These familiar words, spoken by moderator John Daly, announced the approach of the "mystery challenger", the closing highlight of the weekly CBS program What's My Line?. Every Sunday thousands of viewers across America would gather in front of their television sets at 10:30 pm to watch their favorite panelists try to guess the occupations of three random guests.
During its peek years, this panel consisted of the dapper pun-lovin' Bennett Cerf, co-founder and publisher of Random House books, the lovely actress and radio personality Arlene Francis, the delightful journalist Dorothy Kilgallen, and a guest panelist, such as David Niven, Tony Randall, Danny Kaye, or Martin Gabel ( Arlene Francis' husband ). Often it was a male guest star so that the panel was always neatly composed of two men and two women.
Host John Charles Daly, a veteran radio and television newsman, was as appealing as any of the panelists and greatly contributed to the show's formula and its success. When a potentially confusing question was posed, Daly, who was always on the side of the guest challenger, enjoyed clarifying the question with a befuddling response. Often, in his attempt to stump the panel, guests with particularly unusual occupations were selected. These ranged from the slightly unorthodox ( hog caller, goat shepherdess, bed pan manufacturer ), to the incredible ( manhole designer, cow washer, tea kettle whistle tester ).
"Is it bigger than a breadbox?"
"Ten flips and they are a flop!"
In order to obtain a "yes" the panel often worded their questions in the negative ( "Am I right in assuming you do not sell a product?" ). The $50 prize was inconsequential to the real point of the game - the enjoyment of watching the panel quiz the contestant. In reality, all guests were paid $750 for appearing on the show, regardless of whether they stumped the panel or not.
What's My Line? won three Emmy award for Best Quiz or Audience Participation Show during its 25 season run, and a Golden Globe for Best TV Show in 1962. The series was so successful in the States, that it spawned several international versions ( the panelists on the German program, Was bin Ich?, sported jazzy wing-tipped masks ), a radio version and a live stage version.
To this day, What's My Line? has a large fan of followers who watch its reruns on the Game Show Network and on Youtube. Its popularity is a testament to the engaging personalities of the three main panelists, who would have made the show entertaining regardless of what the game was about.
Bennett Cerf - was born on May 25, 1898 and is chiefly known for being one of the founders of the publishing firm Random House. After Cerf graduated from college he briefly worked as a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune before becoming vice-president of the publishing firm, Boni and Liveright. In 1925 he formed a partnership with Donald S. Klopfer to purchase the rights to the Modern Library from B&L and they went into business for themselves, increasing the popularity of the library and selecting trade books at "random" for publishing. Cerf's great talent for forming friendships soon brought in contracts from Eugene O'Neill, William Faulkner, James Michener and Truman Copote. In 1935, he married actress Slyvia Sidney, but the union lasted less than a year. In 1940, he wed again, this time to a cousin of Ginger Rogers, Phyllis Fraser. He was an occasional panelist on Who Said That? which led to him being invited to What's My Line? and ultimately staying with the syndicated show until his death in 1975. Onscreen and off, Cerf was known for his wit and humor and wrote over 11 riddle and joke books.
After Dorothy Kilgallen's death in November, 1965, her seat on What's My Line? was filled by various guest stars. The show continued on for two more seasons ( one in color ) before getting cancelled in 1967. Francis and Cerf enjoyed being panelists so much that they returned in 1968 when producers Mark Goodson and Bill Rodman decided to bring back the show as videotaped telecasts syndicated for afternoon and early evening schedules. Wally Bruner became the new host and Soupy Sales was added as a regular on the panel. This series continued on until 1975, when Bennett Cerf passed away.
Favorite Mystery Challengers
The highlight of the quiz show, for audience members, was the appearance of the mystery challenger, often a movie star. What's My Line? featured some of the best guest stars seen on any series, and below we have highlighted some of our favorite mystery challengers for those who wish to hunt for these episodes online. Enjoy!
- Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds, Groucho Marx, Ernie Kovacs ( Kovacs also appeared on the panel many time ), Buddy Hackett, Irene Dunne, Danny Kaye, the panelists spouses, Bobby Darin, Bette Davis, Andy Devine, Jose Ferrer, Julie Andrews, Doris Day.