Arlene FrancisThursday, April 11, 2019
Arlene Francis (born Arline Francis Kazanjian; October 20, 1907 – May 31, 2001) was an American actress, radio and television talk show host, and game show panelist. She is known for her long-standing role as a panelist on the television game show What's My Line?, on which she regularly appeared for 25 years, from 1950–1975 on both the network and syndicated versions of the show.
After attending Finch College, Francis began a varied career as an entertainer based in New York City. She became an accomplished stage actress, performing in many local theatre and off-Broadway plays, and compiling 25 Broadway plays to her credit through 1975. In 1932, she made her film debut in Universal's Murders in the Rue Morgue. She appeared in films sporadically until the 1970s.
Francis became a well-known New York City radio personality, hosting several programs. In 1938 she became the female host of the radio game show What's My Name?; although several men appeared as co-hosts over the years, Francis was the sole female host throughout the program's long run (on ABC, NBC and Mutual networks) until it ended in 1949.
In 1940, Francis played Betty in Betty and Bob, an early radio soap opera broadcast.
In 1943, she began as host of a network radio game show, Blind Date, which she hosted also on ABC and NBC television from 1949–52. She was a regular contributor to NBC Radio's Monitor in the 1950s and 1960s, and hosted a long-running midday chat show on WOR-AM that ran from 1960 to 1984.
Francis was a panelist on the weekly game show What's My Line? from its second episode on CBS in 1950 until its network cancellation in 1967, and in its daily syndicated version from 1968–75.
The original show, which featured guests whose occupation, or "line," the panelists were to guess, became one of the classic television game shows, noted for the urbanity of its host and panelists.
She appeared on other game shows, including Match Game, Password, To Tell the Truth, and other programs produced by Mark Goodson and Bill Todman, including a short-lived hosting stint on Goodson-Todman show By Popular Demand replacing original host Robert Alda.
According to TV Guide, Francis was the highest-earning game show panelist in the 1950s, making $1000 (equal to $10,414 today) per show on the prime time version of What's My Line? By contrast, the second-highest paid panelists on TV, Dorothy Kilgallen and Faye Emerson, received $500 (equal to $5,207 today) per appearance.
Francis was the emcee on the last episodes of the short-lived The Comeback Story, a 1954 reality show on ABC in which mostly celebrities shared stories of having overcome adversities in their personal lives.
Francis was a pioneer for women on television, one of the first to host a program that was not musical or dramatic in nature. From 1954-57, she was host and editor-in-chief of Home, NBC's hour-long daytime magazine program oriented toward women, which was conceived by network president Pat Weaver to complement the network's Today and Tonight programs. Newsweek put her on its cover as the "first lady of television". She hosted Talent Patrol in the mid-1950s.
She acted in a few Hollywood films, debuting in the role of a streetwalker who falls prey to mad scientist Bela Lugosi in Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932). In her memoir, Francis said she was cast for the movie even though her only acting experience at the time was in a small Shakespearean production in a convent school she had attended. Some sixteen years later, she appeared in the film version of Arthur Miller's play, All My Sons (1948) with Edward G. Robinson.
In the 1960s Francis made three films: she played the wife of James Cagney in One, Two, Three (1961), directed by Billy Wilder and filmed in Munich. She made The Thrill of It All (1963) with James Garner and, in 1968, the television version of the play Laura, which she had played on stage several times. Her final film performance was in Wilder's Fedora (1978). She wrote an autobiography in 1978 entitled Arlene Francis: A Memoir with help from longtime friend Florence Rome. She wrote That Certain Something: The Magic of Charm in 1960 and a cookbook, No Time for Cooking, in 1961. She was a member of the Peabody Awards Board of Jurors from 1980-82.Francis also guested on television programs, including Mrs. G. Goes to College in 1962 in the episode "The Mother Affair".