What's My Line?

Season 5 Episode 3


Aired Daily 12:00 AM Sep 20, 1953 on CBS



  • Notes

    • ABOUT GAMBITS: In Gil Fates' 1978 What's My Line? book, he discusses the practice of supplying suggested lines of questioning (which he termed "gambits") for a panelist to ask. This affected the early comedian panelists, such as Hal Block, Steve Allen and Fred Allen. After the quiz show scandals broke in the late 1950s, Gil said they abandoned the use of this gimmick. In Fates' hardback book, "gambiting" is discussed on pages 24-25. This was a contrived method Goodson-Todman (and maybe others, too) used to insure laughs from the audience. Gil said the line of questioning itself became "a gambit." The producers purposely had one panelist ask "wrong" questions to generate laughs and lead them up the wrong path, which they called the "garden path" on WML. For instance, if a contestant's occupation was "sells mattresses" they may tell the panelist to ask questions about sporting events, which would be sure to generate laughs. Gil said it wasn't technically cheating, since they were not telling the panelist what the guest's actual line was. They were actually giving the panelist misinformation. Gil said they only used it on one occupation per episode and never on the mystery guest spot. Gil said John Daly was not a part of the gambiting and didn't know if John ever knew of its existence. Gil said the use of gambits "was very tricky and required a sophisticated technique" so the audience would not be aware of what was going on. He said it could be used only with very bright comedians, "whose ego inclined them toward laughs rather than solutions." Gil wrote in his book, "Just before air time, we would suggest to the gambiteer a line of questioning. We never told him the occupation. He never asked. All he knew was that if he followed the suggested line of questioning he would get his laughs and a 'no' answer at the end." For example, can you imagine Dorothy doing this? No, because winning was far too personally important to her. Gil said that Steve Allen created his own gambits, and didn't need to be told the "wrong" questions to ask, although history has shown that it happened on occasion. Gil said if Steve got a laugh from the audience, he knew he was on a track that was wrong, and then carefully followed this wrong track on purpose to generate yet more laughs. When Steve felt it became too obvious, he'd pass to Arlene or ask a blockbuster funny question that was sure to get a "no." - Suzanne (2004)

      "Gambit" really is a good term for this technique. From the dictionary: noun: a chess move early in the game in which the player sacrifices minor pieces in order to obtain an advantageous position; an opening remark intended to secure an advantage for the speaker; a maneuver in a game or conversation. - Suzanne (2004)

      DUPLICATED GAMBITS: Thanks to the high volume of B/W shows GSN has aired in the past, I discovered that the exact same comedy questions could end up being reused on different shows. For instance on this episode, there was a contestant with the occupation "Repairs Zippers." Steve Allen proceeded to ask questions that sent him on the wrong track to howls of laughter from the audience. He asked questions such as, "Would a well-equipped office have this?" and "Would a secretary know how to operate this?" Several months later on "The Name's The Same," there was a contestant named "A. Zipper." Gene Rayburn's questions were word-for-word identical to those Steve Allen had asked on WML several months before. - Eric Paddon, Usenet 2001

      Tidbits: Arlene's new play, "Late Love," opens Thursday in Hartford, CT. Bennett's book, "Good For A Laugh," has now sold over 100,000 copies. It first went on sale on October 6, 1952. - Suzanne (2004)

      Panel: Dorothy Kilgallen, Steve Allen, Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf.

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