What’s My Line?
About This Show
What's My Line? is a weekly panel game show, which originally ran in the United States from 1950 to 1967 with several international versions and subsequent U.S. revivals. The game tasked celebrity panelists with questioning contestants in order to determine their occupations. It is the longest-running game show in the history of prime time network television. Hosted by John Charles Daly and with panelists Dorothy Kilgallen, Arlene Francis and Bennett Cerf, What's My Line? won three Emmy Awards for "Best Quiz or Audience Participation Show," in 1952, 1953 and 1958 and Golden Globe for Best TV Show in 1962.
In 1968 it returned in syndication as a daily production which ran until 1975. There have been several international versions, radio versions, and a live stage version.
Produced by Mark Goodson and Bill Todman for CBS television, the show was initially called Occupation Unknown. The original series, which was usually broadcast live, debuted on Thursday February 2, 1950 at 8:00 p.m. ET. After airing alternate Wednesdays, then alternate Thursdays, finally on October 1, 1950 it had settled into its weekly Sunday 10:30 p.m. ET slot where it would remain until the end of its network run on September 3, 1967.
From May 20, 1952 to July 1, 1953 a CBS radio version of What's My Line? was produced on Tuesday nights with the same host and panel as the TV version. The radio version is notable for the only appearances of Marlene Dietrich and Marlon Brando.
Hosts and panelists
The original series was hosted by veteran radio and television newsman John Charles Daly. Eamonn Andrews (host of the British version), Clifton Fadiman, and Bennett Cerf substituted on the four occasions Daly was unavailable.
The show featured a panel of four celebrities who questioned the contestants. On the initial program of February 2, 1950, the panel was former New Jersey governor Harold Hoffman, columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, poet Louis Untermeyer, and psychiatrist Richard Hoffman. For the majority of the show’s run the panel consisted of Kilgallen, Random House publisher and co-founder Bennett Cerf, actress Arlene Francis and a fourth guest panelist. During the show’s earliest period the panel generally consisted of Kilgallen, Francis, Untermeyer and comedy writer Hal Block with Cerf replacing Untermeyer in 1951 and comedian Steve Allen replacing Block in 1953. Steve Allen left to launch The Tonight Show in 1954 and was replaced by comedian Fred Allen who remained on the panel until his death in 1956. After Kilgallen's death in 1965 the two remaining seats on the panel were never filled regularly again. The most frequent guest panelist was Arlene Francis' husband Martin Gabel, who appeared 112 times.
Regular announcers included Lee Vines (1950–1955), Hal Simms (1955–1961), Ralph Paul (1961), and Johnny Olson (1961–1967).
The program began with Daly and panel entering from off-stage as they were introduced. Prior to 1954, both panelists and host began the program in their seats, but this was changed responding to letters asking what panelists looked like away from their seats. The first panelist would be introduced by the announcer following the show's introduction, and each panelist would introduce the next in turn, with the last introducing Daly. During his tenure, Hal Block sat in the final seat and began the practice of introducing Daly with a pun. Upon his departure, Bennett Cerf took over this position and expanded these introductions, often telling long jokes which he tied to Daly in some way.
To begin a round, Daly would invite the contestant to "come in and sign in, please" which by 1960 evolved to the more familiar "enter and sign in, please". The contestant entered by writing their name on a small sign-in board. Daly would then usually ask where the guest lived and with women if she should be addressed as "Miss" or "Mrs." Early in the show's run, the panel was allowed to inspect contestants, studying their hands, or label on their suit or asking them to make a muscle.
While ostensibly a game show, if there was time, it was also was an opportunity to conduct interviews. Line’s sister show, I've Got a Secret (and later the syndicated version of WML) engaged in the practice of contestants demonstrating their talents. However, despite frequent requests by the panel (particularly Arlene Francis) such demonstrations rarely occurred as according to executive producer Gil Fates, Daly was not fond of this practice
John Charles Daly (1950–1967)
Wally Bruner (1968–1972)
Larry Blyden (1972–1975)
Dorothy Kilgallen (1950–1965)
Louis Untermeyer (1950–1951)
Hal Block (1951–1953)
Bennett Cerf (1951–1971)
Steve Allen (1953–1954)
Fred Allen (1954–1956)
Soupy Sales (1968–1975)
Lee Vines (1950–1955)
Hal Simms (1955–1961)
Ralph Paul (1961)
Johnny Olson (1961–1972)
Chet Gould (1973–1975)
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 25
No. of episodes CBS: 876
Running time 30 minutes
Original channel CBS (1950–1967)
Original run February 2, 1950 – September, 1975
Video clip: Judy Garland is the guest on March 5, 1967 telecast of What's My Line