“What’s My Line?” What’s My Story?

Nov 10 2021

“What’s My Line?” What’s My Story?

“What’s My Line?” Do you remember it? Did you watch with your family? It was on forever and we felt like we knew all the regulars on the show! It was a television show that aired in the United States from 1950 until 1967. Clearly, it was immensely popular. It was a hit, not just because it had celebrity guests in beautiful clothes, but also because it had regular folks telling their stories - their lines. It might just as easily have been called, “What’s My Story?”. The goal for the celebrity panelists was to guess the line of work of the guest contestants. The first guest contestant was no celebrity. She had no wild or crazy occupation. She didn’t jump out of airplanes or race sled dogs. She was a hat check girl named Pat Finch. For those of you who dont know what a hat check girl was, in the first 60 years of the 20th century all men wore hats, which had to be checked when a man went into a club or restaurant. Hat check girls were often attractive young women at swanky clubs, restaurants and other venues who would check hats, coats, etc. What made Pat Finch’s story stand out was that she was a hat check girl at The Stork Club in New York City (open from 1929-1965), which was widely considered the swankiest club in the world. She was a young woman checking hats and coats for rich men, standing on her feet all evening in a sort of sexy costume, making a buck to pay her rent.

 The panelists, many of whom were on the show for nearly the run of the show, like Bennett Cerf, Dorothy Kilgallen, and Arlene Francis, would ask questions in turn until one of them guessed the line of the contestant.


 

 

 “What’s My Line” also featured celebrity guest contestants. For these contestants, the panelists would wear blindfolds so that they wouldn’t recognize the guest. The celebrity guest list reads like a Who’s Who of the 20th Century, including Muhammed Ali, Fred Astaire, Frank Zappa, Frank Lloyd Wright, Kermit the Frog, Billy Graham, Philippe Petit, Van Cliburn and Jacques Cousteau, to name but a few.

 

 

“What’s My Line” was copied, syndicated, revamped in other countries and then retooled as other quiz shows. This wildly popular show was all about the stories of working people. We see ourselves in these stories. We understand our world from these stories. We understand each other a little better from all of these stories. We like to know what people do, what makes them tick, what they love. It’s why we ask each other, “What do you do?” It helps us connect with the world and our neighbors. And if you feel as though your answer to that question might not be fascinating, remember that,“What’s My Line” asked and answered that question of regular folks and kept millions of people tuned to their TVs for 17 years. Our stories are who we are and we are fascinated by them.

 

We all love stories. We love to hear unusual stories and not so unusual stories. Being a hat check girl might not be the most fascinating career path but here she was, the lead contestant of the longest running quiz show in American history. That’s a story in itself. We love stories. We love the stories of all of us, from hat check girls to plumbers to astronauts to pianists and teachers. So, what’s your line? What’s your story? History Chip, like “What’s My Line”, is here for all those lines, all those stories.