joined the panel of this popular guessing game on its third episode,
stayed for the next fifteen years.
According to Gil Fates in
My Line? memoir, the idea for a show called I've Got A Secret
was brought to Goodson-Todman by comedy writer Allan Sherman and his
Howard Merrill. The producers, of course, recognized it as a
variation on their What's My Line? and told the young pair they
didn't want to rip off their own successful program. "You might
well," Sherman said, "because if you don't start copying your shows,
else will." Goodson and Todman agreed, paid both men a royalty
named Sherman associate producer of the new venture. Years later,
Sherman would make a name for himself with a series of novelty folk
including Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda.
Popular Garry Moore was
host the show. There was a great deal of turnover on the panel in
the first year of the series, perhaps as the producers worked to find
proper chemistry. None of the original panelists (actress Louise
Albritton, comic actor Orson Bean, Broadway vet Melville Cooper and
Laura Hobson) stayed with the show past the first thirteen weeks.
Bill and Jayne Meadows (later to become Mrs. Steve Allen) replaced
and Bean and quickly became regulars. Original panelist Cooper
replaced by comic Eddie Bracken on October 9. Bracken appeared in
six shows before being replaced by Henry Morgan on November 13.
stayed with the show thereafter, his cranky and sarcastic demeanor a
counterpoint to Bill's boyish enthusiasm. The second female chair
was filled for weeks at a time by several "bright young actresses",
Larraine Day (Mrs. Leo Durocher), Nina Foch and Kitty Carlisle.
early 1953, Faye Emerson had emerged as the fourth regular.
In a 1955 Time Magazine article about panel shows, Bill expressed the fun and the danger in his IGAS role, especially in those early days when they took the game itself more seriously than they would later. "I'm always thinking automatically of what question I can ask in case a joke falls flat," he said. "But even when jokes go over, I've got to be careful that Henry Morgan and I don't get kidding and forget about the game. We've had the riot act read to us, let's face it. We've gotten the riot act for horsing up the show too much."
The team of Cullen,
and Emerson remained intact for several years, affected only when one
the ladies took acting jobs that interfered. That became more
as roles became more available in California than in New
Stage actress Betsy Palmer began appearing on the panel in 1957.
New York personality and former Miss America Bess Myerson joined in
Soon, the new regular line-up became Cullen, Palmer, Morgan and
and it remained that way through the run of the series. (Meadows
and Emerson had become west coast residents, but still visited the show
The final four-member
panel was about
as perfect as this sort of thing can be. Funny Bill, spunky
grumpy Henry and glamorous Bess brought diverse backgrounds and styles
to the game. They seemed a family to TV viewers, although like
panels, they seldom even socialized off-camera. (Bill once said
Palmer, "I never got to know her until she'd been showing up regularly
for three or four months.") It was even easy to pair them off,
and Betsy representing youthful exuberance, Henry and Bess suggesting
(in Morgan's case, world-weary) sophistication. Not surprisingly,
that's the way they were usually paired when a game required it.
the panel relatively stable, the guest stars provided variety.
celebrities brought a lot more entertainment to the show than did the What's
Line? mystery guests. For one thing, their appearance could
be promoted, since it was not supposed to be hidden from the
Also, as the years went on, the idea of having a celebrity "secret" for
the panel to guess became less and less important, and the guest stars
would often introduce some entirely different parlor game to play
Even many of the traditional contestants had some sort of musical or
performance-related secret, which would inevitably be demonstrated
the questioning was through. It no longer remotely mattered
the panel got one right, again unlike What's My Line?, which
its game seriously until the end. I've Got A Secret
a variety show masquerading as a game show.
The Secret gig was perhaps the easiest of all Bill's assignments. Along with the rest of the panel, Bill seldom showed up much more than ten minutes before the show was to begin. There were no rehearsals, no run-throughs (at least not for the panel), no briefings, nothing but a spontaneous, live, half-hour performance. Once Steve Allen took over in 1964, the panel had even less of a time commitment. In order to limit Allen's commute from his California home, they began doing two shows (one live, one on tape) once every two weeks.
Bill described the cushy Secret
job in a 1967 interview. "It's been like stealing," he
"Imagine getting paid handsomely to turn up at a studio every other
at 7pm in a clean shirt, without preparation, and play a parlor game
a half-hour. Then there was time to smoke a cigarette and maybe
to Henry Morgan awhile, and then play a parlor game for another half
and go home."
The show was revived in syndication for a season in 1972 with Steve Allen once again hosting. Bill did not participate in that version, which taped in Los Angeles while he was still living in New York. It returned to network television as a brief summer series hosted by Bill in 1976 (see below) then sat dormant for nearly a quarter century until being revived again in 2000 for the female-friendly Oxygen cable network. The Oxygen version was the first time I've Got A Secret had been produced as a daily program. Alumni Steve Allen and Betsy Palmer appeared on a special episode of the show. In 2006, GSN: The Network for Games launched their own version of the series. It was also a daily show, though only eight weeks of shows were produced. Bil Dwyer hosted this version, and the regular panel consisted of Frank DeCaro, Suzanne Westenhoefer, Billy Bean and Jermaine Taylor.
As the loosest of all the
as well as the highest-rated, I've Got A Secret was probably
influential than even What's My Line?, its older sibling.
An entire generation of Nickelodeon watchers, for example, have no idea
how much the popular Figure It Out resembles Secret.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Tommy Gun's I've Got A Secret Online is an amazing repository of information, including a detailed episode guiide.
Adam Nedeff's classic I've Got A Secret page at Bill Cullen's World
The I've Got A Secret page on Wikipedia
First episode: June 15, 1976
Last episode: July 6, 1976
Tuesdays at 8pm on CBS
Bill hosted this
replacement series, with Henry Morgan returning as a regular panelist.
The first two shows were actually shot on September 28, 1975, almost nine months before they aired. These two shows served as pilots, and the panel consisted of Elaine Joyce, Richard Dawson, Pat Collins and Henry Morgan. Drummer Buddy Rich was the special guest for the first show that aired, Rodney Dangerfield for the second. Two additional shows were shot in the Ed Sullivan Theater on June 11, 1976. Phyllis George replaced Elaine Joyce for those two shows, and the special guests were Loretta Swit and Charles Nelson Reilly.
It's almost impossible to believe that these four episodes no longer exist. However, they have not been seen on Game Show Network, and only the Rodney Dangerfield pilot (in an unedited form that runs slightly longer than thirty minutes) is known to be in the hands of collectors. One collector has generously provided us an audio recording of the Loretta Swit episode.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Adam Nedeff's 1976 I've Got A Secret page at Bill Cullen's World