A Glimpse Into Another Era

It was a quiet afternoon at work today, and I turned to YouTube for something to listen to as I did my job. I ended up with a string of episodes of the 1950s game show, “What’s My Line?”

Man, that was a fun show.

In case you’re not familiar with it, a panel would have to guess a person’s occupation with “yes or no” questions. Often, a guest would have an unusual occupation, like hippopotamus trainer or cook at the county jail. There would be several rounds, with different guests, during each half-hour episode. One round would always be a celebrity round, where the panel would be blindfolded and try to guess the identity of a famous person (who would disguise their voice in often hilarious ways).

“What’s My Line?” had a New York City intellectual vibe to it. Panel members included, at various times, Gore Vidal, Steve Allen, and Bennett Cerf. Panel members, especially the woman, dressed as if they were attending a Broadway musical. It also had quite a bit of humor, both intentional and not. (One guest manufactured dental exam chairs. After the panelists determined that he made a mechanical device of some sort, which a human could get into, Steve Allen asked, “Is this something one would find in Sing Sing?” “Yes”, and then, “Is it used as an alternative to life imprisonment?”)

These old episodes of “What’s My Line” are also a glimpse into another era – an era when the blindfolded panelists would tell the sex of the mystery celebrity by whether they received catcalls or applause when they signed in. It was an era when a female guest stumped the panel because her unusual occupation was a “US Mailman” on Long Island. (When her occupation was revealed, the moderator, John Daily, pointed out that, although she had said she doesn’t wear a uniform, she does wear Bermuda shorts – which is why so many people mail letters on Long Island.) I won’t share the jokes made about a Native American, who was a Marine jet pilot.

But, despite the socially incorrect groaners, the show did have me laughing this afternoon. I’m sure my bosses where wondering what was up.

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