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Whats My Line Esoterica Regulars on this website know that I love this old show. (My 300-plus WML posts attest to this!) The original CBS version of What's My Line aired Sunday nights at 10:30 from February 2, 1950 to September 3, 1967. I was just three years old when it went off the air so I never saw WML during its glory days (although I frequently watched the syndicated 1968-75 version). To make up for what I missed, I've been reading everything I can about this great slice of Americana. In the comment section below, I'll be listing some esoteric facts--trivia, if you like--about this supremely classy game show. By the way, this is a publicity photo of the WML gang from 1955.
Tags: Whats  My  Line  esoterica 
Added: 23rd December 2008
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Posted By: Lava1964
Posted by: Lava1964 on 2008-12-23 
Interesting facts about What's My Line...

John Daly only missed four shows in the 17.5 years WML aired on CBS.

Steve Allen was the only person to be a panelist, a regular contestant, and a mystery challenger.

On the first show, just before the mystery challenger (Phil Rizzuto) appeared, a female assistant brought the blindfolds to the panelists. This never happened again. The panelists always had their masks at the desk after that first show.

Lucille Ball made the most mystery guest appearances of anyone.

Laura Finch made the most appearances as a regular challenger. She was on the first show in 1950, the fifth anniversary show in 1955, and the final show in 1967.

Longtime panelist Dorothy Kilgallen was a mystery guest in 1961 when she was supposedly out of town.

Bennett Cerf was a mystery guest on the syndicated version of WML in 1969.

Arlene Francis was supposed to be a panelist on the first show, but had another commitment. She appeared on the second show and missed very few shows thereafter. In her reminiscences about WML, she could not recall the commitment that kept her away from that historic first show.

John Daly used a signal--the tugging of his ear--to indicate to panelists that their line of questioning was getting too risque. It was normally used to keep Hal Block in line.

Hal Block was disliked by the other panelists. They shed no tears when he was replaced by Steve Allen in 1953.

Louis Untermeyer, who was a panelist during the first season, was barred from the show because he was rumored to be a communist.

Martin Gabel, Arlene Francis' husband, was the most frequent guest panelist.

Arlene regularly wore a heart-shaped necklace. It was a gift from her husband. Similar necklaces became a sought-after jewellery item because of WML. Arlene lost the original necklace to an armed robber.

Only two shows were not broadcast from New York City. One was in 1956 when both John Daly and Dorothy Kilgallen were in Chicago covering the Democratic National Convention. CBS decided the sensible thing was to broadcast WML from Chicago that night. The other occasion was in January 1958 when one episode was broadcast from Hollywood.

Three future presidents were contestants on WML. Ronald Reagan was on the CBS version in 1953 while Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were on the syndicated versions. Even though Carter was the governor of Georgia at the time, he was so unknown outside his home state that he appeared as a regular contestant.

Dorothy Kilgallen missed several episodes in 1958 when she was being treated for alcoholism.

The prize structure on WML never changed during its run on CBS. It was $5 for every 'no' answer from the first day to the last day.

John Daly and the male panelists wore regular suits on the first show. In almost all the other shows they wore tuxedos. (One exception was the show the week following Dorothy Kilgallen's death in 1965: The men wore dark suits.)

Dorothy Kilgallen's children and father made separate mystery challenger appearances.

Bennett Cerf's wife made a mystery guest appearance, as did Fred Allen's wife.
Posted by: Lava1964 on 2008-12-23 
A few more tidbits about What's My Line...

The show was broadcast in color only in its final two seasons. However, CBS discarded the original color tapes. Black-and-white kinescopes are all that exist of the last two seasons--just like the previous 15 seasons.

About 50 of the early WML episodes were not recorded on kinescope, so they are truly lost forever. One episode that was sadly lost was the night when fiery baseball great Ty Cobb was the mystery challenger. Cobb was the last of the original five players elected to the Hall of Fame.

Despite the plentiful number of episodes on kinescopes, WML was not shown in reruns until the Game Show Network started broadcasting them a few years ago.

Contestants did not sign in on a blackboard. It was a black Bristo-board material that was replaced after every contestant. Many of the signatures of celebrities were thus saved.

Announcer Johnny Olson appeared as a mystery challenger late in WML's run in 1967 (where he stumped the panel by using a wide variety of odd voices) and again in the syndicated version.

The syndicated version of WML had two hosts: Wally Bruner and Larry Blyden. Bruner was a former political correspondent in Washington. Blyden was an actor and an occasional panelist on the CBS version. Blyden was killed in a car accident while vacationing in Morocco in 1975. The show had already been cancelled before Blyden's untimely death.

What's My Line, in a typical week, generated about 5,000 letters from viewers. Most of the letters came from people who thought their occupations were unusual enough for them to be featured as contestants.

John Daly was born in South Africa. He divorced and remarried during the run of the show.
Posted by: eric1957 on 2008-12-23 
Did Bennett Cerf's son Christopher ever a mystery guest.
Posted by: Lava1964 on 2008-12-23 
Eric: I searched through a list of mystery guests from the CBS version of the show. I didn't see Christopher Cerf's name--but I might have missed it.

He may have been a contestant on the syndicated version. If so, he probably could have been a regular contestant.
Posted by: Lava1964 on 2008-12-23 
More bits of WML esoterica...

Since it was considered something of an honor to be a WML mystery challenger, the celebrities generally did not receive an appearance fee. However, they did get any of the prize money they won--just like any regular contestant. One exception was Eleanor Roosevelt, who reputedly received $1000 for her October 18, 1953 appearance. She donated it to UN charities.

Both Eddie Fisher and Sal Mineo suffered the indignity of twice being mystery challengers and not being identified either time.

Bennett Cerf was a semi-regular panelist on the syndicated version of WML. He died of a heart attack in August 1971 after taping many shows. Because the syndicated shows sometimes aired in some markets as much as a year after they were taped, many people refused to believe Cerf had died.

John Daly did not appear on the syndicated version of What's My Line, but he and Arlene co-hosted a 25th anniversary special on ABC in 1975.

Producer Gil Fates once suggested to John Daly that the show would have greater appeal to younger viewers if it were less formal. (He thought Daly's habit of addressing panelists as Miss and mister was too stuffy.) Daly refused to even consider any type of change. Fates, realizing that Daly was extremely popular, did not press the issue any further.

Sometimes on the syndicated shows there is a reference to 'Fates Law.' This was a rule that producer Gil Fates instituted for the mystery guest round: If a panelist incorrectly guessed the guest's identity, that panelist was disqualified from the rest of the game. It was designed to stop panelists making ill-informed wild guesses.
Posted by: Naomi on 2008-12-23 
You are a well of information Lava, it's amazing!
Posted by: Lava1964 on 2008-12-23 
Thanks for the compliment, Naomi.

We all have God-given talents. Mine apparently memorizing useless drivel. As I say to my friends, 'What I know is knowledge; what I don't know is trivia.'
Posted by: Naomi on 2008-12-23 
I must say though, that Fred Allen looks really terrible in that picture, was he suffering healthwise? He's got terrible bags under his eyes.
Posted by: Lava1964 on 2008-12-24 
Well, it's hard to say how Fred Allen's health was at the time. Allen died of a sudden heart attack while taking a midnight stroll in February 1956. He was 62 years old.

Fred Allen would never be called handsome. Some would say he had a face made for radio.
Posted by: Lava1964 on 2009-01-07 
More bits of What's My Line trivia:

Fred Allen and Dorothy Kilgallen are buried in the same cemetery (Gates of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, NY). Babe Ruth is also buried there.

Anne Fogarty designed the dress that Dorothy wore on her final appearance on What's My Line. Dick Kollmar, Dorothy's husband, later married Fogarty.

WML spawned many imitation shows in foreign countries. Often their hosts appeared as contestants on the original American version.

Although WML always had an air of conservative dignity about it, at least three WML contestants were nudist camp proprietors.

Before the show, tha panelists would often huddle to discuss what big stars had recently arrived in New York City. Such people were often the mystery challengers.

On October 4, 1964, John Daly accidentaly divulged the identity of the mystery challenger Steve Allen. Daly meant to say, 'Mr. Cerf' to indicate it was Bennett Cerf's turn to question the guest. instead he said, 'Mr. Allen.'

Van Johnson's appearance as a mystery challenger in 1954 ended before it began because of a security leak. John Daly terminated the game because Walter Winchell's column and the west coast edition of Variety had disclosed that Johnson would be the mystery guest that night.
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