Today's Mystery Death Is . . . Arlene Francis!

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Arlene Francis, the witty actress and television personality who was a panelist on the popular “What’s My Line?” show for its 25-year run, has died. She was 92. With her warmth, quick wit and infectious laugh, the fashionably dressed Francis was one of the busiest personalities on television in the 1950s.

“I started out with one goal,” she said. “I wanted to be a serious actress.” She did many plays and a number of movies, but it was television that brought her fame and considerable fortune. Her screen debut was in “Murders in the Rue Morgue” in 1932. She screamed “No! No!” as Bella Lugosi shackled and killed her. Later films included “Stage Door Canteen” in 1943, “All My Sons” in 1948, Billy Wilder’s “One, Two, Three” in 1961 and “The Thrill of it All” in 1963.

The theater, however, was her first love. She made her Broadway debut in 1936 and had her first major role - as a Spanish beauty - in George Abbott’s “All That Glitters” two years later. She appeared with Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton in the Mercury Theatre production of “Danton’s Death” in 1938 and in Maxwell Anderson’s “Journey to Jerusalem” in 1940. Her first real hit was “The Doughgirls” in 1942, a racy comedy about wartime Washington in which she played a funny Russian sniper.

In the 1940s she played in as many a five radio serials a day. “What’s My Line?” began in 1950 and was a success from the start. Contestants came on and the panel tried to guess their interesting or unusual occupations by asking yes-or-no questions. Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen and Bennett Cerf were longtime permanent panel members. The game show ran 17 years on CBS; Francis continued as a panelist in a syndicated version that ran until 1975.

—Always liked her. I loved those 1950s–'60s game shows, they were like attending a very witty cocktail party, with beautifully-dressed people trading bon mots. It wasn’t REALLY worth watching unless it has Arlene Francis, Kitty Carlisle, Dorothy Kilgallen, Bennett Cerf or some combination thereof. I do NOT accept Betsy Palmer or Bess Myerson as substitutes.

Bela CRUCIFIED, shackled and killed her in Murders in the Rue Morgue. What a way to debut, and God bless Pre-Code Hollywood!

She’s having tea and crumpets and morphine with him now in heaven.

I always got the feeling that these folks were “slumming” when seeing them on game shows. Plus, the panel could be made up some of most incongruous types: Kitty Carlisle (Hart - she always seemed to work “My husband, Moss Hart,…” into every conversation or interview I saw with her) and Orson Bean on To Tell The Truth? What kind of twisted combination is that? Or Arlene Francis and Soupy Sales on the same panel? Oh well, I guess the ladies could use the extra pin money.

<Pratchett>

Arlene Francis: I see you carry a scythe. Do you work in agriculture?

Death: NO.

AF: Have you appeared in any movies?

Death: YES.

AF: Do you play chess?

Death: YES.

AF: Do you dance?

Death: I AM NOTED FOR IT.

AF: Would I have any reason to interact with you professionally?

Death: ONCE.

</Pratchett>

Finagle—HAR!

What a classy lady! She always charmed my socks off. Thanks for the update, Eve. You’ll recall the Great Debate, Arlene Francis vs. Kitty Carlysle. Arlene won hands down.

Wow, Lib—thanks for the stroll down memory lane! Now they’re all gone but Kitty (and I think that new Moss Hart bio is about to finish HER off) . . . Wasn’t Bennett Cerf just so . . . so . . . debonair?

[rushing off to rent Murders in the Rue Morgue and have an Arlene Francis film festival]