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Guests (including a celebrity contestant each week) shared their secret with host Garry Moore at the same time that home viewers saw it flashed on their TV screen. Panellists then had to guess the secret.
Winners only received an $80 prize so it was really the cleverness of the questions that kept audiences coming back.
Like many television game shows, I’ve Got A Secret had its origin in a parlour game. It was based on the game of “Secret, secret, who’s got the secret”.
The format was simple but very durable. Sitting together on one side of a plain, unadorned set, each of the four celebrity panellists took a 30-second turn questioning and then guessing the contestant’s secret.
Each episode used four contestants. In the case of the celebrity contestant, the secret was very often related to some element of their fame. Thus the first episode of Secret in 1952 featured Boris Karloff’s revelation that he was afraid of mice!
The US version of the programme was the longest-running and most popular game show in the history of the genre.
It began in June 1952 and ran on the CBS network until 1967. However, it was not quite an overnight success.
The premiere episode used a courtroom as the set. Host Garry Moore was presented as a judge, with the contestants as witnesses under cross-examination, and the panellists as the questioning lawyers. CBS cancelled the programme after its first season but almost immediately changed its mind and the programme resumed after its summer break.
I’ve Got A Secret had three hosts during its time on US television – Garry Moore (1952 – 1964), Steve Allen (1964 – 1973), and Bill Cullen (1976) – and became enormously popular, running for 15 years on network television, a record never equalled by another game show.
Cullen, a long-time panellist was made famous by the programme. He joined the panel on the third episode and stayed for the next fifteen years. Many other panellists were already well-known. Among them were Laraine Day, Orson Bean, Henry Morgan, Jayne Meadows, Faye Emerson and Betsy Palmer.
None of the original panellists (actress Louise Albritton, comic actor Orson Bean, Broadway vet Melville Cooper and author Laura Hobson) stayed with the show past the first thirteen weeks.
Bill and Jayne Meadows (later to become Mrs Steve Allen) replaced Albritton and Bean and quickly became regulars.
Host Garry Moore made a lot of money for CBS and was well-rewarded. In 1963 he was earning $43,000 a week (or $2,236,000 for the year). Moore seemed to be constantly puffing on a cigarette (Marlboro sponsored the show and sent losing contestants home with a carton of Marlboros as consolation prizes). Both Garry Moore and Bill Cullen died of lung-related diseases.
The show was revived in syndication for a season in 1972 with Steve Allen once again hosting. It returned to network television as a 4-week summer series (with Cullen) in 1976, and was revived yet again in 2000 for the Oxygen cable network.
Henry Morgan (1952-1976)
Faye Emerson (1952-1958)
Jayne Meadows (1952-1959)
Betsy Palmer (1957-1967)
Bess Myerson (1958-1967)
Louise Allbritton (1952)
Laura Hobson (1952)
Walter Kiernan (1952)
Orson Bean (1952)
Melville Cooper (1952)
Kitty Carlisle (1952-1953)
Laraine Day (1952)
Eddie Bracken (1952)
Pat Collins (1976)
Richard Dawson (1976)
Elaine Joyce (1976)