Saturday, December 09, 2017

Jobs I wish I had

Starting a new feature I’ll do from time to time. “Jobs I Wish I Had.” We all have them. We grow out of most of them, but not all. Secretly, don’t you still wish you could be a ballerina or Navy Seal?

And then there are the jobs you’d love to have but no longer exist. Big band crooner, flapper, Czar of Russia.
 
There's such a thing as the BUZZR network.  They show old black-and-white episodes of I’VE GOT A SECRET and WHAT’S MY LINE?  These were old musty game shows from the ‘50s and ‘60s. By today’s standard they are positively archaic. A panel of four personalities must guess the contestants’ job or secret.  That's it.  There was zero production value and if a contestant stumped the panel they won the whopping sum of $50. The shows were aired live (for the east coast anyway). Today they're great fun to watch.

WHAT’S MY LINE? was originally on CBS at (I believe) 10:30 p.m. The panelists all wore tuxedos and formal gowns. The host, John Daly was the most erudite emcee in the history of television. If there are 500,000 words in the English language, he knew and used 469,000 of them – each week. Everyone was very formal. Ms. Francis. Mr. Cerf. Ms. Kilgallen.

When little kids are asked what they want to be when they grow up they’ll often say fireman, or actress, or cowboy, or fashion model. I wanted to be a panelist. And you know what? I still do. Too bad those gigs have gone the way of the 8-Track tape.

Think about it. Sunday night. You go out and have a nice dinner in Manhattan. Roll into CBS at 10:00. Don your tuxedo and get made up. There’s nothing to prepare. You’re not supposed to know what will be on the show. You do the show live at 10:30. You play this parlor game and (in my case) say a few witty lines and get a couple of laughs. At 11:00 you’re done. No pick ups. No alternate takes.   By 11:15 you’re in a bar. For this you are handsomely paid, you’re famous, and these shows lasted upwards of fifteen years. You have job security.

You parlay this into appearing on other panels. Ka-ching!! You trade on your fame and write books (or have others ghost write them for you), speak at events for absurd fees, score lucrative commercial endorsements (“Hi, this is Ken Levine for Studerbaker!”), and be invited to all the A-list society parties. Judy Garland could pass out in my lap. 

I was always amused when one of these panelists missed a show because he was on vacation. Vacation from WHAT? A half-hour a week?

There are very few panelist opportunities today.  Bill Maher’s HBO show, a few others. But slim pickings for sure. What few celebrity game shows there are require you must be a has-been from some ‘70s sitcom. Rarely does the casting call go out for never-beens. So I’m at a distinct disadvantage there.

But that’s one of the jobs I wish I had had. What about you? What’s Your Fantasy Line?

60 comments :

Terrence Moss said...

I would like to host a talk show in the vein of Dick Cavett. I love the format and I love his style.

And / or I'd love to host a variety show in the vein of Ed Sullivan.

Paul Dushkind said...

Now Mr. Levine, you are old enough to know that we didn’t say “Ms.” then.

I knew a little girl who said, “When I gwow up, I want to be a cowgirl and a ballerina.” Attainable career goals. Some girls do grow up to be cowgirls or ballerinas, but not both.

Unknown said...

I can remember being in NYC one Christmas holiday season in the early 60s and waking past the line going into What's My Line. Everybody in the audience line dressed up. Then, going back to the hotel and watching the show on tv live.
And, still a guilty pleasure today.

Gareth Williams said...

There’s plenty of panel shows still on here in the U.K. Too many of them in fact. Some are good but a lot are filler.

Rashad Khan said...

I still wish I were head-writing a daytime soap opera.

Earl Boebert said...

My fantasy line is to be a panelist on "QI."

Dennis Hartin said...

I've always wanted John Daly's job. He had to be prepared, sure, but his main job was to give entertainers just enough room to be entertaining.

Matthew Brannigan said...

It's odd that panel shows are still so popular in the UK but are pretty much unheard of over here - I can only think of "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!" and that's not even on the TV.

Brad Apling said...

To be an advice or "here's my thoughts and observations" columnist. Hand out advice or tell folks what I see out the window, throw in a joke or two in less than 500 words and then go watch reruns of Cheers and Frasier.

Dr Loser said...

I grew up wanting to be an astronaut. Hey, didn't every little boy who grew up in the 1960's? Sadly, it turns out that I am two and a half inches too tall.
Life can be very cruel, sometimes.

Jeff said...


Dreaming about Hollywood - here's my list:

Jobs I wish I had:

1. Viewing movies before their release and giving feedback. We get paid 50$, right? Also free pop corn while watching. I would love it, since I get to play God.

2. Adviser to Hollywood Celebrities (a job I hope really does exist) -

I can then advise Spielberg to stop making sequels and along with Martin Scorsese to retire.

Seth MacFarlane to stop singing and also to stop making crappy unfunny Westerns and Ted sequels.

Shailene Woodley to stop her phony environmental campaigns - none are getting any press. Start going for auditions again.

Amy Schumer to start taking some acting classes.

Take Jennifer Lawrence out to see and experience the real world.


Jobs I would have liked to do, but no longer exists:

1. Assistant to Harvey Weinstein, who goes around influencing old people in retirement homes to vote for Miramax movies.

2. Make-up artist for RenΓ©e Zellweger.

3. Fitness trainer for Alec Baldwin and his brothers.

4. Liam Neeson's accent coach.

5. Meryl Streep's 'Awards Season' assistant.

Well, as I am just imagining things about Hollywood... I might as well add - I would love to give a tight slap on George Clooney's face to wipe the smugness off his face (I would actually love to pay to do that πŸ˜›πŸ˜›πŸ˜›).

kent said...

I would love to have been Buddy Sorrell. Not Morrey Amsterdam but actually Buddy Sorrell.
Ps. No one called anyone Ms. in the fifties.

kent said...

I've also always wanted to be a lyricist. The closest I've come is when a friend asked me to rewrite two verses of "All I Ask of You" from Phantom of the Opera so she could use it at her wedding without the more Sinister references.

Mike McCann said...

And where are the erudite shows and panelists these days? The prime time Goodson Todman shows made us feel as if we eavesdropped at an elegant party following a Broadway opening night or an evening at the opera. Real wit from creative and clever people. The people we aspired to be.

Present day game shows are more like video games -- dramatic synthesized music to enhance the mood, bold colors and lighting effects, celebrities unknown to 3/5 of the country, questions we could have answered in the junior high cafeteria.

It's 50-60 years since these classics first aired. Thankfully, the reruns -- even on kinescope -- allow us to visit anytime we choose.

Michael said...

Ken, you came close to my fantasy job. When I was nine, I met my idol. He looked down at me and said, "So you're the guy who wants my job!" It took 42 years before the job became vacant and Joe Davis got it instead.

That said, my wife and I loved to watch "What's My Line?" for the reasons you mention. The producer, Gil Fates, wrote a fun book about it. Stan Laurel, who was an inveterate TV watcher in his later years, absolutely hated the show for the reasons you mention: the pomposity. But it was lovably pompous.

Brian Fies said...

Astronaut, of course. But fitting the theme, when I was a kid I always wanted to be Orson Bean. At the I had no idea who he was or what he did to deserve to be on my TV, I just knew he was tremendously witty and drew little cartoons on his "To Tell The Truth" cards. What a gig!

Curt Alliaume said...

The initial What's My Line panel reflected a New York sensibility - a columnist for the New York Journal-American, the editor in chief of a publishing house, and a Broadway actress. Since most network programming came from New York at that time, though, that was fine. No way you'd get away with that today.

I would have loved to have been a game show host and/or producer (I did some of both while in college), but that moment has passed, alas.

bruce said...

In 1962-1963 (I think), my father Sidney Reznick was on the "I've Got a Secret" program staff, which picked guests and wrote adlibs for the panelists and Garry Moore. Also on the staff that year were a fresh-out-of-college David Seltzer, who later wrote the screenplay for "The Omen" and Judy Crichton, later the producer of American Experience for PBS for many years. Judy's husband Robert Crichton wrote "The Great Impostor" and "The Secret of Santa Vittoria", both of which were made into big movies.

Matt said...

Interesting you posted about WHAT'S MY LINE. I watched some episodes of that on YouTube the other night, including a funny one with guest panelist Groucho Marx being Groucho Marx.

One of my favorite panel shows is INFORMATION PLEASE, which I think may have been briefly on television in the early '50s, but was primarily a radio show that was on through most of the 1940s. All these decades later, I still find those shows enormously entertaining.

WAIT WAIT DON'T TELL ME is a favorite of mine. An attempt was made a few years ago to do a pilot for a TV version of it, but WAIT WAIT's producers were unhappy with the way TV wanted them to dumb the show down to make it "more accessible" to your average couch potato. TV also wanted them to replace the type of panelists they normally use with B, C and D list celebrities. Everyone involved with WAIT WAIT reported being glad that the TV thing didn't work out.

Jeff R said...

WOW this is a fun post! While you, Ken, always wanted to be the panelist - I wanted to be the game show host...or even the game show announcer. It just seems like a great way to have fun, meet a lot of people and make most of them happy at the end of the 1/2 hour!
In reality when I was a kid growing up in Burbank listening to Boss Radio KHJ, I wanted to grow up to be a DJ and that is what I actually did - for 25 years!!
Sometimes life does grant a wish or two!!

Mike Schryver said...

The only one being produced now is TO TELL THE TRUTH, I think, which isn't being done well at all.

David Kruh said...

Same job I've wanted all my life but no longer exists: a Top-40 DJ like Beaver Cleaver!

estiv said...

Right now I'm reading a biography of Thurber, which is reminding me that I wanted to be a Writer with a capital W, the kind who was both good at writing and famous. So I probably would have shown up as a guest panelist on one of the quiz shows every so often, but not been a regular. I might've been the guy they asked when Oscar Levant was unavailable.

LouOCNY said...

As Mike McCann alluded to in his post, instead of dealing with BUZZR's weird way of scheduling these, every surviving episode of WML is available on YouTube. What's really heartening is that the whole page has over 2 MILLION uploads, with one closing in on a MILLION by itself- the September 20, 1958 show where the guest panelist was he one, the only Groucho! As funny a half hour as ever on TV....

Anonymous said...

What's My Line, more than the others, was a great look into mid century america owing to the guests they had.
who was popular, what they were doing and what was going on.
Watch the 1960 program with Arnold Palmer. They didn't use masks because people did not generally know what he looked like.
In less than two years he was among the most recognizable people on the planet. Amazing.

BTW - backstory of all the panel was fascinating.
Bennett nerf accused Dorothy Kilgallen of cheating - she always knew more than she should have.
When you watch you can see it.

Of course, the Famous Writer's Club was never alluded to.

YEKIMI said...

When I was way younger first thing I wanted to be was a train engineer, then an astronaut [hell, every male kid growing up in Florida during the 60s wanted to be one.] Then a DJ, which actually happened for a while till I found out how fickle and mean the industry could be.....I'm still pulling knives out of my back. Also wanted to be on or host the 70s version of the Match Game. Always thought they were having WAY too much fun on that show until I found out they were doing it shitfaced half the time. The current Match Game hosted by Baldwin....I watched and I was like "Who the fuck are these panelists?" I've only heard of one or two of them. I guess that's because they film it in NYC and the panelist pickings are probably pretty slim. Saw Darrell Hammond on it and he was giving off an 'I'm only doing this for the paycheck; hurry up and get this shit over with' vibe and seemed like he was just disgusted to be on it.....wasn't funny, threw his answer up with hardly any bantering. And the contestants.....Did the producers actively seek out ones with double digit IQs?

Jobs that no longer exist: I thought Court Jester was gone but then Trump got elected...only he and his minions are funny because they're so terrifying. DJ: A few left but Ryan Seacrest is probably trying a figure out how to take their jobs. Typesetting....no need for that anymore since computers do it all. Phone operator/answerer.....computer telling you what numbers to push but "please listen carefully as some of our options have changed". Pay phone repairer; can't remember last time I've seen a pay phone.

Endangered jobs: Truck driver....once they get those automated electric trucks perfected say goodbye to that job. Taxi driver....Uber/Lyft rapidly doing them in, so they net unemployment figures of foreign drivers will soon be skyrocketing if Trump hasn't had them all deported yet. Also, electric automated cars will factor in there one day. Ethical politician...oh, wait.....That probably hasn't ever really existed since the country was founded and it for sure doesn't exist nowadays.

Rony said...


I thought you would want to see this Ken - from your favorite Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nsn6AJ9xrO0

There is a cutaway gag in that featuring Spielberg presenting an Oscar and a Natalie Wood Rape joke.

Jeff Maxwell said...

My top three:

1. Bob Barker hosted Truth or Consequences. I've wanted his job since I was eleven.

2. Psychiatrist. Fifty minutes - $450. Help people and weekend on my yacht.

3. CIA agent. How cool would that be?

sanford said...

Like any kid in the 50's I would have loved to have been a major leaguer. I am guessing the panelists on What's my Line for instance had other jobs. I doubt they could live off of what they were getting to appear on the show. A little guest history. The show featured a panel of four celebrities who questioned the contestants. On the initial program of February 2, 1950, the panel was former New Jersey governor Harold Hoffman, columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, poet Louis Untermeyer, and psychiatrist Richard Hoffmann. The panel varied somewhat in the following weeks, but after the first few broadcasts, during the show's earliest period the panel generally consisted of Kilgallen, actress Arlene Francis, Untermeyer and comedy writer Hal Block. At various times, a regular panelist might take a vacation or be absent from an episode to due outside commitments; on these occasions, a guest panelist would take their spot. The most frequent guest panelist was Arlene Francis's husband Martin Gabel, who appeared 112 times over the years.

Publisher Bennett Cerf replaced Untermeyer as a regular panelist in 1951, and comedian Steve Allen replaced Block in 1953. Allen left in 1954 to launch The Tonight Show, and he was replaced by comedian Fred Allen (no relation), who remained on the panel until his death in 1956. Following Fred Allen's death, he was not replaced on a permanent basis; the fourth panelist was thereafter always a guest. For the majority of the show's network run, between 1956 and 1965, the panel therefore consisted of Kilgallen, Cerf, Francis and a fourth guest panelist. All these people had regular jobs. What ever they got, I am sure they just had fun doing these shows. And as for Shalene Woodley she is filming something now which by the description does not look great and she is doing voice work for something that is in pre production now. Much enviromental stuff doesn't get much play now. That is too bad as it should get more

Anonymous said...

That's a lot of hostility expressed as a supposed answer to a light-hearted question, Jeff. A special anger about young actresses, too. It calls for a reply from a therapist, and I'm not qualified. Kind of spoiled this thread for me.

Harry said...

WHAT’S MY LINE is a joy, and I’VE GOT A SECRET with Garry Moore comes close. TO TELL THE TRUTH, I don’t like nearly as much, even though it’s conceptually similar. Mostly because Bud Collyer, while a great Superman, didn’t have Daly’s elegance or Moore’s humanity.

I saw a mid-1950s WML the other night with Fred Allen, and he introduced a guest panelist, the still-active Betty White—a real circle-of-life moment.

As a kid, I wanted to be Donald Hollinger, Ann Marie’s newsweekly-reporting boyfriend. And I came close: I worked for TIME and my wife is named Marie-Anne.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

I want to be the moving van driver leaving the White House with a full load...

Pat Reeder said...

In the days of cheap hi-def cameras, video streaming and YouTube, why not just start your own panel show where the contestants are chosen for being witty rather than semi-famous has-beens and dullards? Harken back to the days when panelists were brilliant curmudgeons like Fred Allen, George S. Kaufman and Oscar Levant. And to save you the embarrassment of having to ask, yes, I'll do your show.

Larry Stone said...

Funny, I mentioned this to a co-worker just this week. I wanted to be the host of a reboot of What's My Line.

Cap'n Bob said...

I wanted to be either a cavalryman, baseball player, or singer. I rode horses, played sandlot ball, and sang in a garage band for three months before I got canned for having a lousy voice. That'll have to do it, I guess.

And I still don't use that godawful expression "Ms."

Mike Bloodworth said...

After eliminating the jobs I'm no longer physically able to do (astronaut, NBA player and pornstar are out) this is what's left. I used to think that Ed McMahon had the best job in show business. All be had to do was come in, sit there, play straight man, laugh at Carson's jokes, and then go home or to the bar, whatever. Plus he was still able to do outside jobs like his Budweiser commercials and the occasional T.V. or movie guest spot. Best of all, if the show stank nobody blamed Ed. Now, the job I'd love to have is Harry Shearer's. I grew up watching cartoons; the good politically incorrect kind. My show biz heros are Mel Blanc, June Foray, Daws Butler, et al. My main reason for getting into show business in the first place was to do cartoon voices. My second love is radio. Of all the toys and games I had my favorite was a cassette tape recorder. I had so much fun doing voices and sound effects. I, also had the privilege of working in radio for a while. Harry does both. He does voices on the Simpsons and has his own radio show. And he gets to do other acting gigs as well. That's what I'd love to do. BTW Jeff R. and D.K., we can't forget the Real Don Steele.

Fred Vogel said...

I wanted to be Natalie Wood's personal photographer.

Al in PDX said...

I'm with Kent as wanting to be Buddy Sorrell. The mid-morning Danish, cracking wise with great co-workers, insulting the star's brother-in-law director and a wife -- must be a former showgirl -- named Pickles.

John Adkins said...

Exactamente, Paul. It was "Miss Francis" and "Miss Kilgallen."

Judy Hughes said...

Still want to be veterinarian. Wanted this since about 5 years old. Although I made poor life choices (I'm 57 and unemployed) at least I've achieved part of my goal as I volunteer with a Wildlife organization.

I would SO watch you on a game show. Always hoping the category will be baseball. You earn that suit!

VP81955 said...

"What's My Line" had an urbane sensibility which simply doesn't exist today. To revive it in 2017 would be like magically bringing William Powell back to current Hollywood.

TheBigAlabama said...

Since I was 8 years old in 1967, my dream job has been to work the scoreboard at Wrigley Field. I have worked at Wrigley Field since then, but in the press box and not the scoreboard. Not giving up, though!

Frederic Alden said...

I always wanted to be an editor, correcting abuses to the English language or spelling errors, since I seem to notice them without trying(it's Studebaker, not Studerbaker, for instance).
One of the most amazing What's My Line guests was Col. Harlan Sanders, who came out in his usual white suit, and stumped the panel, who were not blindfolded and had no clue who he was or what he did. That's how long ago that was.

SaveTheTPC said...

Yes, the "What's My Line?" channel on YouTube is an amazing resource if you really love this show! Not only does it have every episode ever rerun on television (over 750 in all, from 1950-1967), as LouOCNY mentioned; it also has several that have never been broadcast again since their original air dates. It is organized into chronological playlists, so you can look up particular episodes by date, or just enjoy watching all the episodes (or as many as you wish) in order. Each episode is well-tagged with the names of all the mystery guests and panelists as well, so it's easy to look up episodes with particular Mystery Guests and Guest Panelists that you might like to see. And another advantage, of course, is that it's available 24/7 for your viewing enjoyment! Here's a link to (or at least the URL for) this wonderful channel, which I have been enjoying thoroughly for years! https://www.youtube.com/user/WhatsMyLineCBS

Steve B. said...

Just wanted to reiterate there's a fantastic panel show still popular, but it's on public radio - NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me." Ken, you'd be great on it!

MikeN said...

Those game show contestants are has-beens? I've never heard of them.

Tom Galloway said...

As far as childhood jobs go, I wanted to be a mad scientist/engineer (as pointed out in a few places, most of the fictional mad scientists are actually mad engineers; very few of them have any sort of control group for their experiments for example). Also, Jeopardy! contestant (as far as I can tell, I either hold or am very close to holding the record for number of passes of the tryout test without actually getting on the show)

At various science fiction and comics conventions, I've been able to both program in game and panel show program items and be a moderator or panelist for same. My best answer was as leadoff panelist on a Match Game where the question was something like "Vain Vera was so vain, she BLANKed". I just started singing "She probably thinks this question's about her, 'bout her...." and completely cracked up the audience.

DwWashburn said...

You described John Daly exactly the way that Gil Fates described him in his What's My Line memoir. He said that Daly was not too happy doing the show and that he would show up about 20 minutes before the show aired and was out of there five minutes after the cameras were turned off.

Charles H. Bryan said...

Dog trainer/walker/sitter. I like dogs, I guess. Either that, or work for Barefoot Billy's moving company.

Brent Alles said...

For me, it would be writing for Sesame Street. I've loved it since I was a kid, and due to my extreme Muppet fanaticism, it would probably have taken me days not to geek out when I saw the various Muppets.

I would love to work with those who write those awesome parodies they do, because you get to amuse both adults and children in different ways... and even educate the kids to boot!

That's my dream job. :)

Andy Rose said...

Game show sets certainly were a lot simpler back then... a couple of tables, a curtain and a sign. For the 7th anniversary of I've Got a Secret, they started the program from the bare stage of their home, the Mansfield Theater. Garry Moore then took the camera on a quick tour around the building while the stagehands got things ready. As you can see from the live broadcast, the full set was assembled in less than three minutes.

I've Got a Secret Studio Tour


@Mike Bloodworth: The reason Harry Shearer's radio show has been on for 34 years is that he literally does it for free and therefore doesn't have to answer to anyone. Nice work if you can afford it.

Ted McCarthy said...

Ann Margret's boy toy. Only now it would be Ann Margret's classic piece of heavy equipment.

Andy Rose said...

Not sure what happened to my link above to the episode of I've Got a Secret, but it doesn't seem to be working so I'll give it another shot.

https://youtu.be/WTfjSbk8tdU

Hank Gillette said...

One of the most amazing What's My Line guests was Col. Harlan Sanders, who came out in his usual white suit, and stumped the panel, who were not blindfolded and had no clue who he was or what he did. That's how long ago that was.

Ann Landers did the same thing (she’s never obtained the visual recognition that Col. Sanders did, but still).

Roger Owen Green said...

I hate most of the ABC lineup of summer game shows =- To tell the Truth is even lamer, Match Game is tawdry rather than suggestive.
Pyramid, which has only the two celebrities, is pretty much the same game Dick Clark hosted, and that's good.

TimWarp said...

Check out the prices on the Gil Fates book! Looks like I'm headed for the library instead.

What's My Line came on in Texas Sunday nights at 9:30 - past my bedtime. I'd beg to stay up and watch it, but was very rarely ever allowed to.

When I was about 4, one of my mom's friends asked me my name and I replied "Kitty Carlisle." So I guess that was my first dream job!

JoeyH said...

Mike Bloodworth beat me to it. I wanted to be Ed McMahon. Warm up the Tonight Show audience, laugh at Johnny's jokes, do an Alpo commercial, and be done for dinner. Lucrative side gigs with Budweiser and Star Search. What's not to love about that?

DetroitGuy said...

Groucho was an amazingly fast wit. And the stuff he gets away with while questioning the 2nd guest, a very attractive female wrestler, is racy even by today’s standards.
https://youtu.be/p6wxrLjJobM

Christopher Lowery said...

Have been binge watching What's My Line in order on you tube for the last week or so.

Watching right now an episode that aired on Oct 21, 1962 (about a year before I was born).

Harry Belafonte is on the panel and the mystery guests are Robert Ryan and Nanette Fabray promoting "Mr. President", Irving Berlin's last musical.

Jahn Ghalt said...

I recently read Bennett Cerf's memoir At Random so I'm aware that he had a Day Job at Random House.

(that's a very entertaining memoir, by the way)

I vaguely recall Arlene Francis but not Kilgallen.

Still, your point is well taken - that's a pretty good gig.

Dr Loser made a good point, as a sixties space race kids my fantasies included space travel, however, they mostly involved a private effort - NASA was an unnecessary proposition.

Pat Reeder has a pretty good idea - at least do a "radio version" of your own panel show, Ken.

When I started in Little League (age 10) I wanted to be a major leaguer - by the time I was 12, I knew that wasn't in the cards.

I never thought I could play in the NBA, but the money is actually better than MLB and the regular season is not quite as long (though the "second season" is potentially longer).