Arlene Francis

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Arlene Francis
Arlene Francis 1958.JPG
Francis in 1958
Arline Francis Kazanjian

(1907-10-20)October 20, 1907
DiedMay 31, 2001(2001-05-31) (aged 93)
Resting placeRoosevelt Memorial Park, Trevose, Pennsylvania, U.S.
EducationFinch College
  • Actress
  • radio presenter
  • television personality
Years active1928–1991
Neil Agnew
(m. 1935; div. 1945)

(m. 1946; died 1986)
ChildrenPeter Gabel

Arlene Francis (born Arline Francis Kazanjian; October 20, 1907 – May 31, 2001)[1][2] was an American actress, radio and television talk show host, and game show panelist. She is known for her long-running role as a panelist on the television game show What's My Line?, on which she regularly appeared for 25 years, from 1950 to 1975, on both the network and syndicated versions of the show.

Early life[edit]

Francis was born on October 20, 1907, in Boston, Massachusetts,[2] the daughter of Leah (née Davis) and Aram Kazanjian.[3] Her Armenian father was studying art in Paris at the age of 16 when he learned that both his parents had died in one of the massacres perpetrated by the Ottoman government in Turkey between 1894 and 1896, known as the Hamidian Massacres.[4] He emigrated to the United States and became a portrait photographer,[2] opening his own studio in Boston in the early 20th century. Later in life, Kazanjian painted canvases of dogwoods, "rabbits in flight", and other nature scenes, selling them at auction in New York.[5]

When Francis was seven years old, her father decided that opportunities were greater in New York and moved the family to a flat in Washington Heights, Manhattan.[6] She remained a New York resident until she entered a San Francisco nursing home in 1993.[1]


Francis c. 1950

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 in 25 Broadway plays 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.[7]

In 1940, Francis played Betty in Betty and Bob, an early radio soap opera broadcast.[8]

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 to 1952.[2] 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.[1]

The What's My Line? panel in 1952. From left: Dorothy Kilgallen, Bennett Cerf, Francis, and Hal Block; newscaster John Daly was host of the show.
Francis (left) with Cerf, Kilgallen, and Daly on What's My Line? in 1965

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 to 1975.

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.[1]

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 the Goodson-Todman show By Popular Demand, replacing original host Robert Alda.[9]

According to TV Guide, Francis was the highest-earning game show panelist in the 1950s, making $1,000 (equivalent to $7,806 in 2020) 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 (equivalent to $3,903 in 2020) per appearance.[10]

Francis was the emcee on the last episodes of The Comeback Story, a short-lived 1954 reality show on ABC in which mostly celebrities shared stories of having overcome adversity in their personal lives.[11]

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 to 1957, she was host and editor-in-chief of Home,[2] 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. In 1954, she appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine.[12] She hosted Talent Patrol in the mid 1950s. In 1962, Francis was one of numerous people recruited to guest host Tonight during an interval period before Johnny Carson took over as host from Jack Paar. This made her the first woman to host not only Tonight but a national late-night U.S. network talk show.

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.[13] 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: One, Two, Three (1961), directed by Billy Wilder and filmed in Munich, in which she played James Cagney's wife; The Thrill of It All (1963) with Doris Day and 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).

In 1978, Francis wrote her autobiography, Arlene Francis: A Memoir, with longtime friend Florence Rome.[14] In 1960, she wrote That Certain Something: The Magic of Charm,[2] and she published a cookbook, No Time for Cooking, in 1961. She was a member of the Peabody Awards Board of Jurors from 1980–82.[15] Francis also guested on television programs including Mrs. G. Goes to College in 1962 in the episode "The Mother Affair".

Personal life[edit]

Francis was married twice. Her first marriage, from 1935 to 1945, was to Neil Agnew, an executive with Paramount Pictures; they divorced in 1945.[2]

She wrote of this experience in her 1978 autobiography:

Having made the actual physical break, it was easier for me than I had thought to explain to Neil some of what I felt, what I had been feeling for so long a time. Not all, of course. There were areas which I couldn't discuss even then, which would be too hurtful to him, I felt. I saw him fairly often, and he courted me as though we had just met, but I was building up strengths which enabled me to resist not only his blandishments (including a lovely little house which he bought in New York as an enticement to get me to change my mind) but those of my parents, who also would have given anything to see me go back to the status which had been quo.[16]

As she disclosed in her autobiography, she admitted she never should have married Neil Agnew because she wasn't in love with him. During the marriage, she met producer and actor Martin Gabel and fell in love with him. He encouraged her to divorce Agnew, which was one of the sources of her torment because her parents loved Agnew like a son. After Francis divorced him to marry Gabel, they initially did not like Gabel for several reasons, including her divorce.

Francis's marriage to Gabel lasted from 1946 until his death in 1986.[2] Gabel was a frequent guest panelist on What's My Line?. The couple, who often exchanged endearments on the show, had a son, Peter Gabel,[1] born January 28, 1947, a legal scholar associated with New College of California in San Francisco. Peter Gabel was an associate editor of Tikkun, a Jewish-community commentary magazine. While working as a tour guide at the 1964 New York World's Fair, Peter surprised his mother as a contestant on What's My Line?.[17]

Francis and her husband settled a lawsuit for $185,000 in June 1962 that had been filed by the widow of a Detroit man who was killed when a dumbbell fell from the Gabel family's eighth-floor Ritz Tower apartment and struck him on the head while he was visiting New York to celebrate his birthday.[18] Francis, Gabel, and their son Peter were vacationing in Connecticut when the 1960 incident happened.[18] Francis had instructed their maid to shampoo the carpet while they were away.[14] The maid kept windows open for a long time to minimize the smell of the shampoo.[14] The dumbbell was part of the equipment that Francis used for her regular exercise of weightlifting.

On May 26, 1963, Francis was involved in a serious car accident while driving alone from a theater on Long Island to the Manhattan studio where she was expected for a live telecast of What's My Line?. The force from a car that struck her car caused her to skid on the wet surface of the Northern State Parkway, jump the highway's concrete divider, and collide with a car containing five passengers, one of whom was killed.[19] Francis suffered a broken collarbone, a concussion and many cuts and bruises.[19]

Francis was known for wearing a heart-shaped diamond pendant, a gift from Gabel, which she wore on nearly all of her What's My Line appearances. A mugger robbed her of the pendant as she was leaving a New York City taxi in 1988.[20]


Francis died at the age of 93 on May 31, 2001, in San Francisco, California, from Alzheimer's disease and cancer.[21][22] She was interred in Roosevelt Memorial Park in Trevose, Pennsylvania.


  1. ^ a b c d e Smith, Liz (April 20, 1993). "Bravo for 'Normal Heart'". Los Angeles Times.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Vallance, Tom. "Arlene Francis obituary". The Independent. Archived from the original on October 28, 2010. Retrieved June 4, 2001.
  3. ^ "Arlene Francis profile".
  4. ^ Francis, Arlene, with Florence Rome, pp. 4–5.
  5. ^ Francis, Arlene, with Florence Rome, pp. 11–13.
  6. ^ Francis, Arlene, with Florence Rome (1978), p. 14.
  7. ^ Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 716. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Retrieved August 25, 2019. What's My Name, game show.
  8. ^ "What's New from Coast to Coast" (PDF). Radio and Television Mirror. 13 (6): 6–9. April 1940. Retrieved February 25, 2015.
  9. ^ Gross, Ben (August 31, 1950). "Looking & Listening with Ben Gross". Daily News. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  10. ^ TV Guide January 8–14, 1954 page 6. Retrieved February 21, 2017
  11. ^ Marsh, Earle; Brooks, Tim (October 6, 2007). The Complete Directory to Prime-Time Network and Cable Television Shows, 1946- Present (Ninth ed.). p. 237. ISBN 978-0-345-49773-4.
  12. ^ "TV's Arlene Francis: Pots and Puns". Newsweek. Newsweek Magazine. July 19, 1954. Retrieved October 5, 2022.
  13. ^ Francis, Arlene; Rome, Florence (1978). Arlene Francis: A Memoir. Simon & Schuster. pp. 18–19. ISBN 0-671-22808-0.
  14. ^ a b c Francis, Arlene; Rome, Florence (1978). Arlene Francis: A Memoir. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-22808-0.
  15. ^ "George Foster Peabody Awards Board Members". Retrieved October 3, 2015.
  16. ^ Francis, Arlene; Rome, Florence (1978). Arlene Francis: A Memoir. Simon & Schuster. p. 59. ISBN 0-671-22808-0.
  17. ^ YouTube; retrieved July 29, 2013.
  18. ^ a b "Stroller Is Felled by Dumbbell Dropping 8 Floors in 57th St". The New York Times. June 24, 1960. p. 10. "Arlene Francis Sued; She and Husband Named in Death by Falling Dumbbell". The New York Times. January 12, 1962. p. 16.
  19. ^ a b "Arlene Francis Hurt in Crash; Woman in Second Auto Killed". The New York Times. May 27, 1963. p. 14.
  20. ^ "Thief Steals Arlene Francis' Heart". Kentucky New Era. Associated Press. July 7, 1988. p. 4D. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  21. ^ Willis, John; Monush, Barry (2002). "Obituaries for 2001: Arlene Francis". Screen World: 2002 Screen Annual. Vol. 53. New York: Applause Theater & Cinema Books. p. 355. ISBN 1-55783-598-5.
  22. ^ "Arlene Francis, 93, Mainstay Of 'What's My Line?' on TV". The New York Times. June 2, 2001. Retrieved November 29, 2014.


  • Francis, Arlene (1978). Arlene Francis: A Memoir. with Florence Rome. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-22808-8.

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