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Trivia / What's My Line?

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  • Actor Allusion:
    • When Bob Hope appeared as the Mystery Guest on the 12 December 1954 episode, Arlene asked several questions that showed she was closing in on the correct answer, then went for the laugh by guessing "Bing Crosby". It got a massive reaction partly because, unbeknownst to the blindfolded panel, Hope had signed in using Crosby's name instead of his own.
    • When Anne Bancroft appeared as the Mystery Guest on the 1 July 1962 episode, she gave her first "Yes" and "No" answers in American Sign Language before saying anything, a reference to her performance as Anne Sullivan in both the stage and film versions of The Miracle Worker.
  • Blooper: There has been a couple of incidents with intruders on the show:
    • On the 10 May 1959 episode, at the end of the Mystery Guest segment featuring Milton Berle, a man rushed onstage, shook hands with Berle and disappeared as quickly as he came in. Berle ad-libbed that it was his agent, then asked the question everybody had on their minds: "Who was he?" Here's the video of the incident (starts at 23:00).
    • During the Mystery Guest segment on the 7 October 1962 episode, an intruder managed to get into the soundstage while the panelists were blindfolded. He was quickly removed from the stage by Johnny Olson and Gil Fates, and after a brief explanation from John Daly, the round proceeded as normal, with guest panelist Victor Borge joking about the incident on his next question. According to Gil Fates, the intruder was supposedly trying to promote a personal dating service. Here's the video of the incident (starts at 19:00).
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  • Cross-Dressing Voices: Carol Burnett kept the panel on their toes by affecting a deep male-sounding voice. Buddy Hackett, who had co-starred with her in a short-lived sitcom called Stanley, recognized her anyway.
  • Fan Nickname: Some fans weren't too fond of the 1968-1975 Daily Syndicated era of the show, thinking it was too much like Goodson-Todman's I've Got a Secret. Hence, they have dubbed it as What's My Secret Line?.
  • He Also Did: Wally Bruner, after leaving the syndicated show, hosted a syndicated do-it-yourself home-improvement show called Wally's Workshop. Johnny Olson was the announcer.
  • Keep Circulating the Tapes:
    • The missing episodes mentioned below are not part of Goodson-Todman's archives, which means they're not rerun on television.
    • The April 18, 1965 show had its mystery guest segment with Marian Anderson featured in the 25th anniversary special (see below). The rushed editing of that special resulted in a portion of the master copy being cut up for the clips, then reassembled in the wrong order, rendering the mystery guest segment unwatchable. A corrected version is up on YouTube, but the TV reruns still use the mashed-up copy.
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    • Several shows exist in copies that include the commercials, network promos and idents that were in the original broadcast. While they are of no interest for reruns, they do hold some historical interest and can be seen on YouTube. Also, as of February 2018, Amazon has available 40 episodes of the show from 1955, complete with the original commercials.
  • Milestone Celebration: For its 25th anniversary as a series, a special two-hour retrospective aired in May 1975 on ABC Late Night. It was interesting in a number of respects:
    1. The show's presence on ABC, given that the original show aired on CBS and the current show was in syndication;
    2. Virtually all of the footage (except for a clip introducing then-sitting President Gerald Ford) came from the original CBS run (and all in black-and-white kinescope—the Gerald Ford clip, which was available in color, was shown in monochrome to match the rest of the footage);
    3. The special was hosted by original host John Daly (who was not present at all during the syndicated run), although Arlene Francis and co-creator Mark Goodson were there;
    4. The syndicated version, which had been airing since 1968, was about to wrap up its successful seven-year run.
    • Additionally, everyone who appeared on the show—celebrities and regular contestants alike—had to sign a release giving Goodson-Todman permission to air clips featuring them (even Goodson-Todman themselves). Despite all these quirks, it was critically well received and seen as a very nice celebration of television's then-longest running game show.
    • The editing of the clips was done under deadline pressure in three days using the original episodes' only existing prints. Several of those prints were accidentally destroyed or damaged in the editing process and some film was left unspooled on the editing floor after the rented time at the facility they were using ran out. Those incidents led to some of the Missing Episode examples mentioned below.
  • Missing Episode: Most of the first two-and-a-half years are lost because at the time they were judged worthless and unfit to rerun (the only reason kinescopes were made in the first place was as proof that sponsors' ads were shown correctly) and destroyed for their silver content. (An exception was made for the February 2, 1950 premiere, which can be seen here. As its copyright was not renewed, it's in the public domain.) For obvious reasons, magazines such as TV Guide didn't list the Mystery Guest's identity, and producer Gil Fates' work notes are the only resource as to the content of these early missing episodes. This went on until about July 1952, when Fates learned of the practice and saw to it that the films be saved and stored.

    Their value became apparent in 1975 when many episode segments were compiled for the special What's My Line? At 25, and again in the mid-1990s when the series became the backbone of Game Show Network. In total, of the 876 episodes that the original series shot from 1950 to 1967, about 763 of them circulate among collectors. The remaining 113 have been lost to the ravages of time. The 1966-67 episodes, which were broadcast in color, only survive as black-and-white prints due to CBS junking the color videotapes.

    The original American version fares far better than many international versions, however. Only a handful of complete editions of the British What's My Line? from 1951-63 are known to survive. For example, in the "cultural exchange" in 1953 which saw British Line regular Barbara Kelly appear on the American version while Arlene Francis appeared on the British version, the episodes with Kelly on the American panel have survived, but those with Francis on the British panel have not. Also, only one episode of the French-Canadian Chacun son métier is known to circulate, although the appearances of regular panelist Nicole Germain (January 23, 1955) and moderator Louis Morisset (January 18, 1959) on the American show do survive.

    Here are some surviving shows of interest:
    • The August 2, 1950 show is available at The Paley Center for Media. Mystery Guest: William O'Dwyer (New York City Mayor)
    • A kinescope containing the long-lost October 1, 1950 show was found in 2016. The bad news: most of the fourth game and the entire fifth game are not on there. The good news: said kinescope also includes the last few minutes of an episode of Celebrity Time, a show that is otherwise entirely lost.
    • The April 29, 1951 show is available at The University of Wisconsin Center for Film and Research. Mystery Guest: Hedda Hopper (Gossip Columnist). It was made available on YouTube in August 2017, as shown here in this video.
    • An audio-only portion of the December 2, 1951 show (only has part of Game 1 with Mrs. Virginia Hendershot as the Steam Shovel Operator from Bound Brook, NJ) exists.
    • The January 6, 1952 show is available at the Paley Center for Media. Mystery Guest: Oscar Hammerstein II (one half of the songwriting team of Rodgers and Hammerstein)
    • Only a portion of the January 24, 1954 show is known to survive, which was best-known for having Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis as the Mystery Guest duo. It was seen in What's My Line? At 25, and it is believed that it got destroyed during the assembling of the special. The complete episode is rumored to exist in Jerry Lewis' collection, and people even claimed to have seen the full segment, with Dean and Jerry signing in, but nothing has been proven yet.
    • The February 21, 1954 show featuring Lucille Ball as the Mystery Guest seems to be missing from Goodson-Todman's archives, since it was never rerun on GSN. It does survive, however, and was made available by Shokus Video years ago, as shown in this video.
    • A portion of episode #097 (April 6, 1952), the full episode #533 (October 2, 1960), and the full milestone 800th episode (January 23, 1966) exist at the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
    • In 2015, it was discovered that the March 26, 1967 show is available at The Paley Center for Media, and, apparently, was only recently donated to them. Guest panelists were Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows, Game 1 had Orson Bean as a Mystery Guest, Game 2 had a normal contestant in Frank Mills as the president of a shopping cart company, and Game 3 had Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca as the Mystery Guest duo.
    • An April 1967 episode featuring Candice Bergen as the Mystery Guest and a June 1967 episode featuring Betty Grable and F. Lee Bailey as the Mystery Guests were destroyed in their entirety in the editing process of the At 25 special.
    • An audio-only excerpt from the otherwise lost June 18, 1967 show was found in, of all places, an LP called The Age of Television. This album, which was put out by RCA in 1971, featured interviews with TV personalities about the medium's first 25 years. One of these interviews concerned What's My Line? and included audio from the mystery guest segment featuring Betty Grable from that now-lost episode.
  • Old Shame: Surprisingly, it may well be the syndicated run. The ABC special What's My Line? At 25 never mentioned the syndicated version whatsoever, and featured no more than two clips from it, both in monochrome. Then again, they only had 90 minutes (minus commercials and host segments) for the clips, and the syndicated Mystery Guest segments probably didn't seem as noteworthy as the CBS ones. Today, though, a Leonard Nimoy segment might hold as much entertainment value as an Ed Sullivan one.
  • The Other Darrin: Almost every female brought in to replace Dorothy Kilgallen.note 
  • The Pete Best: The panel had two regular members in its earliest years who were dismissed for various reasons and are now largely overlooked except by the most seasoned What's My Line? fans.note 
    • Poet Louis Untermeyer was the original literary member of the panel, but Bennett Cerf recalled that he had an unfortunate habit of signing any piece of paper put in front of him, and he unwittingly signed papers supporting radical groups which led to his being branded a Communist sympathiser (though he was nothing of the sort). Goodson-Todman stood by Untermeyer for as long as they could, but when anti-Communist protesters began picketing the studio where What's My Line? was recorded in early 1951, they had no choice but to dismiss Untermeyer and replace him with Bennett Cerf.
    • Hal "Dimples" Block was the panel's original "comic relief", the most likely to ask silly or suggestive questions. However, he was also the most likely to be warned by the network for inappropriate behaviour on air, and after ignoring one warning too many, he was fired in 1953 and replaced by Steve Allen.note 
  • Screwed by the Network: CBS issued an order cancelling all their prime time game shows at the end of the 1966-67 season, claiming they were no longer preferable for those hours (not surprising, considering Fred Silverman, notorious hater of game shows, was an executive at the time). No one on the staff was ever notified with Bennett Cerf reading about it in The New York Times.
  • The Show Died With Him: Robert Lembke died unexpectedly in January of 1989, ending the German version after 34 years. Though they would bring it back for 6 more years in 1999.
  • Too Soon: When Bennett Cerf died in 1971, episodes of the syndicated version that featured him aired well after his passing due to the way it was distributed (tape-sharing among stations, or "bicycling") preventing simultaneous airing of each episode in every market. This prompted confusion and complaints from viewers that doing so was in poor taste. Producer Gil Fates responded to those complaints with a form letter explaining that they were practicing the time-honored tradition of celebrating one's work after their death, though the real, unspoken reason was that he didn't want the production costs of those episodes to go to waste.
  • What Could Have Been: After Fred Allen's death in 1956, Goodson-Todman were ready to sign Ernie Kovacs up as a regular panelist, but he eventually decided he wasn't interested. Therefore, the second male seat became a rotating seat. A few years later, Johnny Carson was considered to permanently fill that seat, but he was already busy with his own game show, Who Do You Trust?
    • Apparently, a similar situation happened upon Dorothy Kilgallen's death in 1965; TV Guide reported there was a search to replace her as a regular panelist. Some of the contenders for her position were Phyllis Newman, Sue Oakland, Suzy Knickerbocker, Betty White and Jayne Meadows. As with Mr. Allen, her seat ultimately became a rotating one.
    • A daytime version was planned by CBS in 1963, but John Daly made it clear he would not host a five-day-a-week game show. He was so closely associated with the show by that point that CBS shelved the project instead of finding a new host.
    • A revival was planned as early as 1981, pending the success of a To Tell the Truth revival from 1980. Details are sketchy and the revival never went past the talking stage and few if any other details are known, other than it was to be a five-a-week show.
    • A pilot for a revival hosted by Harry Anderson (with Catherine Bell, Bryan Cranston, Betty White and Al Franken on the panel) was taped in 2000. However, CBS passed it over in favor of Survivor. Imagine what TV would've been had they picked this up instead...
    • CBS had earlier tried to pick up a different version (co-produced by Miramax Television) for the fall of 1999, but it didn't happen due to CBS thinking the show was "too costly and ambitious".
    • David Hasselhoff said in 2008 that he was going to work with Fremantle Media to revive the show. Nothing happened there.
    • Another pilot was taped in the fall of 2014 for a potential syndicated revival. Nothing's been heard of it since then.


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