Another Day-Brightening Distraction for Social Distancers: What’s My Line?

Time for another Day-Brightening Distraction: The What’s My Line? channel on Youtube features every episode of the 17-year network run of this delightful show known to be extant. You can start at the beginning and watch all the way to the end.

All your favorites are there: Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf, Dorothy Kilgallen, Steve Allen, Fred Allen and a rotating cast of familiar (or, perhaps, not so familiar) faces trying ascertain what average folks (and one mystery celebrity guest per show) do for a living. John Charles Daly is the able host of the festivities, and one is treated to a lineup of elegantly dressed personalities who are urbane, witty and sophisticated but also down to earth and accessible.

There’s a reason this panel game show, so seemingly simple on its surface, garnered loyal viewers for 17 years, and from our vantage point, more than 50 years down the road, it’s a magic carpet ride back to an era that is, of course, bygone, but still within reach. If you’re of a certain age, streaming these shows will feel like reuniting with old friends; if you’re a younger viewer with even the tiniest interest in life as it was once lived, then this will be right up your alley.

Watch an episode or two per day of WML?, and we can almost guarantee that you’ll find the difficult times we’re living in just a little bit easier to deal with. No miracle cures here, just a few laughs, a little nostalgia, and some fun, intelligent celebrities of days gone by.

We’ve linked to a playlist of the first two seasons–137 episodes in all, starting with show’s debut episode, which first aired on February 2, 1950. If it strikes you as a little rough and a bit ragged, don’t worry, it quickly gets better. These were the very early days of television, after all, and it shows. But keep watching and before long, you’ll feel quite at home. All 17 seasons are there for you to enjoy. Watch now; thank us later.

What’s My Line? The Lost (and Now Found) Episode

Dorothy Killgallen, Bennett Cerf, Arlene Francis, Hal Block and John Charles Daly of What's My Line?Longtime readers of this blog have probably picked up on the fact that we’re suckers for What’s My Line?—for any game show of the 1950s, really, but especially those programs that featured elegantly dressed, urbane and witty panelists. We’re thinking here of shows such as To Tell the Truth and I’ve Got a Secret.

The best of them all, for our money, was What’s My Line?, in which the point of the game was for the panelists to ask yes-or-no questions to ascertain what each of an ongoing series of guests did for a living. What’s My Line? featured three regular panelists for the majority of its 17 years on the air: journalist/gossip columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, publisher and raconteur Bennett Cerf and actress and television personality Arlene Francis. The fourth seat was filled for three years by buffoonish (in our estimation) comedy writer Hal Block, then Steve Allen (our favorite fourth-seater) and finally by Fred Allen. When Allen passed away on St. Patrick’s Day, 1956, a revolving series of guest panelists filled the fourth seat. Never again would the recurring trio of Arlene, Bennett and Dorothy be a quartet.

The network edition of What’s My Line? came to an end in 1967 (a very different syndicated version would continue for eight more years), but it lives on in the hearts of fans across the country and around the world. There is a What’s My Line? YouTube channel that hosts virtually all of the extant episodes, where they are watched by thousands (the kinescopes of WML? were never copyrighted, so they are in the public domain), and also a very large, very active WML? fan group on Facebook.

It was on FB that a fan recently pointed out that a previously unseen (well, not seen since it first aired) kinescope of a 1950 episode of WML? was up for auction on eBay. The moderator of the YouTube channel sprang into action, with expertise and funding provided by an experienced and avid film collector who is a WML? fan, and the auction was won by the good guys. The collector will retain ownership of the film, but he digitized it so that it could be added to the YouTube channel for fans everywhere to enjoy (collectors are not always inclined to be so generous; they tend to want to keep such rarities to themselves).

And so it is with pleasure that we share this very early episode of What’s My Line? with the Cladrite community. You won’t see Bennett in this episode—he hadn’t yet joined the show—but Dorothy and Arlene are on hand, as is Hal Block and moderator extraordinaire John Charles Daly. Again, this show hasn’t been seen since it first aired on October 1, 1950, so you’ve got quite the rare treat in store. And if you do enjoy it (how could you not?), you’ll want to pop over to the WML? YouTube channel, where literally hundreds more episodes await you.

Happy 108th Birthday, Arlene Francis!

It could be argued that Arlene Francis falls just outside our purview here at Cladrite Radio. After all, she is best remembered for her post-1950 work, especially on the always very popular panel show What’s My Line? But Arlene had a solid career before 1950, too, in theatre, radio and, to a lesser degree, pictures, so we’re pleased to celebrate her 108th birthday with you.

WML? still has a very large and devoted following online (you can watch virtually all the extant episodes of the series via the What’s My Line channel on YouTube), and though all the regulars on that show—Bennett Cerf, Dorothy Kilgallen and host John Charles Daly—are held in high esteem among fans, for most aficionados, our Arlene is the belle of the ball, the queen of the quiz, a charming, delightful and lovely gift to us all.

Happy birthday, Arlene, wherever you may be. We miss you dearly!

Arlene Francis quote

Career Woman-Housewife of the Year: Arlene Francis

We recently stumbled across a pristine edition of the inaugural issue (February 1955) of Chic, a diminutive publication touted as “the Purse Size Magazine for Women.” We usually think of 1955 as just a bit outside our era of focus, but this cute little pub has a number of fun stories in it, so we’ll be sharing them with you sporadically in the coming days and weeks. First up, a small tribute to one of our favorite gals, Miss Arlene Francis…

Full-time career woman, Arlene Francis, star of NBC-TV’s daily show Home, is the wife of producer-actor Martin Gabel and mother of 7-year-old Peter Gabel. Arlene’s two men demand a good deal of her time and what’s more, they get it in spite of her heavy schedule. It takes some doing to be both a full-time career woman and housewife, but she does it by careful planning. For, she maintains, “I find that the more I have to do, the more I am able to do. By properly organizing my time, I can accomplish more than I otherwise would if I had plenty of it. The more free time we have, the more, I think, we all tend to procrastinate and put off till tomorrow what we really could do today more efficiently.”

Here is Arlene’s daily stint:
7:00 to 7:45—Breakfast with Peter, who reads her the latest sports news. he attends classes around the corner at New York City’s Hunter School for Advanced Children. Orders food for the day and plan dinner menu.

8:00—Arrives at studio for Home rehearsal.

11:00—On the air.

12:00—Takes a break for lunch and for interviews with the press, sponsors, photographers.

1:30—Goes into rehearsal for next day’s show.

5:00—Leaves studio for home and dinner preparations.

5:30—Dinner with Peter and Martin

7:00—Martin leaves for his job in Broadway play Reclining Figure. Arlene and Peter play together and watch TV or red aloud.

8:00—Tucks Peter into bed, relaxes with a book, and retires usually by 10:00.

Friday is a special evening. She meets Martin after the show for a midnight movie.

Saturday she shops, plans menus, catches up with household chores and goes to the park with Peter. Sunday is the family’s day together until 6:00 p.m. when she leaves to rehearse for Soldier’s Parade on ABC-TV, on the air at 9:30 (EST). Then she dashes to the CBS-TV studio for What’s My Line? which goes on at 10:30 (EST).

Our Evening with Kitty Carlisle

Did we ever tell you about the time we met Kitty Carlisle? No? Well, let’s rectify that right now.

In 2005, we attended a screening of June Moon at NYC’s Film Forum. It’s a 1931 adaptation of a play written by George S. Kaufman and Ring Lardner that hadn’t been screened since its initial run more than seventy years prior.

To mark the occasion, Anne Kaufman Schneider, Kaufman’s daughter, and James Lardner, Lardner’s grandson, were on hand.

And so was Kaufman-Schneider’s pal, Kitty Carlisle-Hart, who was then just two months away from turning 95. She was, of course, the widow of former Kaufman collaborator Moss Hart.

We thought the world of Hart (still do)—Kitty was one of our favorite New Yorkers, and, since she was seated directly behind us, we decided to turn around and tell her as much.

“Thank you, dear,” she said when we told her it was an honor to be sitting in front of her. “I do hope you’ll try to scrunch down in your seat so I can see the movie.”

We promised to do our best.

A few minutes passed, and we felt a finger tapping on our shoulder. We turned around.

“May I have some of your popcorn,” Ms. Carlisle-Hart asked, pointing at the nearly full bag of popcorn on the floor next to our seat (we were both seated on the aisle).

“By all means—have just as much as you like.”

And she did just that, reaching over and grabbing a handful of corn several times through the course of the picture.

We were thrilled. Someone who once starred opposite the Marx Brothers was sharing our popcorn! And we were impressed, too—we hope, when we’re 95, we’re still up to bending over and snagging some popcorn from a bag on the ground.

We spent most of the movie contorted every which in order to keep our fat head from blocking Ms. Hart’s view of the screen, and after the final credits, we turned around and asked her if our efforts had been successful.

“I didn’t miss a thing,” she said effusively. “Thank you so much!”

We chatted briefly for a moment or two more, and we screwed up enough courage to ask her if she would consent to our conducting an interview with her one day soon, if we could find a publication interested in running it, and she readily agreed, telling us how we could contact her if and when the time came.

Later, we spoke to Ms. Kaufman-Schneider, thanking her for the Q&A she had participated in after the movie. She was great—whip-smart, opinionated (she hated the movie, and wasn’t afraid to say so), frank, and witty.

She asked me if we weren’t the young fellow whose popcorn Kitty had been filching; we admitted that we were.

“I don’t know what to do with her,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “She said to me, ‘I’m hungry, and this nice young man has some popcorn,’ and I couldn’t talk her out of it.”

We assured her that we had been pleased to share our snack and thanked her again.

We never managed to conduct that interview with Kitty; she passed away just short of two years later and we somehow didn’t manage to get our ducks in a row in time. But we’ll always treasure the memory of our encounter with her.

And we figure that, if there’s an afterlife (and we’re inclined to think there is), we’ll have someone to show us around a bit. Surely she won’t mind introducing us to the Marx Brothers, for starters, and to our favorite What’s My Line panelist, Arlene Francis. Kitty, of course, was a regular panelist on To Tell the Truth, but she was a guest panelist on What’s My Line more than once, and we’d bet our bottom dollar that she and Arlene got along like two peas in a pod.

We figure it’s the least she can do. After all, we shared our popcorn with her, right?