Thursday, January 22, 2015

When I miss the old people, I watch WHAT'S MY LINE.

Arlene Francis, John Charles Daly, Bennett Cerf and Dorothy Kilgallen

Sometimes, I miss the fifties and sixties, not because they were better--in fact, I doubt that's the case--but because I was young and my parents and some grandparents were still alive.

What did our family do on Sunday nights after sacrament meeting?  We watched WHAT'S MY LINE with the elegant and articulate John Charles Daley as host.  The man could fuse together more clauses than anyone I've ever heard.  He called everyone "Miss," Mrs," or "Mr."  I read where CBS wanted to modernize the show in the sixties and have him drop all the formality.  He refused.  The show ran from 1950 to 1967.  I was 8 in 1950.

The urbane panel made up of Bennett Cerf, founder of Random House Publisher, Arlene Francis, stage and radio personality, who called serious theater, "the legitimate theater," and Dorothy Kilgallen, a columnist for one of the NY papers, guessed people's occupations. There was always one guest panelist--I saw Steve Allen, David Niven, Tony Randall and a very young Johnny Carson.  Mid-show the panelists put on blindfolds and a mystery guest appeared.  Last Sunday night I watched the show with mystery guests Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Lucille Ball.

Some things I noticed: 1) contestants and panelists are all much more dressed up.  Women guests wore dresses and suits and one woman, wore a huge orchid corsage.  How long has it been since women wore corsages? Fifty years? 2) Contestants had to sign their names on a blackboard when they entered and they all had excellent cursive writing.  I mean, the names looked so neat and aligned, almost artistic.  3) the humor was always polite and appropriate, never scatalogical.

Don't get me wrong.  I don't want to return to those times.  I'd rather never wear a dress or skirt again, and whoever invented pantyhose should be drawn and quartered.

I was embarrassed by corsages even then, and sometimes all that appropriate behavior of the era seemed entirely phony to me.

But I do like to resurrect my parents and sit in the tv room with them watching WHAT'S MY LINE.


  1. Someone needs to throw you and Ann a party when your book comes out, to celebrate you two as memoir-writing teachers and fabulous people. I nominate our memoir group. We still do Our Thing every month.

    1. That should be some good writing motivation, right? Party with the writers' group. Cheers!