October 29, 2008

What's my line? "World famous architect."

Awkward, but awesome. Frank Lloyd Wright on the ancient TV quiz show:

(Via About Last Night.)

I love this exchange:
"Would it have anything to do with law in any way?"

"Unfortunately, yes."

The host John Charles Daly makes a ruling:
"No, I think that, while there may be some relationship, in some aspects of your work, with law, they would be incidental to our basic line of questioning."

Ugh. What an outrageous ruling from the host, John Daly. He's acting as though he's all erudite and urbane, making an elaborate technical ruling, and the "no" answer ends the questioner's turn. But the questioner worded his question carefully, saying "anything" and "in any way," so the ruling, relying on excluding the "incidental" and the concept of a "basic line of questioning" is thoroughly specious. I hate that kind of phony, show-offy, fake intelligence. Now, Wright, the "world famous architect," was also a world famous genius, and his 2-world answer was absolutely smart, correct, and funny.

Or do you miss that old-fashioned style of witty speech?


Mortimer Brezny said...

Doesn't this post pretty much slam Sir Archy?

Chris said...

Is there any profession that doesn't have something to do with law, in some way?

MadisonMan said...

I liked the riff on the acoustics and how FLW could fix them.

Cedarford said...

As an innovator, Wright no doubt had to deal with old law and code blocking his engineer-reviewed as safe design and the use of lawyers to get waivers, if possible. Law was a constant headache and obstacle. Supposedly one reason he went to New Mexico was to be less constrained by regs and code meant for 19th-century structures.

Plus, of course, he had a need for lawyers for contracts with buyers, vendors, subcontractors.

Original George said...

Ah, if you see other clips with audience shots, the men all wore suits and the women were nicely attired.

Here's a list of all mystery guests. Reagan was one. Great sense of humor. Not afraid to let himself look foolish, unlike some preternatural celebrities.

(Earl Warren was also a guest. "Uh, Mystery Guest, does your work involve a school board in Kansas?" "Mystery Guest, have you ever imprisoned Japanese people?")

Arlene Francis was sharp. Sadly, she developed Alzheimer's...

And where's Kitty Carlisle?! On 'To Tell the Truth,' she always looked like she was high on champagne. Flying. Dr. Seuss was on when 'Cat in the Hat' came out (probably thanks to Bennett Cerf), and no one guessed who he was.

Mark Daniels said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Daniels said...

In "acting as though he's all erudite and urbane," Daly was playing his designated role.

'What's My Line?' was a self-conscious attempt on the part of CBS to live out its common nickname, the Tiffany Network.

With its panelists drawn from publishing (Bennet Cerf), Broadway and the Arts (Arlene Francis), New York newspapers (Dorothy Kilgallen), and originally, poetry (Louis Untermeyer), along with Daly, the former network news anchor, each dressed in formal evening wear, the show was meant to evoke the feeling of a gathering of New York's Arts and media elites. You could almost imagine a Gershwin-esque pianist playing amid the erudite chatter that must have happened when commercial breaks came along.

In a way, 'What's My Line,' with its Sunday night time slot, coming after Ed Sullivan's show and before a changing set of hour-long dramas, served the same function later served by '60 Minutes.' In 'Tick... Tick... Tick...: The Long Life & Turbulent Times of 60 Minutes,' journalist David Blum cites one observer with an explanation for that show's longevity. You enter the weekend, the observer said, intent not only on getting things done around the house or maybe watching a football game, but also on reading that enlightening book or watching some serious movie. But Sunday night rolls around and you realize that you've frittered the weekend away. Watching '60 Minutes,' with its set of easily-digested hard news and feature stories, makes you feel as though you've redeemed your weekend in some way. You feel a bit more informed and a bit less like a slug.

When the formally-clad panel and host welcomed people like Frank Lloyd Wright, you watched to make yourself feel a little smarter. A Pat Sajak wouldn't aim at erudition if he were hosting a second revival of 'What's My Line?' and, of course, it wouldn't be necessary for him or any other host to do so. But 'What's My Line?' meant to be more than a game show. It was intended to be a slice of what people in places like Columbus, or Madison, or Atlanta thought of when they heard, "New York City."

I could, of course, be wrong. [laughing both knowingly and self-deprecatingly]


Ann Althouse said...

I know. Doesn't mean I have to like it.

SteveR said...

I was young but I remember it well. I believe it was on just before Candid Camera, although I'm not sure. My parents loved Bennett Cerf. Yeah I kind of miss that people made an effort to look nice and talk well. We've made a lot of progrees since then in many ways but...

Pogo said...

Hey, it's famous architect Rufus Leaking again!

FLW, the maker of homes needing continuous repair. Like a beautiful but "high maintenance" woman, one has to decide whether the envy is worth the pain and expense.

Cantilevers and flat roofs make a pretty picture but nature abhors a shelf.

EDH said...

I appreciated FLW's answer, but the host didn't want to mislead the panel.

Don't you think the host displayed a great deal of empathy, ahem, sympathy for the panel? Obviously, Ann, you are just too insensitive to know what it's like to be blindfolded.

After all, the law touches everything...

Kevin Lomax: Why the law? Cut the shit, Dad! Why the lawyers? Why the law?

John Milton: Because the law, my boy, puts us into everything. It's the ultimate backstage pass. It's the new priesthood, baby. Did you know there are more students in law school than lawyers walking the Earth?

Skyler said...

It was a good ruling. There is no human activity that isn't associated with the law. Architecture is as remote from law as cabbage farming is. Just because it is regulated doesn't make it related to law.

The only other association with law is that he might design a building for lawyers or for courts. A cabbage farmer grows vegetables that lawyers eat, too.

Good ruling.

jdeeripper said...

Althouse - "I hate that kind of phony, show-offy, fake intelligence."

Daly was clear and correct in his ruling. He's a judicial conservative and believes in original intent.

The questioner wanted to know if the guest was involved with the law in any way - lawyer, judge, cop.

The guest is an architect. The answer is no. Good ruling.

Richard Dolan said...

Mark Daniels is certainly right about the Tiffany network and the self-conscious effort to showcase glittery NYC to the masses. The aesthetic owes a lot to the drawing room comedies of the Depression Era, where everyone in the movie was beautifully turned out, bejewelled and living the high life. Just like the panelists here.

In its way, it was the aspirational Hope and Change of its day. Wright refers to the Price Tower as just having been completed, dating this episode to around 1956. Things were obviously better in 1956 than they were in 1936, but the attraction of NYC glitter as a visualization of aspiration was still pretty strong. Compare that to what you would get on an equivalent show today -- glitter is gone, replaced by the grunge that passes for sophistication.

walter neff said...

That show was not for hicks.

You should have stayed tuned to I Love Lucy and Sgt Bilko.

Meade said...

His use of the adverb, "unfortunately," probably referred to his experiences in divorce court and being accused of violating the Mann Act.

kynefski said...

Wouldn't it be the most flattering thing to hear someone use your name as exemplary of a category.

"Could it be he's in something related, like design or architecture, such as Frank Lloyd Wright?"

That would be so cool.

"Coud it be she's involved in law, or a law professor, such as Ann Althouse?"

MadisonMan said...

The problem with What's My Line posts is that I inevitably start watching all of them. I liked the one with the two kids of the panelist.

sonicfrog said...

Favorite part of the show:

Daily: Sometimes we have acoustic problems in here...

Wright: We could fix that.


Palladian said...

No, Althouse, the problem is that you were programmed by the 1960s to loathe people like John Charles Daly. He was a symbol of everything the boomers wanted to "smash". He was a square, man, a real square. He was plastic, man.

He needed to steer them away from the idea that Wright had to do with the law because it would have been misleading. They had a very limited amount of time for the segment and by letting them pursue irrelevant tangents it would have caused them to ask fruitless questions that would have been answered "no" and would have made the segment less interesting. He always tried to balance his role as both the adversarial middle man and the fair moderator who also had to keep the segment interesting. His convoluted answers and what you call his "phony, show-offy, fake intelligence" was a running gag especially between him and Cerf.

Daly was, however, no stranger to outrageous rulings and jumbled legalism. He married into it. His wife was Virginia Warren, Chief Justice Earl Warren's daughter.

Christy said...

Decades ago I read a book on style that quoted Carlisle as saying she wore evening attire as a courtesy to the people into whose homes she came in the evening.

I know two book clubs reading a Wright bio just now. I'm forwarding the clip around.

Trooper York said...

The sad truth is that if they remake To Tell the Truth, Ryan Seacrest would be the host, Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, Nick Lachey and Dog the Bounty Hunter would be the panelists and we would all be much worse for it.

There is a place for elitist eggheads in our society, quiz shows
and PBS. That is their natural habitat.

EDH said...

Wouldn't it be the most flattering thing to hear someone use your name as exemplary of a category.

Like a Lewinsky?

Original George said...


So that's how Earl Warren became a Mystery Guest!

It was a conspiracy!

Trooper York said...

Warren really hit if off with Kitty Carilse Hart and one thing led to another. Now Miss Hart was married to a notorious homosexual and they had never consumated their marriage. So when she got knocked up, they had a problem.

Luckily Brennan knew somebody in Jersey.

blake said...

It hasn't been 500 years but Althouse's response reminds me of Idiocracy:

Unaware of what year it was, Joe wandered the streets, desperate for help. But the English language had deteriorated into a hybrid of hillbilly, valley girl, inner-city slang and various grunts. Joe was able to understand them but when he spoke in an ordinary voice he sounded pompous and faggy to them.

ricpic said...

The Mark Daniels and Palladian posts are first rate.

Tom T. said...

Daly stomps all OVER the answers. Wright barely gets to speak.

Ann Althouse said...

Palladian: "No, Althouse, the problem is that you were programmed by the 1960s to loathe people like John Charles Daly. He was a symbol of everything the boomers wanted to "smash". He was a square, man, a real square. He was plastic, man."

That's totally screwed up time-wise. I'm talking about the 1950s and you're talking about the late 60s. I wasn't a teenager, but a little child, just trying to figure out the first few things. To me, this show was dull (and Groucho Marx was unaccountably mean). By the time I could think in the terms you're talking about, the show might still have been on, but I wasn't watching it. I was watching "Laugh-In" and "The Man from UNCLE."

Mark Daniels said...

Thanks. I also liked Palladian's piece.

Mark Daniels