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Weekend Follies: Sammy Davis Jr Stumps The Panel On 'What's My Line?'

by Sergio
September 30, 2012 9:29 AM
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Sammy Davis Jr.

Since the weekends are always slow, here's something for your weekend amusement. It's a video clip I came across some months ago, that I found pretty intetesting.

It's from a May 1957 episode of the popular and very funny primetime game show What's My Line, which was on Sunday nights on CBS, from the early 1950's to the late 60's. The premise of the show, which baby boomers like me remember, was very simple, but clever.

A celebrity panel would have to try to guess, using only "Yes" or "No" questions, the occupation of several contestants which was revealed only to the studio and TV audience. And to make things tricky, the contestants always had some sort of unusual or bizzare job like a bra manufactuer or a poultry sniffer.

And one really nice touch with the show was that the panelists were required to always wear formal evening clothes, giving the show a feeling, not so much of a regular TV game show, but rather a sophisticated after diner parlor game, in some swank New York City Park Ave apartment.

But everyone loved the final regular Mystery Guest segment in which the blindfolded panel who have to guess the identity of some big name Hollywood movie star, or famous personality. Since, usually, the special guest in question had an instantly recognizable voice, they usually tried, but failed, to disguse their voice, which resulted in the panel guessing who the mystery guest was very quicky.

Unlike today, most movie stars back then had distinctive unique voices. Or as someone once said: "When was the last time you heard someone doing an impression of Brad Pitt?"

However, that wasn't the case with Sammy Davis Jr., who appeared on the show a few times. Aisde from being an actor, singer, dancer, comedian and all around performer, Davis was an incredible mimic, and a master impressionist. 

Though the panel does eventually figure out who he is, it takes much longer than usual, and they're obviously baflfed by Davis, who keeps changing his voice and even does dead-on impressions of Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart and James Cagney.

In fact, you younger kids may find this hard to believe, but there was actually some controversy in regards to Davis' impressions.

Many people were outraged that a black man would actually dare to do impressions of famous white actors. Why, that sort of thing was totally out of line. These people are simply going to far. Before you know it they'll want to sit in the front of the bus.

Strange but true.


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  • Geneva Girl | October 2, 2012 2:54 AMReply

    I can only imagine what a remake of this show would be like now. While I'd love to hear intelligent questions from contestants in evening clothes, I can't imagine it happening.

  • ALM | September 30, 2012 6:58 PMReply

    Mr. Davis, a true talent.

  • Nadia | September 30, 2012 11:32 AMReply

    I'm surprised that the first question wasn't "are you black or white?" That would've narrowed their options down quickly. Especially back then when there weren't a whole lot of black folks in entertainment as well known as Sammy Davis Jr. Or is that a question they weren't allowed to ask?

  • Kristin | September 30, 2012 3:43 PM

    Since it isn't a "yes or no" question, they weren't allowed to ask. I love WML? so maybe I've seen more of the mystery guest segments than most people, but I remember several black entertainers being on the show. The ones I remember best are - of course, Sammy - Eartha Kitt, Rochester, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Louis Armstrong. I remember seeing several more actresses but for some reason I can't think of who at the moment ...

  • sergio | September 30, 2012 12:42 PM

    That would be very true. But then that question would have been considered inappropriate on TV shows back then. We're talking 1957. Television was barely even covering the Civil Rights Movement at that time

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