; having always disagreed with gameshows, I maintained a wearying distance for, ahhhhh 5 seconds :D Within the first few moments I was hooked; the original panelists and Jon Daly exhibit erudition, reason, and humour. Fully exemplary of the class, intelligence, communication, and confidence that America has lacked for entirely too long, I feel as if 'What's My Line?' should be required watching in school, lol! So! My third episode is tonight. I CAN'T WAIT!
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WML respected its audience
MarqKC30 January 2005
I agree with all previous comments about "What's My Line?" (urbane, witty, erudite, sophisticated and intelligent), and I would add this thought: All these appellations are true because this show respected its audience. It did not pander. The panelists were never afraid to use a multisyllabic word. No doubt, some "creative consultant" would stop such behavior today.

Additionally, the show is a time capsule of New York in the '50s. You always knew who was "in town," and often why. Sure, maybe the appearance promoted a Broadway show or a book, but it always seemed more "newsy" than "promotional," unlike today when a talk show host holds up the book or shows an outtake from a movie.

A trivia note: Actress Jayne Meadows appeared as the Mystery Guest on 1 August 1954, the day after her marriage to Steve Allen,who was regular panelist that night. She disguised her voice (as the Mystery Guest often did), prompting Allen to comment that he thought the Mystery Guest might be Minnie Mouse. Panelist Arlene Francis correctly identified Meadows.
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Whats My line
dprestia-117 March 2005
I happened to be up late one night and was channel surfing and came across the old "What's My Line" show. I watched it and set up my VCR to tape every night. After a week or so I found myself having a funny sort of feeling when ever I watched. It took a few weeks before I realized what the feeling was. I heard John Daly say that he would see us all next week on Sunday night at 10:30, a bell rang in my head and I remembered that when I was 6 to 12 years old we would spend every Sunday at my grandfather and grandmothers house. When we would get home that night my Dad would turn on the TV and if What's My Line was on I knew it was late and I would have a hard time getting up for school in the morning. I am retired now and the feeling still hits me when I watch this show. My favorite part is the mystery guest, the panel hardly ever misses. I like to look at IMDb and see who the guest's are and read their profiles.
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This is my favorite game show...enjoyed as a child and more so as an adult!
timetraxer26 January 2003
I watched "What's My Line" as a child and am grateful for the chance to see the series again as part of the Game Show Network's current lineup (as of January 2003). This particular show is wonderful in all it's incarnations, though I really enjoy the "early years" from 1951 thru 1967. Besides the fun of guessing the contestants' occupations, it's a joy to listen to the humorous banter of the 4 panelists and the host John Charles Daily. The special guests add an entertaining and historical aspect to the show, as so many of the guests have long since passed away. Though I like many game shows, "What's My Line" will long remain my favorite...and one of the reasons I enjoy the late night hours lately! Check it out before the Game Show Networks revamps their lineup!
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I have discovered WML!
hope42771 March 2006
I have enjoyed reading the above comments about "Whats My Line". I don't remember this show at all when I was a child, and during a period of insomnia I have discovered a brilliant game show that brings to life all that seems to be missing today, glamor, class, wit and humor. Right from my living room I can literally see time turned back to where I have always envisioned the 50's and early 60's to be if you were famous. I can't tell you how many people I have seen as the "mystery guests", or sitting on the panel that I recognize today and can't believe it is them! This show is a treasure, and I enjoy watching it so much. My curiosity got the better of me and I found myself at the computer actually looking up the regular panelist as I had no idea what their past was. My, how shocked I was to learn about Ms. Kilgalin's tragic death, it makes me wonder when watching her why she would commit suicide? I didn't know she was involved in the JFK controversy, this sure makes me question many things . And dear Arlene Francise.....what a career. May all these wonderful souls that have past rest in peace. Your contribution to entertaining many people lives on, even the "younger" generation.
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Recent What's My Line Episode
jlmgwm12 September 2005
WML is undoubtedly the most sophisticated and gracious program ever on television. The panelists and the moderator ALL displayed unequaled graciousness. Wouldn't it be interesting to have a high school or college course using WML as it's course material? The time would certainly be well spent.

This week I saw an episode (week of Sept 7, 2005) which had the conductor of the New York Ballet orchestra. He was 28 and had conducted the NYB orchestra for 3 years. He was the youngest conductor at that time. Did anyone see that episode? If so, please add his name; I'd like to read up on him. (His name was started with an "S".) Thanks.
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what's my line
gratwicker13 August 2005
My family loved What's My Line for the repartee mostly, although I think my Dad had a crush on Dorothy Killgallan because of her intelligence and subtle sense of humor. Dad always liked smart women, and Mom understood and was tolerant.

One night Dad took us Toots Shor for dinner where Mom and he were introduced to Miss Killgallan by Joe Harrison, Dad's friend and the Maitre 'D. Dad and Mom had a drink with her and her husband Dick Kollmar. She drank Champagne and Kollmar paid for the drinks.

Back to What's My Line: John Daly was also great, and I learned my love of punning from the irrepressible Bennet Cerf.

Let's see, was Stoppette (an underarm deodorant) a sponsor? And for some reason another early sponsor, Timex comes to mind too.

Michael E. Katz
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GSN says:
ekelks-28 September 2006
The gentleman I just spoke to says it will return Monday mornings 3 AM on October something -- oh, d---n -- well, just figure out what day of the week Monday is, it was maybe the 12th? I'm sorry. Can't remember. A middle-aged moment.

My comment does not contain enough lines. So, why I love this show: it's a history lesson. I'm 48 and was an infant in the 1950's. On What's My Line we meet all kinds of people, every day jobbers, celebs, government officials (federal, state, etc.). Political people, though they may not even have known it. The Korean war, pre-MASH.

Dorothy always fascinates me. My Dad says she was considered a very conservative newspaper woman in the 50's, and that's kind of scary, in hindsight. I can't tell from the show. Mr. Cerf -- President of Random House, wow.

Anyway, hope they'll let me post this now. Don't forget. Mondays at 3 am beginning October something 2006.
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A Good Host & A Great Show, Even For Kids!
ccthemovieman-129 February 2008
This is one of the first TV shows I remember watching and, like millions of other folks, my parents loved it, too. In fact, it was them watching it first and I just started looking in after awhile, too. To be honest with you, I can't recall why or how my parents allowed me to stay up later to watch this, as, if I recall correctly, this was on fairly late night. But I sure remember the show and the people on it each week.

Even though years later, I can't honestly say I know a lot about the regulars in this show, I can never forget them, beginning with the affable host John Daly.

What young kid would know about Bennett Cerf? Probably nothing, if it weren't for TV show, when I discovered he was a famous publisher of Random House and a fairly funny guy. Other regulars - at least in the earlier days when I watched this - were Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen and Martin Gabel. Later, the panelists became bigger names, people like Tony Randall, Steve Allen, Buddy Hackett and Joey Bishop.

However, it was Daly, Cerf, Kilgallen (a New York City gossip-type columnist) and Francis (actress) who combined to make this show a big hit. In the mid-50s, Francis' husband Martin Gabel became a regular on the show. As you can tell, this had a very New York-big city-cosmopolitan flavor to it. The panelists were all nice people and witty without being obvious comedians. Yet, it didn't come off snobbish, either. A kid could enjoy this, too.

The show was fun, too, because they had people on with unusual occupations. The idea was to guess what those occupation were and the guest could only answer "yes" or "no."

Daly made it fun by being a good host, never hogging the spotlight and being content with letting his partners get the laughs and attention. He knew how to run a show.. That's another lost art in show business, it seems, where everybody wants the limelight.

It would fun to look back at some of these shows today. I haven't seen them in over 50 years. I have fond memories of this.
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It's even better today!
GeorgeSickler5 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I watched this show faithfully as a kid in Dallas (we got it an hour earlier, Central time). I think it's just as much fun today to see the regulars and guest panelists -- and how times have thankfully changed on what I'm calling stereotyped career perceptions.

As just a few examples, and I guess these can still be spoilers for a weekly show that began to air 60 years ago: One night, a woman came on and the studio/TV audience were told she was the sheriff of one of the eastern counties of New Jersey, perhaps Atlantic County. I don't recall.

The panel didn't have a clue: Are you in office work, such as a secretary or a clerk? The nursing medical field? The restaurant service business? And so it went.

Another night (and with apologies that I'm probably going to butcher the spelling of his name), Seiji Ozawa appeared as Leonard Bernstein's assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic.

Are you involved in gardening or landscaping? Well, florist sales? Laundry or dry-cleaning? Restaurants? Again, John Charles Daly turned over all the cards.

The week after Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, they didn't broadcast "Live from New York," as Johnny Olson would say as he opened each show. Instead it was pre-recorded if a back-up were ever needed, and it was just Olson saying "From New York!!! It's What's My Line!!!!".

One guest appeared that night who had flowing white hair, a pure white goatee, black-rim glasses, and wearing a white linen suit. It was Col. Harlan Sanders himself, the guy who came up with the recipe and process to start the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise.

Bless those marvelous Manhattenites, once again they didn't have a clue. After they bombed, Col. Sanders did quip something along the lines that, "Well, my mug is on every box/bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken sold at over "X" thousands of stores across North America and across Europe."

And finally, just to shut this off, one night a man appeared who had acquired the rights to be the first to import and be the exclusive distributor of electric tooth brushes being made somewhere in Europe.

After the panel lost, Bennett Serf was particularly dumbfounded. He couldn't believe it: "You mean people really need an ELECTRIC toothbrush!?!?!?!? They can't just put tooth paste on a brush and go up-and-down on their teeth????" as he was making up-and-down motions with his hand.

This just scratches the surface of a show that was very popular for so many years. It was great then. It's marvelous to watch now for so many reasons.
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Their Lines Were Memorable What's My Line? ****
edwagreen9 January 2011
Warning: Spoilers
This was a really good show and what made it even better were the witty panelists. Bennett Cerf, Arlene Francis and Dorothy Kilgallen were excellent. They were usually right on the mark and with John Charles Daly as the host, what could be better?

Not only were the occupations unusual to some degree, the last part of the show was the best. That was where they had the mystery guest. A famous celebrity came out and signed it. The panel put on their masks and the celebrity disguised their voices and it very often became quite comical.

They're all gone now but the memories linger on. This was typical 1950s television.
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Enjoy It For What It Is -- Remember The Importance Of Education
cindytrells27 April 2006
Reruns of this series on GSN work well as entertainment, but people are overstating its historical value. Where are historical figures like Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson, J. Edgar Hoover, Martin Luther King, Clare Booth Luce, Rachel Carson, Beryl Markham, etc. ?

Out of 800 - some surviving black & white episodes, you get the rare treat of seeing Eleanor Roosevelt, Frank Lloyd Wright, Carl Sandburg and Herman Wouk. Wouk, an Orthodox Jew, looks uncomfortable sitting on the panel in 1956 when the contestant turns out to be somebody who "boxes kangaroos" for a living. He never appeared on What's My Line again.

Besides Wouk, another intelligent person who did What's My Line and possibly no other TV show comes to mind: U.S. Senator George Smathers. Then I found him on a dumbed - down 1985 BBC documentary / amazon.com product "Marilyn Monroe: Say Goodbye To The President." Oh well, easy come easy go.

I'd love to talk more about Eleanor, Frank and Carl, but everybody in the Yahoo and Google discussion groups wants to talk instead about the movie stars and the goofballs who make nail polish for dogs.

Don't get me wrong, I love most of the banter between Bennett Cerf and John Daly. Arlene Francis gives people a cheery lift. The tension between John and Dorothy Kilgallen is fascinating when she tries to break through his filibuster. Maybe the tension between those two was so essential to the show's success that her death made the show fail.

If a schoolteacher wants to screen What's My Line for her social studies students, that's fine. It's okay as long as he / she chooses just a few episodes -- the right ones.

So many baby boomers are saying online that they recall fondly getting permission to stay awake until 11:00 Sunday nights for this show as long as their homework was done. What they forget is that the primitive technology of the 1950s / 1960s forced them to take What's My Line in small doses. It worked great as a little icing on the cake of their Sputnik - inspired competitive education.

But too much icing is bad. These days if you Tivo, say, 25 episodes and watch them back to back, you get the false impression that the Manhattan sophisticates of yesteryear were obsessed with celebrities and movie stars. Wrong. It just seems that way when your need for sleep at 3:30 in the morning (when GSN shows reruns) makes you depend totally on Tivo. Then you have other commitments that make you catch up on several episodes at a time. Then you go to the grocery store check - out line and you might think that What's My Line was a precursor to all those horrible magazines. Something like what Benjamin Bradlee (1970s Washington Post editor) calls "the birth of celebrity culture." Please don't do that to What's My Line.

TODAY people are obsessed with celebrities. But New Yorkers and their followers were NOT in the 1950s / 1960s. They knew how to read books written by serious writers, NOT Kitty Kelley. Watching What's My Line in that era hardly put a dent in that reading. Today if you overload your Tivo you can dumb down your life. Don't just listen to Bennett joke about the Tilton School in New Hampshire. Learn a little of what the Tilton boys learn. Read the nice things Gertrude Stein said about Bennett even though he couldn't understand a word she wrote. Can you?

The mystery guest round was a little icing on the cake once a week. That person was sometimes called the "mystery celebrity," but celebrities hardly mattered to Dorothy, Arlene, Bennett or John.

Dorothy Kilgallen didn't make her gossip a priority; she was really a crime reporter. Arlene Francis acted on Broadway, which was then considered high - brow sophisticated culture. During World War II she played the part of a Russian woman who could fire a rifle very well. Can you imagine Vanna White doing such a thing today ? Bennett Cerf published Faulkner, for heaven's sake. Please don't remember him totally for his zealous questioning of the mystery guests. He was just being competitive; he knew the TV western "Rifleman" wasn't something kids should study in school. Even the star of that western, Chuck Connors, sat on the What's My Line panel and proved that Reading Is Fundamental.

Franklin Heller was the director of What's My Line. Don't confuse his job with Mike Nichols' job. A TV director of a quiz show broadcast live is a technician who switches cameras at precisely the right moments during the live feed. Then consider what job Mr. Heller took on after CBS axed the show in 1967: literary agent.

Please don't remember John Daly for narrating an episode of Green Acres. That's the treatment he gets in online discussion groups.

Please don't dumb down these high achievers in the era BEFORE "The Closing of the American Mind" (title of a 1987 best - selling book). Just enjoy these black & white reruns for what they are: evidence of a witty game that entertained people for 27 minutes each week.

Then improve your reading, especially if you have kids. Sputnik doesn't matter today, but look at what Buddhist and Islamic countries are doing to us. Their people immigrate here and the kids do better in school than kids named John Smith. Johnny can't read very well, but Lu Ping Zhu can discuss Confucius AND Ray Bradbury AND Stephen King. And people wonder why "What's My Maginot Line?" can't get on television today ...
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Will The Mystery Guest Sign In Please?
DKosty12329 October 2007
John Daly, without a doubt one of the best game show hosts, gave this show a touch of class. Bennett Cerf, Random House Publisher, gave it an aura of intellect while providing some really off beat humor. Arlene Francis & Dorothy Kilgallen gave it the womens touch. The balance was so great that people would watch it every Sunday night for many years.

The game itself was simple- just what is this contestants line of work? The format of 10 chances to get it never seemed to wear thin. Often the show passed on valued information about different occupations. The prize money- amazingly small. The entertainment value- over the top.

This show was the biggest hit for Mark Goodsen & Bill Toddman before their 1972 retooling of The Price is Right. As it started in the 1950's, the men always wore tuxedos, the women formal gowns. Everybody was so formal. The show is a great time machine piece to what the civilized world was like, particularly in New York City, before those Californians brought all this down with no class to where it is today.

The re-runs of this feature almost every person of fame or celebrity from this era either as a mystery guest or on the panel. The final episode is priceless as John Daly pulls his emergency mystery guest plan off which had been on the shelf for 17 years, but never had to be used as the mystery guests had always shown up. That in itself is an amazing record & shows the respect those guests had for the show. For 17 years, once a guest committed, they always made it on the show.

The list of mystery guests is a veritable who's who of famous people. Alfred Hitchcock, Vincent Price, Bishop Fulton Sheen, Charlton Heston, Bob Hope, Tyronne Powers, Audie Murphy, Ronald Reagen, Burns & Allen, and many other famous mystery guests came on this show. Unlike today, this show was done live and the reactions of the live audience to the guests coming on stage is priceless.

I doubt that young folks will ever appreciate how great this show was. The value of this gem is priceless, & none of the revivals has ever quite gotten to the original run. The world has changed too much, & now that many of the values this show represented have changed, this gem can't be recreated.
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So good
JoeBo39420 May 2019
Discovered this show a few years ago on YouTube and thought it was great. Easily one of the best game shows out there and it's so cool seeing all the old stars and pop culture figures in a different setting.
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So many levels of enjoyment... an impossible-to-dislike game show...
ElMaruecan8216 June 2016
As a movie lover, coming closer to the 1000 reviews' goal I assigned myself to, I didn't think I would ever review a game show, especially with the many great movies (and a few TV series) I still have to work on. But it's precisely because I love movies that I love actors and because I love them that I enjoy watching them on "What's My Line?"

You have a concept that couldn't have been simpler: panelists must guess the identity of a mystery challenger with questions whose answers can only be 'yes' or 'no'. The star is betrayed by the loud applause and so era-defining wolf whistles when he or she writes his name on the chalkboard, but the fun is all in the voices' disguises and hilarious questions in their specific context "are you a curly blonde?" wouldn't make you smile unless the question was asked to Yul Brynner. Generally, actors would use falsetto voices, women deep voices, some pull an accent and other silent veterans didn't even need to hide their voices. When they succeeded, it was fun, when they failed, even more fun.

Of course, the guests generally made the news and talked about upcoming projects, and it's such a delight for a movie geek to see Jack Lemmon's performance in "Some Like it Hot" already considered as one of the funniest ever, or Eva Marie Saint asked about a project with Alfred Hitchcock. "What's My Line" is like a time capsule where Henry Fonda or Kirk Douglas where the Cruise and Pitt. But you can enjoy the show even without loving movies (but wouldn't anyone love Hollywood icons?) but by enjoying the most prevalent segments, that inspired the title. Actually, I discovered the show through the stars' segments, all featured in Youtube, and it's only four years later that I started visioning the jobs' guessing games. The panelists had to guess the candidate's line of work, following the same pattern. Each "no" got the participant 5 dollars, and after 10 "nos", the game was over.

Bullfighters, IRS commissioners, song composers, flea breeders, some of the most unexpected jobs were featured, or regular jobs from unlikely workers. Generally, the beautiful and delicate candidates had tough-guy jobs, and vice versa. But I can't go further without mentioning the panelists. Because their quality, erudition, wit and diversity is the secret ingredient to the game's enduring success. Arlene Francis, the cheerful actress with heart-shaped neck lace, who brings a permanent sunshine on the show and flirted with handsome guys, the competitive Dorothy Killgalen who plays like the officious villain of the show, Benneth Cerf, the debonair editor who built, among his many trademarks, lousy puns, mutual teasing with John Daly, and mentioning the beauty of pretty guests.

Everything was done in good spirit, and that good spirit was incarnated by the Master of Ceremony, John Charles Daly, a mild-mannered, respectable figure of entertainment whose task consisted on leading (and as Cerf said, misleading) the panelists with tortuous answers. For instance, to the question asked to an IMDb user "are you making a useful occupation?" he would say something like "well, it can be admitted that there's some advisory elements within his activity which, to some certain degree, might be perceived as useful by a non negligible number of people". And as silly as it is, it's for Daly's answers and the panelists' questions that you could improve your English literacy, even learning naughtiness while avoiding vulgarity.

Indeed, vulgarity was a big "No" and might have explained the departure of one of the early panelists, Hal Block, one who helped enhancing the show' popularity by making jokes about the contestants, until he ignored one warning too many and got fired. It was a time where the game was gaining in elegance, grace, and audience, and step by step, the show got rid of some stuff like the little walk where the candidates were even asked to show their hands (only Dorothy would even touch and comment on them) and then a few free guesses would be the occasion to distasteful remarks. Block would pay the biggest price, even more costly as he was the one who went most in need of the job while the other panelists were already established members of their own professions.

But his firing would start a new era with two talented panelists, Fred Allen and then young rising comedian Steve Allen, who would come up with the "is it bigger than a breadbox?" the first catchphrase-question of the show, proving producer Mark Goodson that he was on the right track. Finally, they would decide to keep one new panelist every time to break on the routine, Francis' wife, Martin Gabel, Tony Randall, Jack Lemmon etc. And I think we can fairly assume that there's a Golden Age of the show starting circa 1954 and ending with the untimely passing of columnist Dorothy Killgalen, a death that would cause many rumors, given her involvement in the Kennedy murder investigation.

Naturally, such a show, deeply rooted in the America of the 50's and 60's is marked by the era, but that's what makes its charm, you have the obligatory sponsor (Remington, Kellogs), the decorum: women sitting while shaking hands, except for religious people or older women, Cold War mentions, and these wolf whistles that can tell you feminism didn't prevail back then. "WML", for all these reasons, is an addictive show, and I regularly need my fix on Youtube.

And "Youtube" did more, while the stars left a legacy, the unknowns who came didn't have a VHS recorder at a time, they just had to watch themselves on TV. Now, if many of them aren't part of this world, their children or relatives can enjoy the show and see their uncles, parents, grandparents, at their primes, like the stars of their personal history.
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Sunday Night, 9:30 PM in Chicago and time for WHAT'S MY LINE? Sure hope your Homework is done, John!
redryan6424 May 2014
IN THE AREA of TV programming and quality, none in an era, could top this unpretentious, dignified and truly enjoyable panel game show. Slated at the 10:30 PM EST time slot, Sunday evenings, it was truly the pinnacle of CBS TV's week of "Tiffany Broadcasting"; as the Columbia Broadcasting System so 'modestly' referred to itself.

A KEY ELEMENY in the success of this long-running series was their striking a balance in its fundamental makeup. The dignified framing of the program is never overshadowed by the fun and comedic aspects of its entertainment value. Likewise, striving for a 'dignified' presentation never hampers their tickling of our collective funny-bone.

SITTING IN THE Master of Ceremonies was the guy who kept all in balance. With the skill of an eminent surgeon, the very urbane and personable, Mr. Daly, who was concurrently employed as the Anchorman on ABC's Nightly News, conducted business. Moving the show forward, without wasting an precious network time, his acumen was that likened to an Arturo Toscanini or Leonard Bernstein with a baton in hand.

ROUNDING OUT THE cast was the all important panel. In much the same manner as we now refer to the 'chemistry' that goes into making up a successful professional sports' franchise, so too the same care is an essential to a panel. A fine line must be struck between a panelists personality, temperament & entertainment value and the participant's level of team work.

THE STARTING ROSTER of players was: Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen, and Bennett Cerf; who would traditionally be last to be seated and in turn, he would humorously introduce John Daly as M.C. Others, who sat in as the fourth panel member were: Fred Allen, Martin Gabel, Robert Q. Lewis, Steve Allen and many others. Veteran Announcer, Johnny Olson, did the voice over honors.

FOLLOWING TWO EVERYDAY people, who attempted to stump the panel with their varied walks of life and bread-winning, the "Mystery Challanger" would occupy the third and final contestants' position. With the admonishment of "Blindfolds all in place, Panel; Mystery Challanger, Sign in Please!", the final segment commenced.

THE "MYSTERY CHALLANGER" was obviously someone who was known to the public at large. Culled from the Worlds of Show Biz, the Sporting World and even Politics, that would need for the panelists' blindfolds. Our own Mother, the Late Bertha Fuerst Ryan, 1917-2008, observed how often this "Mystery Challenger" had also been a guest on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW. "They must buy them their supper!", she quipped.

IF ONE IS old enough to have viewed the show when it went out live, you would certainly know of what we speak. If one is too young or needs a little refreshment of the cerebellum; just simply go to youtube.com on your computer. There you will find an ample supply of video clips and whole episodes.

SO, JUST LOG into youtube.com; and knock yourself out!
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Time capsule of 1950s and 1960s New York culture
bw921166 December 2013
This is a great record of who was famous in the 1950s and 1960s in America, particularly in New York, as many big-name stars and other famous people (i.e. Eleanor Roosevelt) made appearances as the "Mystery Guest" at the end of each episode. The other contestants were ordinary people with unusual jobs.

What really makes this show watchable is the elegant, witty banter between the panelists, the host, and often the contestants. It's like being at a sophisticated New York cocktail party of the 1950s (I can only assume, since it was before I was born). The conversations and comments are really the point of the show more than the game is.

Once the series was canceled by CBS in 1967 and produced as a syndicated show instead from 1968 to 1975, I think it went down a little in quality though it was still fun to see the Mystery Guest. Hopefully all the episodes of this series are preserved well as it is a good record of a couple of decades of American culture, at least from a New York standpoint.
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This TV Series Is Dessert -- Not Meat Or Potatoes
rtr752 October 2006
"ekelks-2" said recently on this page that What's My Line is "a history lesson." He goes on to report his baby boomer status and the U.S. government officials and other historically important people who were contestants on this show.

But I tend to agree more with "cindytrells" and her analysis on this page. Yes, you see people with careers that make great ideas for your kids today -- with certain exceptions, of course. You can't sell dynamite to owners of coal mines anymore, as did two contestants in 1964 / 1965. You can't sell the Beatle wig as did a contestant on the night the Beatles played Ed Sullivan for the first time. In fact, rock & roll / hip hop merchandise today doesn't emphasize hair.

Are the dynamite and the Beatle wig good history lessons for today's young people? Only coupled with something else. When John Daly and mystery guest Tallulah Bankhead discuss Winston Churchill as they will on a rerun you can see in early 2007, it helps to know who Churchill was. You can Tivo the episode, hear "Churchill" and then look him up.

But it's up to you to look him up. Some people won't. Maybe serious history and a bachelor's degree aren't for everyone.

We don't have Winston Churchill today to lead the fight against terrorists. Unless the man who makes the Eminem white T-shirt leads the fight, then please put enough meat and potatoes in your history. Learn about the Kennedy administration-sponsored coup that put Saddam Hussein on the road to power. What's My Line is dessert.

Getting back to career ideas for students, remember that the careers of Bennett, Dorothy, Arlene and John Daly were just distant scenery on every single episode. You hear somebody introduce Arlene's Broadway play, but you don't get the playwright or the plot. If you want your kid to consider publishing -- Bennett Cerf's field -- he/she has a lot of work to do besides watching GSN.
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Ernie Kovaks....😀😁
lkbradshaw910 January 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Can you fold it. Such a class act. Ernie Kovaks can you fold it bit that ran for his time on the show. Then they brought in someone who manufactured folding beds... so funny..
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