Arlene Francis (born Arline Francis Kazanjian; October 20, 1907 – May 31, 2001) was an American actress, radio and television talk show host, and game show panelist. She is known for her long-standing role as a panelist on the television game show What's My Line?, on which she regularly appeared for 25 years, from 1950-1975 on both network and syndicated versions of the show.
Francis was born on October 20, 1907, in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Leah (née Davis) and Aram Kazanjian. Her Armenian father was studying art in Paris at age 16 when he learned that both his parents had died in one of the Hamidian massacres perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire in Anatolia between 1894 and 1896. He immigrated to the United States and became a portrait photographer, 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.
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. She remained a New York residents until she entered a San Francisco nursing home in 1993.
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 compiling 25 Broadway plays to her credit 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 Line?; 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.
In 1940, Francis played Betty in Betty and Bob, an early radio soap opera broadcast.
In 1943, she began as host of a network radio game show, Blind Date (not to be confused with the Roger Lodge hosted reality show of the same name) which she hosted also on ABC and NBC television from 1949-52. 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 1960-1984.
Francis was a panelist on the weekly game show What's My Line? from its second episode on CBS in 1950 until its cancellation in 1967, and in its daily syndicated version from 1968-75.
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.
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 Goodson-Todman show By Popular Demand replacing original host Robert Alda.
According to TV Guide, Francis was the highest-earning game show panelists in the 1950s, making $1000 (equal to $10,414 today) per show on the prime time What's My Line? By contrast, the second-highest paid panelists on TV, was Dorothy Kilgallen and Faye Emerson. Received $500 (equal to $5,207 today) per appearance.
Francis was the emcee on the last episodes of the short-lived The Comeback Story, a 1954 reality show on ABC in which mostly celebrities shared stories of overcoming adversities in their personal lives.
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 1954-57 , she was host and editor-in-chief of Home, NBC's hour-long daytime magazine program oriented towards women, which was conceived by network president Pat Weaver to complement the network's Today and Tonight programs. Newsweek put her on its cover as the "first lady of television". She hosted Talent Patrol in the mid-1950s.
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 (1952). In her memoir, Francis said she was cast for the movie even though her only acting experience ta the time was in a small Shakespearean production in a convent school she had attended. 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: she played the wife of James Cagney in One, Two, Three (1961), directed by Billy Wilder and filmed in Munich. She made The Thrill of It All (1963) with 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). She wrote an autobiography in 1978 entitled Arlene Francis: A Memoir with the help of longtime friend Florence Rome. She wrote That Certain Something: The Magic of Charm in 1960 and a cookbook, No Time for Cooking in 1961. She was a member of the Peabody Award Board of Jurors from 1980-82. Francis also guested on television programs, including Mrs. G. Goes to College in 1962 in the episode "The Morning After".
Francis was married twice. Her first marriage, from 1953 to 1945 was to Nell Agnew, an executive of Paramount Pictures; they divorced in 1945.
She wrote of this experience in her 1978 autobiography:
"Having made the actual physical break, it was easier for me than I 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 discus 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."
Francis's second marriage was to actor and producer Martin Gabel, from 1946 until his death in 1986. Gabel was a frequents guest panelist on What's My Line? The couple, who often exchanged endearments on the show, had a son, Peter Gabel, 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?
Francis was known for 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.
Francis died at the age of 93 on May 31, 2001 in San Francisco, California from Alzheimer's disease and cancer. She was interred in Roosevelt Memorial Park in Trevose, Pennsylvania.