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(1950–1967)

Trivia

The German version of this program was named Was bin ich? (1955), which translates to "What am I?" in English.
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Joey Heatherton, publicizing her upcoming tour of Vietnam, was the mystery guest the night that Dorothy Kilgallen was later found dead. When the blindfolded Dorothy had her first turn at questioning, she asked, "Is your real first name Norma ?" Evidently Dorothy had in mind Peggy Lee, whose real first name was Norma and who was scheduled to open a nightclub engagement at the Copacabana (in New York) on Thursday of that week. Lee had appeared before as a mystery guest.
Kitty Carlisle, who normally was a panelist on To Tell the Truth (1956), filled in for Dorothy Kilgallen the week after Kilgallen died. Earlier the same year Carlisle and Kilgallen had sat on the panel together along with William Shatner. On that night (January 24, 1965), Carlisle was a last-minute substitute for Arlene Francis, who was unable to fly home to New York from a Florida vacation because of a blizzard.
Baltimore Colts wide receiver, and future Pro Football Hall of Fame member, Raymond Berry appeared on the November 9, 1958 show. He had just gotten off the field a few hours before the show was broadcast, after having played a game against the New York Giants.
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Green Bay Packer great and future Pro Football Hall of Fame member Ray Nitschke appeared on the December 30, 1962 broadcast. In fact he had just gotten off the field a few hours earlier after he and the Packers defeated the New York Giants in the 1962 N.F.L. Championship game.
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Louis Untermeyer resigned from the show after he was listed in a notorious booklet called 'Red Channels' during the McCarthy Era. He was a longtime friend of playwright Arthur Miller, who wrote in his memoir 'Timebends' that Untermeyer was so depressed about leaving the series that he confined himself to his Brooklyn home for more than a year. His wife handled all incoming phone calls. Miller, who called himself "a very infrequent television watcher," never noticed any newspaper or magazine reports of Untermeyer's exit from the series. When Miller's phone call was answered by Untermeyer's wife, she gave an evasive answer to the playwright's question about why his friend would not come to the phone. Miller knew nothing about the situation for more than a year. The respected playwright also claimed that many years after the incident, a producer of the series, unnamed by Miller, apologized to Untermeyer and assured him that he had tried to keep him on the show, but numerous viewers (some picketing outside the CBS building, others threatening to boycott Stopette deodorant) demanded otherwise. Untermeyer was replaced by Bennett Cerf, who had appeared previously as a substitute panelist.
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On several occasions Larry Blyden served as a guest panelist. Blyden would later become host of the syndicated version, replacing Wally Bruner.
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For several years, all of the members of the "Rat Pack," with the exception of ring leader Frank Sinatra, appeared as mystery guests on the show. In fact, three of the five members, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, not only appeared as mystery guests, but also served on the panel as well. Sinatra didn't appear on the show until the November 27, 1966 broadcast when he appeared as a mystery guest during the first game and then he moved to a seat on the panel. It was the only instance in which someone did that. Sinatra appeared on the show a year and a couple of weeks after the death of panelist Dorothy Kilgallen, with whom he had feuded for many years. The feud did not prevent his daughter Nancy Sinatra from appearing as a mystery guest on a night when Kilgallen was there. The two women shook hands on the air but did not say anything to each other.
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Songwriter Carolyn Leigh, who wrote the lyrics for the song "The Best is Yet to Come" as well as the lyrics for several Broadway musicals including "Little Me," was a contestant on the December 16, 1962 broadcast. However, she signed in under her married name, Carolyn Cunningham. Dorothy Kilgallen and Steve Lawrence, who was a guest panelist that night, disqualified themselves due to the fact that they recognized her.
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Dorothy Kilgallen, Steve Allen and Fred Allen are the only regular panelists who also were mystery guests on the CBS version of the show. Bennett Cerf was a mystery guest on the syndicated version.
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Eamonn Andrews is the only person to have appeared on the American What's My Line? (1950) as a panelist, a host (substituting for John Daly on the June 28, 1959 edition) and a mystery guest (on his very last appearance on the American version on June 2, 1963).
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A weekly American CBS radio version of this show was produced from May 1952 until July 1953. The regular panelists Dorothy Kilgallen, Bennett Cerf, Arlene Francis and Hal Block, along with host John Daly, premiered the radio version of their show on Tuesday, May 20, 1952, while still performing the Sunday telecast. The debut mystery guest, in her only appearance on the show, was Marlene Dietrich. Marlon Brando made his only appearance on the radio program that aired on December 3, 1952. The radio show continued through the "Hal Block era" into the "Steve Allen era" while once moving its broadcast to Wednesday. The finale was broadcast on July 1, 1953.
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Dorothy Kilgallen was the mystery guest on the February 5, 1961 telecast. She had been hospitalized and missed the previous two broadcasts. Newspaper reports of the time revealed nothing about her condition, nor was it discussed on-air. In 1976 her personal chauffeur, Roosevelt Zanders, revealed that he had driven Kilgallen from New York to Washington during a blizzard so she could report on the JFK inaugural festivities for her newspaper. Immediately after the new president was sworn in (January 20, 1961), Zanders drove Kilgallen directly to a New York hospital. Asked by a biographer (in 1976) if his client's condition was alcohol-related, Zanders replied, "I don't say 'drunk.' One of the things that brought it about was having one or two drinks and not eating. Her system ran down that way." On February 5, 1961, with Bennett Cerf on vacation, Arlene Francis went on live TV assuming Kilgallen was still in the hospital only to discover that she was the mystery guest. During an earlier absence from What's My Line? (1950) in 1958, Kilgallen had reportedly suffered (according to a newspaper wire service) from "exhaustion and anemia." When she missed several shows in 1965, John Daly said on-air that she had injured herself tripping on a rug. She returned to the show with her arm in a sling and then appeared on every telecast for six months, including a live appearance on the night of her death.
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A frequent panelist during the show's final two seasons was columnist Aileen Mehle, who appeared on the show using her pen name Suzy Knickerbocker.
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Michael Jackson (the Los Angeles radio host, not the singer) appeared on the August 7, 1960 broadcast as a contestant. This was during the time when he was a disc jockey in San Francisco. He later would gain fame as a radio talk-show host based in Los Angeles.
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Legendary billiards hustler Minnessota Fats appeared on the January 17, 1965 broadcast. However, he signed in using his real name, Rudolf Wanderone Jr. and he managed to completely fool the panel.
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One of the studios where the show was broadcast from eventually became the famous (or infamous) Studio 54.
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The show's announcer Johnny Olson was a mystery guest on the April 4, 1965 broadcast and completely stumped the panel by using several different voices.
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In Arlene Francis's 1978 autobiography, she explains that the was hired as a panelist for the show from the very beginning. She said that she was supposed to appear on the first show, but was unable to attend that night, for some reason that she couldn't remember at the time she wrote her book. She makes her first appearance on the second show.
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Contestant Pat Finch holds the record for most appearances on the series as a regular contestant. She appeared on the very first show in 1950 as a hat check girl working at the Stork Club in New York City. She then appeared on the fifth anniversary broadcast, but by that time she was working as a chorus girl on Broadway. She also appeared on the final broadcast in 1967. At the time of her final appearance, she was still appearing on Broadway. She had also gotten married and now had a five year old son.
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Martin Gabel holds the record for the most number of appearances as a guest panelist.
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Lucille Ball holds the record for the most appearances as mystery guest.
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The first sponsor of the program was Jules Montenier, Inc., which was owned by Dr. Jules Montenier. His company made Stopette spray deodorant, Poof! deodorant body powder, and Finesse "flowing cream" Shampoo.
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On the May 9, 1965 broadcast, Soupy Sales made his first ever appearance on What's My Line? (1950). Filling in as a guest panelist, his first words on the air were an introduction of Dorothy Kilgallen. Sales did not sit on the panel again during the program's incarnation as a live show on CBS. Much later, as a regular on the syndicated version for seven seasons, he became known for identifying the lesser known of the mystery guests and for his slapstick humor during demonstrations of the contestants' lines. He was a mystery guest on the CBS show twice: May 30, 1965 and May 29, 1966.
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Colonel Harland Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, appeared on the December 1, 1963 broadcast. The panel wasn't blindfolded, however, because of the fact that he wasn't well known at the time. He later would appear on a 1970 broadcast of the syndicated version of the show only this time he was now a full fledged mystery guest and the panel was blindfolded on that occasion.
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Former Los Angeles mayor Sam Yorty appeared on the September 10, 1961 broadcast. He signed in as "Mr. X," however. Even though some of the panelists might have recognized his name, they probably would have never seen his face since most of the panelists lived in New York. Guest panelist Art Linkletter, however, did recognize him and voluntarily disqualified himself.
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Legendary New York/San Francisco Giants broadcaster Russ Hodges appeared on the October 7, 1962 broadcast. He was in town covering the World Series when he appeared. However, the panel didn't blindfold themselves because he felt confident that the panel wouldn't recognize him because of the fact that he wasn't on television that much, but he did sign in as Mr. X because he felt some of the panelists might have recognized his name.
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When Anne Bancroft was the mystery guest on the July 1, 1962 broadcast, she answered the panel's questions not only verbally, but with sign language as well. This was her way of promoting the film The Miracle Worker (1962).
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During the October 7, 1962 broadcast, an intruder made his way to the camera range while the panel was blindfolded for the mystery guest round (the mystery guest that night was Melina Mercouri). The intruder was quickly escorted off the sound stage by Johnny Olsen and executive producer Gil Fates. The only panelist who apparently realized what had happened was Victor Borge, who joked about it during his next turn at questioning. According to Gil Fates, the intruder seemed to be promoting a personal dating service. Fates wrote facetiously many years later, "I guess the cops eventually let him go, because as far as I know no one has ever made it a crime to deliver a commercial on television."
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On the October 21, 1962 broadcast, a man named Emanuel Ress, who had appeared ten years earlier, returned and again stumped the panel with his line of making political campaign buttons. Since the mid-term elections were only a couple of weeks away, the producers thought it would be fun to have him back on the show. After he stumped the panel he presented each of the three panelists who were on the show when he first appeared (Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf and Dorothy Kilgallen) buttons with their pictures on them as they looked ten years earlier. Arlene said, "I was a brunette then."
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Grace Stafford, the voice of Woody Woodpecker, appeared on the November 10, 1963 broadcast as a contestant in the regular game.
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On the October 2, 1960 broadcast, the heads of both the Democratic and Republican National Committees appeared on the show together as mystery guests: Henry Jackson (DNC) and Thruston B. Morton (RNC).
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The mystery guest on the final CBS broadcast was John Daly. Producers Mark Goodson and Bill Todman appeared in the closing moments of the half-hour to thank the public for its long support of the program. They had appeared on-camera a few times over the years. Goodson had appeared on-camera with Frank Sinatra nine months earlier. The finale was telecast live on September 3, 1967 immediately following a long summer vacation during which CBS had telecast videotapes that the show had stockpiled earlier in 1967.
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Although the final 1966 to 1967 season was broadcast in color, the color videotapes were discarded by CBS. Only black and white kinescope copies of the show were saved for posterity. Thus, we will never see color episodes of this show on GSN, only the b & w versions, which at that time, is what most viewers saw, as over half of the US population did not have color sets.
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The show was broadcast outside of New York only twice in its 17 1/2-year history. The first time was on August 12, 1956 when it emanated from Chicago where John Daly was covering the Democratic National Convention for ABC News and Dorothy Kilgallen was reporting on it for the Hearst newspaper chain. The second was on January 12, 1958 which originated from CBS Television City in Hollywood, for which a special panel of Laraine Day, Mickey Rooney, Esther Williams and Jack Lemmon was assembled in place of the regulars.
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The French Canadian version of this program was named Chacun son métier (1954), which translates from French to English as "To Each His Job." This French-speaking version was aired in Canada from 1954 to 1959.
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On the February 9, 1964 broadcast one of the contestants was a man who made Beatle wigs. In a display of visual graphics that was rare for the series, a publicity shot of the Fab Four was flashed on screen immediately after the man's line was revealed to viewers. The Beatles were making their historic first appearance that same night on The Ed Sullivan Show (1948) at a nearby TV studio. During the opening introductions on this broadcast, Kilgallen introduced Bennett Cerf as " 'What's My Line's answer to the Beatles." Cerf then introduced "John 'Ringo' Daly." Then Daly kidded Cerf, at the time 65 years old, about his youthful interest in the group from Liverpool. Although none of the Beatles ever appeared on this series, their manager Brian Epstein did on October 18, 1964, less than three years before his death.
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Although there are those who suspect John Daly was sending the panel signals, Moderator Daly insisted that there is only one signal he ever gave to the panel: When he pulled his right ear lobe it warned them, usually Hal Block, that the questions were getting dangerously close to double entendre.
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Among the approximately 5,000 letters received by the Goodson company each week, many protested Dorothy Kilgallen's relentless onslaught. Many took issue with the puns Hal Block would slip into his earnest questions. Many of those who claimed they could puzzle the panel with their occupations enclosed with their letters irreplaceable old photographs. Sometimes a package arrived containing an 8 X 10 wedding portrait in a glass frame. These viewers ignored John Daly's on-air plea that they should send "a snapshot that you can spare. It can't be returned. Too many come in."
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A ''What's My Line?'' board game was introduced in the fall of 1955.
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Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan each appeared on the show before becoming president, but there never was a president who went on the show while in office. Lyndon Johnson used the show shortly after the JFK assassination to advertise his liberal stand on the civil rights movement. When Johnson took over the White House, he requested a new slate of secretaries. He saw Geraldine Whittington working in another U.S. government agency and requested that his special assistant Jack Valenti get her home phone number. Johnson called her unannounced one evening and requested that she come in that night for an interview. According to audiotapes of Johnson's phone calls, Whittington at first thought the call was a joke but came to believe that it really was the president on the line. She applied for the position and got it. Having a black woman in the White House was very unusual in 1964. Johnson wanted to advertise the fact that he'd hired a black woman but chose not to call a news conference. Instead, he arranged for Whittington to appear on "What's My Line," where Bennett Cerf and Dorothy Kilgallen figured out her line of work. This may have seemed less overt but probably exposed her to more viewers than if a standard press conference had been held. The LBJ Library in Austin, Texas has a White House telephone log from January 19, 1964, the night Whittington was in New York doing the show, but the log says erroneously that the president made a long distance call to the "I've Got A Secret" studio to check on his secretary. Whittington died of cancer in 1993 without knowing that her live TV appearance would be revived on the Game Show Network.
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None of the panelists that were on the panel the night of the series finale (Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf, Steve Allen and Martin Gabel) were on the panel the night the series debuted in 1950.
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From 1950-1967 all episodes of "What's My Line" were recorded on kinescope (film). In 1959 videotape was first introduced as the method to prerecord episodes so Goodson Todman Productions could stockpile them for vacations that their employees and the show's performers could take in the future. The company reused the same Ampex videotapes over and over. The company paid CBS to make kinescopes of the prerecorded episodes as well as the live ones. Ampex videotape was too expensive to use as a permanent record of a broadcast. Its most important use was to allow people who worked on weekly game shows to take vacations in the summer and for Christmas and New Years Eve. As of 2009 an American basic cable channel called GSN telecasts ten episodes of the series every December. An astute viewer can use the Internet to identify the year that the episode aired live or was videotaped.
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On November 9, 1952, a year after the premiere of I Love Lucy (1951), Desi Arnaz was the mystery guest. His wife Lucille Ball did not appear with him at that time. While Arlene Francis was blindfolded, she identified him. Arnaz appeared as a guest panelist once: February 5, 1956. His wife appeared on the series many times without him. After their 1960 divorce, only she appeared. He did not.
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For the program's entire seventeen year run, the top prize was fifty dollars. The network and the producers wanted to make the top prize one thousand dollars. Some staff members balked at the notion and threatened to quit fearing the change would alter the tone of the game so the plan was abandoned.
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Starting with the live broadcast on July 20, 1952, Goodson-Todman Productions paid CBS for each kinescope, so the network never again destroyed the show. But Goodson-Todman eventually destroyed some telecasts and portions of other telecasts.
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It is true that for seventeen years CBS recorded every broadcast of this series on kinescope film. Many episodes were lost to history, however, during two time periods that were far apart. In 1950, CBS saved kinescopes of the first three telecasts at a financial loss to the network. They are available for viewing on a web site. At the time, the show aired live every other week, not every week. The kinescope process used silver nitrate film, which was flammable. But fire was not the reason why many broadcasts of "What's My Line" were lost during the period of 1950 to 1952. CBS employees discovered an advantage of the expensive silver nitrate film. They learned that it was possible to recover the silver content from the film and sell it. CBS did this many times starting with the fourth show, which the network had aired live on March 16, 1950. A publication called TV Digest based in Philadelphia reported that blindfolded panelist Hal Block had asked the mystery guest a question about her clothing. To Block's surprise, this got a laugh because the mystery guest, unknown to him, was stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. But their exchange has not been heard since 1950, and will not be heard again, due to the loss of the kinescope. Starting with the live telecast of July 20, 1952, the Goodson-Todman company paid CBS for each kinescope, so the network never again destroyed the show. Eventually, safety film replaced the silver nitrate. Twenty years after the first period of destruction, employees of Goodson-Todman were responsible for accidentally destroying sixteen kinescopes while they compiled clips for a 25th anniversary special. They were working at an expensive editing facility in Manhattan under a strict deadline. Five of the sixteen ruined shows dated from 1967.
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Another missing gem is Dorothy Kilgallen's introduction of guest panelist Woody Allen on the live telecast from July 7, 1963. As she arrives at the panelists' desk, the kinescope film jumps ahead to Allen saying that he "recently" had a wet dream about Arlene Francis whom he was introducing. "She did great [in the wet dream]." When Francis reaches her seat, she says, "Why didn't you tell me before, Woody?" Gil Fates and his three colleagues evidently considered using Kilgallen's amusing introduction of Allen in the 1975 anniversary retrospective, discarded it while their deadline was fast approaching and never put it back in the kinescope. Much later during the same kinescope, Allen can be heard asking contestant Jeanette Kraus, a Chicago resident who sells lobsters, if her product is "rich and, um, so sumptuous as to make one, say, nauseated if eaten like at 6:00 in the morning." That does appear in the 1975 anniversary program.
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It is true that for seventeen years CBS recorded every broadcast of this series on kinescope film. Many of them were lost to history, however, during two time periods that were far apart. In 1950, CBS saved kinescopes of the first three telecasts at a financial loss to the network. They are available for viewing on a web site. In 1950, the show aired live every other week, not every week. The kinescope process used silver nitrate film, which was flammable. But fire was not the reason why many broadcasts of "What's My Line" were lost during the period of 1950 to 1952. CBS employees discovered an advantage of the expensive silver nitrate film. They learned that it was possible to recover the silver content from the film and sell it. CBS did this many times starting with the fourth show, which the network had aired live on March 16, 1950. Later in the 1950s, safety film replaced silver nitrate.
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Twenty years after the first period of kinescope destruction at the hands of CBS employees, Goodson-Todman Productions was responsible for accidentally destroying sixteen safety-film kinescopes while Gil Fates and three of his colleagues were compiling clips for a 25th anniversary special. In March and early April 1975, they were working at an expensive editing facility in Manhattan under a strict deadline. Five of the sixteen shows that were totally ruined dated from 1967. Some humorous snippets were removed from kinescopes and did not end up in the special. They have been lost, leaving GSN viewers to puzzle over several reruns that have obvious splices in the scratchy film, and some spoken words are missing. The 25th anniversary special is available for viewing if one visits the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, California.
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The 25th anniversary special is available for viewing on a web site and also at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills. It includes a snippet that is missing from a GSN rerun because Gil Fates and his three colleagues never put it back in the kinescope for the live telecast of July 7, 1963. Woody Allen, making his first appearance as a guest panelist, can be heard asking contestant Jeanette Kraus, a Chicago resident who sells lobsters, if her product is "rich and, um, so sumptuous as to make one, say, nauseated if eaten like at 6:00 in the morning." The anniversary special does not include a snippet that is lost: Dorothy Kilgallen's introduction of Allen toward the beginning of the same telecast. As she arrives at the panelists' desk, the kinescope film jumps ahead to Allen saying that he "recently" had a wet dream about Arlene Francis whom he is introducing.
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After the death of Dorothy Kilgallen, Goodson Todman Productions conducted an intensive search to find a suitable replacement. Ordinary women from across the United States flooded Goodson's New York office and CBS with letters offering their services. Barbara Feldon sent a telegram to Goodson immediately after she heard the news of Kilgallen's death. After several months of using a variety of actresses and female journalists, the Goodson company decided to continue in that direction. Phyllis Newman, Aileen Mehle and Susan Oakland were used far more often than other female entertainers and newspaper reporters. Why none of them signed on as a regular is unknown. Newman was a panelist on the series next to last broadcast.

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Goofs | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

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