There was always an element of surprise with this series since the guest of honor didn't know their life's story was going to be profiled until host Ralph Edwards approached them and said, 'This is your life.' Sometimes they were excited, sometimes horrified, and other times not happy at all about the intrusion.
The guest of honor would be whisked to the nearby studio where an audience was waiting. Edwards would open his big prop book and begin listing highlights of the person's life. Old friends, school teachers, long lost relatives would all be paraded out, each relating an anecdote about the person's life. Often before entering, the old friend would say a few words off-camera and Edwards would ask if the guest recognized the voice.
Generally celebrities were surprised by having their stories told: Boris Karloff, Laurel and Hardy, in their only live TV appearance, Gloria Swanson, Debbie Reynolds, and the like. Sometimes, a 'regular' person who had overcome some hardship or problem would have their inspirational story told.
At the end of each episode, all of the old friends would be brought back to the stage, and the guest would be presented with a trinket of some sort, and a movie projector to show the film of the episode at home. They would all then go to a hotel and celebrate the good old days.
There were only a handful of instances where the celebrity was tipped off in advance. Eddie Cantor was warned because of his heart problem, and Lillian Roth because of her past problems with alcohol.
After a successful run on radio starting in 1948, the series was an instant hit on television. Episodes were done live until the late 50s. A color syndicated version of the show reappeared for a season in the early 70s.moreless