Arlene Francis (born Arline Francis Kazanjian; October 20, 1907 – May 31, 2001) was an American actress, radio 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 through the mid-1970s.
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 emigrated 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. Francis remained a New Yorker until her son moved her to a San Francisco nursing home in 1995.
After attending Finch College, Francis had a broad and varied career as an entertainer. She was an accomplished actress, with 25 Broadway plays to her credit, from La Gringa in 1928 to Don't Call Back in 1975. She also performed in many local theatre and off-Broadway plays.
Francis became a well-known New York City radio personality, hosting several programs, including a long-running midday chat show on WOR-AM that ran from 1960 to 1984. In 1943, she began as host of a network radio game show, Blind Date which she also hosted on television on ABC and NBC from 1949–52. She was a regular contributor to NBC Radio's Monitor in the 1950s and 1960s.
Francis was a panelist on the weekly game show What's My Line? from its second-ever episode on CBS in 1950 until its network cancellation in 1967, and also 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. Francis also appeared on many other game shows, including Match Game, Password, 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.
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 having overcome 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 toward women, which was conceived by network president Pat Weaver to complement the network's Today and Tonight programs. Newsweek magazine put her on its cover as the "first lady of television". She hosted Talent Patrol in the mid-1950s.
She acted in several films, debuting in the role of a streetwalker in Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), in which she fell prey to mad scientist Bela Lugosi. Francis was cast even though her only acting experience at that point was in a small Shakespearean production in the convent school from which she had recently graduated.
In the 1960s, Francis played the wife of James Cagney in One, Two, Three (1961), directed by Billy Wilder and filmed in Munich. She also made The Thrill of It All (1963) with James Garner and the television version of the play Laura (1968), which she had played on stage several times. Her final film performance was in the Wilder film Fedora (1978). She wrote an autobiography in 1978 entitled Arlene Francis: A Memoir with help of longtime friend Florence Rome. Francis also wrote That Certain Something: The Magic of Charm in 1960 and a cookbook, No Time for Cooking, in 1961.
Goodson-Todman Shows HostedEdit
- What's My Line?
- Get the Message
- I've Got a Secret
- He Said, She Said
- Match Game
- Match Game Hollywood Squares Hour