Announcer: "Now, let's all play What's My Line?"
And so began the long running CBS weekly game/panelist evening show co-produced by Bill Todman and Mark Goodson. What's My Line? debuted February 1950 and was hosted/moderated from its inception to its demise by the urbane, quick witted, former newsman John Charles Daly. Daly and pun delivering, tuxedo clad panelist Bennett Cerf brought a special charm to the show by engaging in verbal wordplay that entranced audiences while the distaff side of the panel brought gasps of wonder and admiration with their dazzling jewelry and haute couture dresses.
At the show's height in the mid-fifties, the game show began with the introduction of the panelists who, one at a time, entered center stage, acknowledged the audience applause, then walked to the panelists' desk, stood at his or her place, and announced the next panelist with a comment on his or her most recent professional accomplishment. Daly was announced last, took his place at the moderator's desk and, after exchanging greetings and bon mots with the panel, asked the first contestant to "Enter and sign in, please!"
The first contestant entered (sometimes to the wolf whistles of male audience members if the contestant was an attractive female) and signed in on a chalk board center stage. Daly met the challenger at the chalk board and then escorted him or her to the moderator's desk. Once the contestant was seated next to Daly and assured him thathe or she understood the show's scoring system, questioning began with a panelist chosen at Daly's discretion.
involved three regular panelists (at the show's height the three regular panelists were Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen, and Bennett Cerf) and one guest panelist (a celebrity) asking contestants "Yes or No" questions regarding his or her occupation. The object of the game was to have the panelists ascertain the contestant's occupation before they racked up ten "No" answers from the contestant. Panelists were clued before questioning that the contestant either dealt in a service or a product and was either salaried or self employed. A panelist could continue questioning a contestant as long as he or she received a "Yes" answer to his or her questions. Contestants hoped to score the ten "No" answers and win the $50 prize. Unusual occupations such as gate-keeping at Ireland's Blarney Castle, selling rubber bands, designing bathing suits, or playing a department store Easter Bunny were intended to stump the panelists.
A highlight of each show (in which event the panelists were blindfolded) was the appearance of a Mystery Guest - usually a Hollywood star, a Broadway celebrity, a nightclub performer, a singer, a renowned athlete, or other famous face. The object in the Mystery round was to guess the celebrity guest's identity. The Mystery Guest typically tried to disguise his or her voice in order to stump the panel. Mystery Guests included Zsa Zsa Gabor, Lucille Ball, Jimmy Durante, Bob Hope, Judy Holliday, June Allyson, and countless others.
The show won Emmys in 1953, 1954, and 1959 as well as a Golden Globe in 1962. Produced in b&w from 1950-1966 and in color for its final network year 1967, the well loved show saw 876 episodes.
The show went into syndication in 1968 with host Wally Bruner and at a later date, Larry Blyden. Soupy Sales was a regular panelist on the new version. Arlene Francis returned for the syndicated show while Bennett Cerf made frequent appearances until his death in 1971. In 1975 a special called "'What's My Line?' at 25" replayed great moments from the original series. "What's My Line?" remains one of the best loved TV game shows of all time and is remembered for the engaging camaraderie of its participants, its almost courtly manners, and its stylish presentation. Reruns may be viewed on some channels. Check your TV listings.
Photo above: At the show's height of popularity the "What's My Line?" regular panelists included Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf, and Dorothy Kilgallen. John Charles Daly remained the show's host and moderator for its 17 year run.