What's My Line?

Season 4 Episode 23


Aired Sunday 10:30 PM Feb 08, 1953 on CBS



  • Notes


      Poor Hal Block gets fired after the show tonight. More details from Gil Fates' 1978 WML book are on the episode guide notes of EPISODE #144 of March 1, 1953. - Suzanne (2004)

      Date: April 10, 1953

      (begin quote)

      Television News and Views by Anton Reminih

      BLOCK vs. ALL: Since Hal Block, a What's My Line? mainstay for longer than this reviewer cares to remember, was fired, the rivalry and dissension on the program has vanished. He "never learned team play" and considered What's My Line? his private show [Hal, whose forte was suggestive questions cloaked in mock innocence, got bounced specifically for pulling a Harpo Marx chase act on an attractive female guest after she had revealed herself to be a Baptist minister.]

      (end quote)

      In the quote directly avove, the 1953 reviewer was discussing EPISODE #141 of February 8, 1953. The mystery guest was Jack Benny and this is the episode that is assumed to have been the night that Hal was told by Gil Fates that he was being let go.

      The first guest was Baptist minister Leila Dell Miller. As she leaves the stage and the camera is on John, a noticeable unexplained roar of laughter comes from the studio audience. It is possible that this was the above reported chasing of the guest by Hal, all off-camera. The next game featured the jazz drummer. This was the famed segment that was incorrectly rumored to have been the game where someone from the audience "cheated," by giving hand signals to Hal Block. However, this rumor, which was started by WML director Franklin Heller in a taped interview decades later in 1987, was proven - by the events on this episode - to be unfounded. Whatever actually led to Hal being fired, he was now officially gone from the show, never to return, after completing a few more episodes. - Shecky & Suzanne (2004)


      Franklin Heller was interviewed on a 1987 video which can be viewed at the "Museum of TV and Radio" in New York and California. This taped interview was never broadcast on television. However, the events Heller described in the tape do not match the actual events which took place on this episode. His memory of this 1953 episode had naturally dimmed after twenty-five years. On the 1987 tape, Heller accuses Hal Block of cheating on the "drummer" game which was determined to be EPISODE #141 of February 8, 1953. Of course, this is the same "early February 1953" when Gil Fates said, in his 1978 WML book, that Hal was fired.

      A 2001 usenet post claims that Franklin Heller related that Gil Fates saw Hal Block getting pantomime clues from his sister who was sitting in the front row. However, when this episode is actually viewed, what Heller claims is not fully accurate. Hal Block wasn't the first one who thought of music. Plus, it is highly doubtful that Hal could see an audience member sitting in the front row, what with the bright stage lights shining on him. - Suzanne (2004)


      There are some inaccuracies to Heller's videotaped comments. Hal Block only determined that the contestant was a jazz drummer with an assist from Dorothy Kilgallen. It was Dorothy, not Hal, who opened the musical door. Moreover, the questioning began with Hal, as I recall, and he had two, possibly three, periods of questioning before Dorothy called for a conference. At least $35 was accumulated on the flip cards before Hal guessed the contestant's line. Thus, if Hal had seen his sister in the front row drumming, why wouldn't he run with this idea right from the beginning, to nab it, as Heller said? Also, how could anyone be sure that Hal could see his sister from his spot on the far-end of the panel desk, considering the barrage of bulky equipment and bright lights that were surely stationed immediately off-stage?

      The other problem is that this episode wasn't Hal Block's final appearance - he did three more. This night was merely the one on which Gil Fates fired him. If he had been fired merely for cheating - a major offense even in the pre-scandal game show days, unless of course it was planned in advance - why wasn't Steve Allen brought in immediately to replace him?

      There was more to this firing than we may ever know. Fates and Heller have, I would guess, added their own accumulated personal feelings into their accounts of Hal's WML period, which is inevitable, but it makes their reports not entirely beyond dispute. It's the winners who write history, not the losers, and the fact that some 20, 25, 30, or more years passed before their separate reports were made means that they have had more than enough time to reconsider and possibly revise what really happened. These men would not be the first ones to rewrite history. - Dan Albertson (2004)