Here are 10 things you should know about Jack Benny, born 127 years ago today. The show biz icon was said to be the very opposite of the parsimonious, vain and persnickety figure he portrayed for so long. We suspect the American public knew it all along.
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.
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.