What’s her line?

When Elizabeth Taylor died last week, many people posted their favorite clips from her movies on Facebook and online. But the clip I enjoyed most was of Taylor’s appearance on “What’s My Line?” I had never watched the show before and didn’t know how it worked. But I watched the whole clip and found it incredibly charming:


A panel of four blindfolded celebrity judges tries to guess the identity of the guest star by asking her questions. The most famous have to disguise their voices for the answers, of course, and the squeaky-high pitch Liz chose was silly and fun. The show has a proper, rather dignified, well-dressed ’50s aura about it, which makes the silliness of the voices seem even funnier. I couldn’t look away.

I decided to check out more clips. Here are a few of the other “mystery guests”:

Barbra Streisand (who appears to speak in Italian the whole time, though doing so hardly masks that famous voice):


Ronald Reagan:


Alfred Hitchcock, whose answers and deadpan demeanor crack up the crowd:


And even Eleanor Roosevelt, who takes a really long time to write her name on the show’s opening-scene chalkboard, and has the host answer for her as her voice is too recognizable. (More recognizable than Barbra or Alfred H? Doubtful. But perhaps it would have been considered unseemly to ask a former First Lady to do funny voices for a TV game show.)



13 responses to “What’s her line?”

  1. Tim says:

    Wowee! I’ve only had a chance to watch the Liz Taylor one and will get to the others later. She sure was a talented and lovely woman. It’s amazing to see her joke around like that, a side of her I don’t recall seeing before. Also funny to think of a time that Michael Wilding was a household name.

  2. AWB says:

    This one with Salvador Dali is pretty funny.

  3. AWB says:

    And here’s a list of all the WML? mystery guests. Very impressive!

  4. Dave says:

    I love these and have spent hours watching them. Check out Woody Allen and John Cage, among others.

    I wonder whether this would be a viable show these days. Somebody with Hollywood connections should pitch it.

  5. Dave says:

    Also, the Elizabeth Taylor one really is extra charming.

    And I’m always amazed by the intelligence and urbanity that the show seemed to expect of its viewers.

  6. F. P. Smearcase says:

    I, too, have watched a ton of these. Some of the ones I love best are the ones who are clearly much beloved but now either are basically lost to history or wouldn’t be anything approaching a household name today. The panelists all call Gertrude Berg by the name of her characer, Molly Goldberg, who was apparently an indelible cultural presence–today she’s forgotten. Marian Anderson is clearly adored–you could hardly use the phrase “world-famous contralto” today, though of course she was also famous as a civil rights figure–as are Leontyne Price (who gets a very funny question from panelist Woody Allen and by whom Arlene Francis is clearly starstruck) and Helen Traubel, a Wagnerienne who did a Broadway show but wasn’t important in the way of Anderson and Price…

    Odd little side note: Panelist Dorothy Kilgallen died young, under iffy circumstances and there are theories about her death involving Kennedy conspiracy stuff.

  7. F. P. Smearcase says:

    I mean, maybe it’s just a NYC-centric show and that explains some of the familiarity with things like theater and opera and I shouldn’t get all rosy about the past in which everyone was so smart and cultured.

    Oh hey wow there’s one with Seiji Ozawa, not the “guess who this very famous person is” kind, but the “here’s a guy named Seiji Ozawa; ask him questions until you figure out what he does” kind. He’s young and sort of cute, which is disorienting.

  8. LP says:

    Ooh, thanks for the tips on further viewing / reading. The wiki entry for Dorothy Kilgallen is fascinating, but then I always love a good conspiracy theory. However, I wonder if anyone considered Bennet Cerf as the possible murderer…? I loved these lines from the wikipage:

    “Fellow panelist Bennett Cerf claimed that, unlike the rest of the panel’s priority on getting a laugh and entertaining the audience, Kilgallen’s main interest was guessing the right answers. She would also, according to Cerf, milk her time on camera by asking more questions than necessary, the answers to which she knew to be affirmative.”

  9. F. P. Smearcase says:

    Well, I get the impression she and Arlene Francis were journalists of a lowish caliber, say, midway between Geraldo Rivera and Anderson Cooper, as much celebrities as anything else. But this is just my impression from the show and a little googling.

  10. lane says:


  11. Dave says:

    I miss Tony Randall.

  12. AWB says:

    I love the Seiji Ozawa one, FPS!

  13. AWB says:

    I do have a hard time believing that anyone doesn’t know Hitchcock’s voice within one syllable, “disguised” or not.