1 9 5 0 – 1 9 6 7 (USA)
1 9 6 8 – 1 9 7 5 (USA)
“Will you enter and sign in, please?” and “Is it bigger than a breadbox?” are two catchphrases from this stylish and formal game show that are still understood today, due to its classic appeal.
Invented by ex-journalists and radio men Mark Goodson and Bill Todman and debuting on CBS on 2 February 1950, What’s My Line? had a simple gimmick: four celebrity panellists tried to guess the occupation of the guests each week, and then, blindfolded, try to ascertain who the celebrity guest is as the grinning celebrity disguised his or her voice.
The entertainment came from allowing the panel to go off on tangents, having one of them utter something that back in the 1950s was practically scandalous, and listen to them chatting and bantering about before and after a game.
No large sum of money was offered to the guests. The show offered a maximum $50 prize for anyone who confounded the panel, although the guests did receive a $500 appearance fee regardless of the outcome.
The erudite John Charles Daly was the host/moderator. With everyone dressed to the nines in evening gowns and tuxedos, this is a charming and funny relic of the days when game shows had some class, a veritable “breadbox” of humour.
With the end of the original What’s My Line? CBS syndicated a new weekday videotaped edition (in colour) from 1968 to 1975.
Wally Bruner was the original host and was succeeded by Larry Blyden in 1972. Arlene Francis and comedian Soupy Sales were regular panellists and Bennett Cerf continued to make frequent appearances. Other panellists included Alan Alda, his father Robert Alda, Joanna Barnes, Dr Joyce Brothers, Gene Rayburn, Nipsey Russell, Gene Shalit and Dana Valery.
Johnny Olson continued as announcer until 1972, after which a succession of guest announcers were used including Wayne Howell, Dennis Wholey, Bob Williams, Jack Haskell, and Chet Gould, with Gould eventually taking over full-time in early 1973.
The most controversial panellist, journalist Dorothy Kilgallen, appeared on a live What’s My Line? broadcast just hours before she was found dead under mysterious circumstances in 1965. Her death has often been linked to conspiracy theories concerning her investigation of President Kennedy’s assassination.
Frank Zappa appeared as a Mystery Guest in a 1971 episode. It got down to the wire, but Soupy Sales finally identified Frank. Arlene Francis, Gene Rayburn and June Lockhart removed their blindfolds and exchanged half-smiles as if to say “Who the fuck is Frank Zappa?”