Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Web Secret 535: What's My Line

When I was a child, one of my greatest pleasures was watching TV game shows with my grand-mother.

Grani - as we called her - was a regal, worldly woman who had emigrated to the USA from Russia via Berlin and Paris. She spoke 4 languages and was always immaculately dressed with a strand of pearls around her neck.

Retrospectively, I find it hilarious that this regal person enjoyed some of the most proletarian aspects of 1960s America. She would take me on frequent expeditions to Lamston, a now defunct Five and Dime store, and Chock Full O Nuts, a coffee shop featuring a lunch counter where we ate cream-cheese on date nut bread sandwiches.

One of her favorite shows was What's My Line?, a panel game show that originally ran from 1950 to 1967. The game required celebrity panelists to question a contestant in order to determine his or her occupation, i.e., "line [of work]." Each show culminated in the panelists putting on masks and trying to identify a "mystery guest" with their questions.

Most of the major figures connected to the show were remarkable in their own rights. The show was moderated by John Daly, a World War II correspondent who witnessed Gen. George S. Patton's infamous "slapping incident". As a reporter for the CBS radio network, Daly was the first national correspondent to deliver the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the first to report the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Panelist Dorothy Kilgallen wrote a newspaper column "The Voice of Broadway", which was syndicated to more than 140 papers. In 1936, she competed with other New York newspaper reporters in a race around the world using only means of transportation available to the general public. She was the only woman to compete in the contest and came in second. She was invited to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, defended comedian Lenny Bruce from obscenity charges, and reported on the trial of accused murderer Dr. Sam Shepard.
Arlene Francis was the highest-earning game show panelist in the 1950s, making $1,000 (equal to $10,172 today) per show.

Panelist Kitty Carlisle was a film actress who had acted in "A Night at the Opera" (1935) with the Marx Brothers, two films with Bing Crosby, Woody Allen's "Radio Days" (1987), "Six Degrees of Separation" (1993), and "Catch Me If You Can" (2002) in which she played herself in a dramatization of a 1970s To Tell the Truth episode.

Panelist Bennett Cerf was the erudite founder of the Random House publishing firm.

Host and panelists were dressed in evening wear, the men in tuxedos and the women in beautiful cocktail dresses.

All of the What's My Line shows can be viewed on YouTube.

One day on a whim, I showed one of the episodes to my Millenial twins. They became instantly addicted and started streaming the 100+ shows.

They are fascinated by the A list celebrities, from Sean Connery to a very young Elizabeth Taylor, from Bette Davis to Jackie Gleason.

They are fascinated by the elegance and formality with which host, panelists and guests behave.

They are fascinated by the guests and substitute panelists who later became famous. Watch pre Star Trek William Shatner, outrageously flirting with an attractive guest, or Tony Randall, ten years before "The Odd Couple" TV series.

But they are most fascinated by the every day guests whose occupations no longer exist due to modernization and techhnology. Jobs like Hat Check Girl and Diaper Service Man.

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