Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sunday night television old-school. William Schuman on What's My Line.

On Sunday evening, September 30, 1962 during the 12th season of its 17-year run on CBS, American composer William Schuman (1910-1992) was correctly identified on "What's My Line." Schuman had been named the first president of Lincoln Center the year earlier, and his 8th symphony was to be premiered, with Leonard Bernstein conducting, the following Thursday, October 4:

The first segment introduces the four panelists, who will each ask questions designed to identify a mystery guest. Part of the charm of the show was that each panelist was introduced while walking onto the set, and they often took bows. Veteran panelist Dorothy Kilgallen (1913-1965) was introduced first. She was a journalist best known for her column "The Voice of Broadway." Kilgallen introduced Martin Gabel (1912-1986), though her accent makes his name sound more like "Morton." Known primarily as an actor, he introduced his wife, Arlene Francis (1907-2001), without "fulsome adjectives." Francis was an actress who was a regular on this show. Finally, Bennett Cerf (1898-1971), who was co-founder of Random House publishers. Cerf riffs on the Mariner 2 space probe, which had been launched by NASA about a month earlier, to introduce host John Charles Daly (1913-1991). Schuman was considered to be recognizable so the panel was asked to put on blindfolds [2:00]. The guys wear standards, but Francis looks like an aviator and Kilgallen looks ready to go swimming. Schuman signs in on a chalkboard [2:41]. Asked if he is familiar with the score-keeping system he says, "vaguely." Well, ten responses of "no" to questions from the panelists before he is identified and Schuman "wins." Schuman's "line" is shown to the audience [3:10]: "Composer and President of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (New York City)." Francis [4:23] asks him a question that requires a "small conference:" "Are you a person behind the scenes rather than a performer yourself?" When Daley leans in [4:34] he looks ready to kiss Schuman. "He doesn't know," quips Francis during the conference, "whether he's back or front." "Four down six to go." "How about music?" asks Kilgallen [5:03]. "How about it?" replies Schuman, "what's the question?" "Are you Leonard Bernstein?" "I'm his friend." [5:48] Francis asks, "would you be Mr. Bing?" Rudolf Bing (1902-1997)was general manager of the Met at the time of this production. "I'm his friend." "Everybody's friend, this fella..." says Francis in the background. Gabel pins him to Lincoln Center [6:32]: "Are you a managing director of the new Lincoln Center?" Schuman responds that: "You'd have to rephrase the question but there is an element of truth in it." The best line of the episode [6:57] is the response by Gabel: "We are all seeking truth here, sir!" Ah, the days of gallantry. But then things fall apart and the questions become unfocused. All ten "no" answers have been given, none are left. Suddenly Cerf nails it [7:35]: "Is it Mr. Schuman?" After the buzz cools something even more remarkable for prime-time network television. The sentence [8:37]: "I'm happy too, for you sir, that your eighth symphony is to be performed this Thursday." Imagine. The opening movement of the symphony is a dark and enchanting sound world of obsession and slow unfoldings. "We are all seeking truth here, sir!" Had they played the opening of this symphony no questions would have been required to identify Schuman:

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