What’s a Line, Anyway?

Posted inThe Daily Heller
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What’s My Line? was a weekly panel game show, which originally ran from 1950 to 1967. I grew up with it. The game starred celebrity panelists who questioned contestants – sometimes very famous ones – in order to guess their occupations. It was hosted by dapper John Daly (an early news anchor), with regular panelists Dorothy Kilgallen (gossip columnist), Arlene Francis (actress and hostess), and Bennett Cerf (publisher of Random House), as well as guest panelists like Steve Allen and David Suskind. I loved it.

During the famous person portion of the half hour, panelists wore blindfolds and asked questions that were designed to determine the contestant’s identity. The rules of the game required panelists to probe by asking questions which could be answered “yes” or “no,” but longer answers were frequent. A contestant won by receiving ten “no” answers or “10 flips of the score card,” which represented $5 increments. The contestant also won if time ran out.

Each episode featured two basic contestants, plus one mystery guest round, like Salvador Dali (who must have been paid well for his huge signature), Frank Lloyd Wright (who was described as a “world famous archictect”) and Alfred Hitchcock (see him here – it is classic TV).

I watched What’s My Line? every week (it is where I learned my interviewing skills). Today intellectuals and pseudo-ones of that ilk are no longer on game shows (with the exception of Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! on NPR).