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'What's My Line?' lives online
August 25, 2014
by Mark Ollig

While watching classic TV game show videos on the Internet, I discovered a “What’s My Line?” channel on YouTube.

CBS broadcast the original “What’s My Line?” (WML) Sunday nights from Feb. 2, 1950 until Sept. 3, 1967.

I recall as a youngster watching a few of those 1960s WML shows; being the opening theme to WML was cartoonish, it immediately caught my attention.

The four regular WML panel members varied over the years; however, Dorothy Kilgallen, Steve Allen, Arlene Francis, and Bennett Cerf were my favorites.

I enjoyed radio and early television comedian Fred Allen as a panelist, too.

The premise of the show was to have the panelists ask questions of a contestant in order to reveal their occupation, or “line.”

The contestant could only give a yes or no answer.

Only the folks in the audience, the panel moderator, and those watching on TV knew what the contestant’s occupation was.

The contestant sat next to the panel moderator.

The original WML panel moderator was John Charles Daly.

Famed comedian Groucho Marx has appeared on WML as a panelist, and a celebrity mystery guest.

In one of my favorite WML episodes, he brought the house down in complete and utter laughter as a panel member Sept. 20, 1959.

This episode had two contestants; a Nikita Khrushchev look-alike whose occupation was a jail warden, and a professional wrestler named Judy Grable.

The mystery guest was actress Claudette Colbert.

This episode can be seen at: http://tinyurl.com/bytes-G1.

Groucho Marx also appeared as the celebrity mystery guest Oct. 13, 1953.

The panel members were always blindfolded whenever a mystery celebrity guest was on.

Questioning of this mystery guest began with Cerf.

“Do you ever make after dinner speeches in the course of your operations?” asked Cerf.

“Yeah, only before dinner!” Groucho wisecracked back to a smiling Cerf, as Daly, the audience, and the other panelists roared with laughter.

You were not going to limit Groucho Marx to just a yes or no answer.

It was vintage Groucho Marx; he had everyone on stage and in the audience laughing in stitches with his witty answers to the panelist’s questions.

Arlene Francis finally revealed Groucho Marx as the mystery guest.

Actually, I had a feeling the whole panel knew, the minute he spoke his first sentence in a half-heartedly disguised German accent, that it was Groucho, but they kept the game going in order to keep Groucho on.

Groucho was also puffing away on his traditional cigar, and so one would think the panelists would have smelled that, too.

“It’s exhilarating to have Groucho show up on a program that you’re supposed to be running, because you stop running it the minute he gets in. I don’t know what’s happened,” moderator Daly quipped, while the audience laughed.

Groucho held a cigar in his right hand; he was smiling, with his head slightly tilted while looking toward Daly.

WML had become so popular in the 1950s that celebrities would jump at the chance to be on the show, especially when they wanted to plug a Broadway play, movie, or television show they were in.

It was truly the golden age of television, and the number of Hollywood stars, authors, industrialists, political and sport figures, military persons, and folks with unusual occupations who appeared on WML made for an impressive list.

A few weeks ago, yours truly joined a “What’s My Line (CBS)” Facebook group.

This group focuses on topics about the people who were involved in the original airing of the classic “What’s My Line?” TV show from 1950 to 1967.

As of this writing, our WML Facebook group has 254 members.

A syndicated daily version of “What’s My Line?” was started in 1968, and ran until 1975.

Daly did not moderate this syndicated game show; however, Arlene Francis returned in her regular role as panelist.

During one syndicated broadcast, Cerf made a surprise appearance as the mystery guest, and spoke of how he missed the show and Daly.

After this appearance, Cerf would re-appear occasionally as a panelist, until his death in 1971.

In addition to learning more about the particular episodes from the Facebook WML group, I find many sub-topic branches or threads will begin when someone posts a newspaper article, photograph, TV Guide story, advertisement, or some other interesting tidbit about Daly, one of the WML panelists, celebrities or guest’s.

What makes the original WML so interesting for me is the comical, playful bantering between the panelists and their interactions with the guests, audience, and Daly.

I also enjoy watching Daly, with his prodigious vocabulary, humorously expounding explanations to questions, and his father-like conduct with the panelists.

The original version of WML, from 1950 to 1967, produced 876 shows.

Over 500 episodes of “What’s My Line?” can be seen at http://tinyurl.com/bytes-WML.


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