757 Episodes of the Classic TV Game Show What’s My Line?: Watch Eleanor Roosevelt, Louis Armstrong, Salvador Dali & More

What would the host and panelists of the classic primetime television game show What’s My Line? have made of The Masked Singera more recent offering in which panelists attempt to identify celebrity contestants who are concealed by elaborate head-to-toe costumes and electronically altered voiceovers.

One expects such shenanigans might have struck them as a bit uncouth.

Host John Charles Daly was willing to keep the ball up in the air by answering the panel’s initial questions for a Mystery Guest with a widely recognizable voice, but it’s hard to imagine anyone stuffing former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt into the full body steampunk bee suit the (SPOILER) Empress of Soul wore on The Masked Singer’s first season.




Mrs. Roosevelt’s Oct 18, 1953 appearance is a delight, especially her pantomimed disgust at the 17:29 mark, above, when blindfolded panelist Arlene Francis asks if she’s associated with politics, and Daly jumps in to reply yes on her behalf.

Later on, you get a sense of what playing a jolly parlor game with Mrs. Roosevelt would have been like. She’s not above fudging her answers a bit, and very nearly wriggles with anticipation as another panelist, journalist Dorothy Kilgallen, begins to home in on the truth.

While the roster of Mystery Guests over the show’s original 17-year broadcast is impressive — Cab CallowayJudy Garland, and Edward R. Murrow to name a few — every episode also boasted two or three civilians hoping to stump the sophisticated panel with their profession.

Mrs. Roosevelt was preceded by a bathtub salesman and a fellow involved in the manufacture of Bloodhound Chewing Tobacco, after which there was just enough time for a woman who wrote television commercials.

Non-celebrity guests stood to earn up to $50 (over $500 today) by prolonging the revelation of their professions, as compared to the Mystery Guests who received an appearance fee of ten times that, win or lose. (Presumably, Mrs. Roosevelt was one of those to donate her honorarium.)

The regular panelists were paid “scandalous amounts of money” as per publisher Bennett Cerf, whose “reputation as a nimble-witted gentleman-about-town was reinforced by his tenure on What’s My Line?”, according to Columbia University’s Oral History Research Office.

The unscripted urbane banter kept viewers tuning in. Broadway actor Francis recalled: “I got so much pleasure out of ‘What’s My Line?’ There were no rehearsals. You’d just sit there and be yourself and do the best you could.”

Panelist Steve Allen is credited with spontaneously alighting on a breadbox as a unit of comparative measurement while questioning a manhole cover salesman in an episode that featured June Havoc, legend of stage and screen as the Mystery Guest (at at 23:57, below).

“Want to show us your breadbox, Steve?” one of the female panelists fires back off-camera.

The phrase “is it bigger than a breadbox” went on to become a running joke, further contributing to the illusion that viewers had been invited to a fashionable cocktail party where glamorous New York scenemakers dressed up to play 21 Professional Questions with ordinary mortals and a celebrity guest.

Jazz great Louis Armstrong appeared on the show twice, in 1954 and then again in 1964, when he employed a successful technique of light monosyllabic responses to trick the same panelists who had identified him quickly on his initial outing.

“Are you related to anybody that has anything to do with What’s My Line?” Cerf asks, causing Armstrong, host Daly, and the studio audience to dissolve with laughter.

“What happened?” Arlene Francis cries from under her pearl-trimmed mask, not wanting to miss the joke.

Television — and America itself — was a long way off from acknowledging the existence of interracial families.

“It’s not Van Clyburn, is it?” Francis ventures a couple of minutes later….

Expect the usual gender-based assumptions of the period, but also appearances by Mary G. Ross, a Cherokee aerospace engineer, and physicist Helen P. Mann, a data analyst at Cape Canaveral.

If you find the convivial atmosphere of this seminal Goodson-Todman game show absorbing, there are 757 episodes available for viewing on What’s My Line?’YouTube channel.

Allow us to kick things off on a Surreal Note with Mystery Guest Salvador Dali, after which you can browse chronological playlists as you see fit:

1950-54

1955-57

1958-60

1961 -63

1964-65

Related Content: 

Salvador Dalí Gets Surreal with 1950s America: Watch His Appearances on What’s My Line? (1952) and The Mike Wallace Interview (1958)

How American Bandstand Changed American Culture: Revisit Scenes from the Iconic Music Show

How Dick Cavett Brought Sophistication to Late Night Talk Shows: Watch 270 Classic Interviews Online

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Sylvia Plath’s Tarot Cards (Which Influenced the Poems in Ariel) Were Just Sold for $207,000

We celebrated my birthday yesterday: [Ted] gave me a lovely Tarot pack of cards and a dear rhyme with it, so after the obligations of this term are over your daughter shall start her way on the road to becoming a seeress & will also learn how to do horoscopes, a very difficult art which means reviving my elementary math. 

– Sylvia Plath, in a letter to her mother, 28 October 1956

Sylvia Plath’s Tarot cards, a 24th birthday present from her husband, poet Ted Hughes, just went for £151,200 in an auction at Sotheby’s.

That’s approximately £100,000 more than this lot, a Tarot de Marseille deck printed by playing card manufacturer B.P. Grimaud de Paris, was expected to fetch.

The auction house’s description indicates that a few of the cards were discolored —  evidence of use, as supported by Plath’s numerous references to Tarot in her journals.




Recall Tarot’s appearance in “Daddy,” her most widely known poem, and her identification with the Hanging Man card, in a poem of the same name:

By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.

I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.

The nights snapped out of sight like a lizard’s eyelid :

A world of bald white days in a shadeless socket.

A vulturous boredom pinned me in this tree.

If he were I, he would do what I did.

This century has seen her collection Ariel restored to its author’s intended order.
The original order is said to correspond quite closely to Tarot, with the first twenty-two poems symbolizing the cards of the Major Arcana.

The next ten are aligned with the numbers of the Minor Arcana. Those are followed by four representing the Court cards. The collection’s final four poems can be seen to reference the pentacles, cups, swords and wands that comprise the Tarot’s suits.

Ariel’s manuscript was rearranged by Hughes, who dropped some of the “more lacerating” poems and added others in advance of its 1965 publication, two years after Plath’s death by suicide. (Hear Plath read poems from Ariel here.)

Daughter Frieda defends her father’s actions and describes how damaging they were to his reputation in her Foreword to Ariel: The Restored Edition.

One wonders if it’s significant that Plath’s Page of Cups, a card associated with positive messages related to family and loved ones, has a rip in it?

We also wonder who paid such a staggering price for those cards.

Will they give the deck a moon bath or salt burial to cleanse it of Plath’s negative energy?

Or is the winning bidder such a diehard fan, the chance to handle something so intimately connecting them to their literary hero neutralizes any occult misgivings?

We rather wish Plath’s Tarot de Marseille had been awarded to Phillip Roberts in Shipley, England, who planned to exhibit them alongside her tarot-influenced poems in a pop up gallery at the Saltaire Festival. To finance this dream, he launched a crowd-funding campaign, pledging that every £100 donor could keep one of the cards, to be drawn at random, with all contributors invited to submit new art or writing to the mini-exhibition: Save Sylvia Plath’s cards from living in the drawers of some wealthy collector, and let’s make some art together!

Alas, Roberts and friends fell  £148,990 short of the winning bid. Better luck next time, mate. We applaud your graciousness in defeat, as well as the spirit in which your project was conceived.

via Lithub

Related Content:

The Artistic & Mystical World of Tarot: See Decks by Salvador Dalí, Aleister Crowley, H.R. Giger & More

Why Should We Read Sylvia Plath? An Animated Video Makes the Case

Hear Sylvia Plath Read 18 Poems From Her Final Collection, Ariel, in 1962 Recording

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Artisans Make Hand-Carved Championship Chess Sets: Each Knight Takes Two Hours

Whether because of the popularity of Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit or because of how much time indoors the past year and a half has entailed, chess has boomed lately. Luckily for those would-be chessmasters who’ve had their interest piqued, everything they need to learn the game is available free online. But the deeper one gets into any given pursuit, the greater one’s desire for concrete representations of that interest. In the case of chess players, how many, at any level, have transcended the desire for a nice board and pieces? And how many have never dreamed of owning one of the finest chess sets money can buy?

Such a set appears in the Business Insider video above. “You can pick up a plastic set for $20 dollars, but a wooden set certified for the World Chess Championship costs $500,” says its narrator. “Much of the value of a high-quality of the set comes down to how well just one piece is made: the knight.”




Properly carved by a master artisan, each knight — with its horse’s head, the only realistic piece in chess — takes about two hours. Very few are qualified for the job, and one knight carver appears in an interview to explain that it took him five or six years to learn it, as against the four or five months required to master carving the other pieces.

The workshop introduced in this video is located in Amritsar (also home to the Golden Temple and its enormous free kitchen, previously featured here in Open Culture). To those just starting to learn about chess, India may seem an unlikely place, but in fact no country has a longer history with the game. “Chess has been played for over 1,000 years, with some form of the game first appearing in India around the sixth century,” says the video’s narrator. “Over the past two centuries, high-level competitions have drawn international interest.” For most of that period, fluctuations in public enthusiasm for chess have resulted in proportionate fluctuations in the demand for chess sets, much of which is satisfied by large-scale industrial production. But the most experienced players presumably feel satisfaction only when handling a knight carved to artisanal perfection.

Related Content:

Learn How to Play Chess Online: Free Chess Lessons for Beginners, Intermediate Players & Beyond

A Brief History of Chess: An Animated Introduction to the 1,500-Year-Old Game

Man Ray Designs a Supremely Elegant, Geometric Chess Set in 1920–and It Now Gets Re-Issued

Marcel Duchamp, Chess Enthusiast, Created an Art Deco Chess Set That’s Now Available via 3D Printer

The Bauhaus Chess Set Where the Form of the Pieces Artfully Show Their Function (1922)

A Beautiful Short Documentary Takes You Inside New York City’s Last Great Chess Store

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Pulp Tarot: A New Tarot Deck Inspired by Midcentury Pulp Illustrations

Graphic artist Todd Alcott has endeared himself to Open Culture readers by retrofitting midcentury pulp paperback covers and illustrations with classic lyrics from the likes of David BowiePrinceBob Dylan, and Talking Heads.

Although he’s dabbled in the abstractions that once graced the covers of psychology, philosophy, and science texts, his overarching attraction to the visual language of science fiction and illicit romance speak to the premium he places on narrative.




And with hundreds of “mid-century mashups” to his name, he’s become quite a master of bending existing narratives to his own purposes.

Recently, Alcott turned his attention to the creation of the Pulp Tarot deck he is funding on Kickstarter.

A self-described “clear-eyed skeptic as far as paranormal things” go, Alcott was drawn to the “simplicity and strangeness” of Pamela Colman Smith’s “bewitching” Tarot imagery:

Maybe because they were simply the first ones I saw, I don’t know, but there is something about the narrative thread that runs through them, the way they delineate the development of the soul, with all the choices and crises a soul encounters on its way to fulfillment, that really struck a chord with me. You lay out enough Tarot spreads and they eventually coalesce around a handful of cards that really seem to define you. I don’t know how it happens, but it does, every time: there are cards that come up for you so often that you think, “Yep, that’s me,” and then there are others that turn up so rarely that, when they do come up, you have to look them up in the little booklet because you’ve never seen them before.

One such card for Alcott is the Page of Swords. In the early 90s, curious to know what the Tarot would have to say about the young woman he’d started dating, he shuffled and cut his Rider-Waite-Smith deck “until something inside said “now” and he flipped over the Page of Swords:

I looked it up in the booklet, which said that the Page of Swords was a secret-keeper, like a spy. I thought about that for a moment; the woman I was seeing was nothing like a spy, and had no spy-like attributes. I shrugged and began the process again, shuffling and cutting and shuffling and cutting, until, again, something inside said “now,” and turned up the card again. It was the Page of Swords, again. My heart leaped, I put the deck back in its box and quietly freaked out for a while. The next day, I asked the young lady if the Page of Swords meant anything to her, and she said “Oh sure, when I was a kid, that was my card.” Anyway, I’m now married to her.

The Three of Pentacles is another favorite, one that presented a particular design challenge.

The Smith deck shows a stonemason, an architect and a church official, collaborating on building a cathedral. Now, there are no cathedrals in the pulp world, so I had to think, well, in the pulp world, pentacles represent money, so the obvious choice would be to show three criminals planning a heist. I couldn’t find an image anything close to the one in my head, so I had to build it: the room, the table, the map of the bank, the plan, the people involved, and then stitch it all together in Photoshop so it ended up looking like a cohesive illustration. That was a really joyful moment for me: there were the three conspirators, the Big Cheese, the Dame and The Goon, their roles clearly defined despite not seeing anyone’s face. It was a real breakthrough, seeing that I could put together a little narrative like that.

Smith imagined a medieval fantasy world when designing her Tarot deck. Alcott is drawing on 70 years of pop-culture ephemera to create a tribute to Smith’s vision that also works as a deck in their own right “with its own moral narrative universe, based on the attitudes and conventions of that world.”

Before drafting each of his 70 cards, Alcott studied Smith’s version, researching its meaning and design as he contemplates how he might translate it into the pulp vernacular. He has found that some of Smith’s work was deliberately exacting with regard to color, attitude, and costume, and other instances where specific details took a back seat to mood and emotional impact:

Once I understand what a card is about, I look through my library to find images that help get that across. It can get really complicated! A lot of times, the character’s body is in the right position but their face has the wrong expression, so I have to find a face that fits what the card is trying to say. Or their physical attitude is right, but I need them to be gripping or throwing something, so I have to find hands and arms that I can graft on, Frankenstein style. In some cases, there will be figures in the cards cobbled together from five or six different sources. 

These cards are easily the most complex work I’ve ever done in that sense. The song pieces I do are a conversation between the piece and the song, but these cards are a conversation between me, Smith, the entire Tarot tradition, and the universe. 

Visit Todd Alcott’s Etsy shop to view more of his mid-century mash ups, and see more cards from The Pulp Tarot and support Kickstarter here.

All images from the Pulp Tarot used with the permission of artist Todd Alcott.

Related Content:

Classic Songs Re-Imagined as Vintage Book Covers During Our Troubled Times: “Under Pressure,” “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” “Shelter from the Storm” & More

David Bowie Songs Reimagined as Pulp Fiction Book Covers: Space Oddity, Heroes, Life on Mars & More

Songs by Joni Mitchell Re-Imagined as Pulp Fiction Book Covers & Vintage Movie Posters

Four Classic Prince Songs Re-Imagined as Pulp Fiction Covers: When Doves Cry, Little Red Corvette & More

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Artistic & Mystical World of Tarot: See Decks by Salvador Dalí, Aleister Crowley, H.R. Giger & More

The tarot goes back to Italy of the late Middle Ages. Every day here in the 21st century, I see undeniable signs of its cultural and temporal transcendence: specifically, the tarot shops doing business here and there along the streets of Seoul, where I live. The tarot began as a deck for play, but these aren’t dealers in card-gaming supplies; rather, their proprietors use tarot decks to provide customers suggestions about their destiny and advice on what to do in the future. Over the past five or six centuries, the purpose of the tarot many have changed, but its original artistic sensibility — dramatic, symbol-laden, and highly subject to counterintuitive interpretation — has remained intact.

You can get an idea of that original artistic sensibility by taking a look at the the Sola-Busca, the oldest known complete deck of tarot cards. Dating from the 1490s, it holds obvious historical interest, but it’s hardly the only tarot deck we’ve featured here on Open Culture.




Artists of subsequent eras, up to and including our own, have created special decks in accordance with their distinctive visions. The unstoppable surrealist Salvador Dalí designed his own, a project embarked upon at the behest of James Bond film producer Albert Broccoli. Later, the master of biomechanism H.R. Giger received a tarot commission as well; though his deck uses previously unpublished rather than custom-made art, it all looks surprisingly, sometimes chillingly fitting.

The world’s most popular tarot deck was designed not by a famous artist, but by an illustrator named Pamela Coleman-Smith. Many more have used and appreciated her work than even, say, the Thoth deck, designed by no less renowned an occultist than Aleister Crowley, “the wickedest man in the world.” If you won’t take his word for it, perhaps the founder of analytical psychology can sell you on the merits of tarot: for Carl Jung, the deck held out the possibility of the “intuitive method” he sought for “understanding the flow of life, possibly even predicting future events, at all events lending itself to the reading of the conditions of the present moment.” (See his deck here.) Even if you’re not in search of such a method, few other artifacts weave together so many threads of art, philosophy, history, and symbolism. Of course, no few modern enthusiasts find in it the same appeal as did those early tarot players of the 15th century: it’s fun.

Related Content:

Meet the Forgotten Female Artist Behind the World’s Most Popular Tarot Deck (1909)

Salvador Dalí’s Tarot Cards Get Re-Issued: The Occult Meets Surrealism in a Classic Tarot Card Deck

The Thoth Tarot Deck Designed by Famed Occultist Aleister Crowley

H.R. Giger’s Tarot Cards: The Swiss Artist, Famous for His Design Work on Alien, Takes a Journey into the Occult

Behold the Sola-Busca Tarot Deck, the Earliest Complete Set of Tarot Cards (1490)

Divine Decks: A Visual History of Tarot: The First Comprehensive Survey of Tarot Gets Published by Taschen

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Modernizing Table-Top Role-Playing Games — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #96

What’s the current status of table-top role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons in pop culture? Thanks to D&D’s recent depiction in Stranger Things and the enormous popularity of fantasy properties like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, interest in elves and magic and such is no longer fodder for Satanic panic, but the idea of actively pretending to be a character in this genre to engage in collaborative story-telling still seems foreign to many.

Your Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt are joined by Amanda McLoughlin, the host of Join the Party, a beginner-friendly, purposefully inclusive D&D real-play podcast, to go over some D&D basics, the dynamics of playing vs. spectating (by listening to her podcast, for instance), and the racism and imperialism built into the setting (adventure = going into a foreign land to kill often intelligent creatures and take their stuff). What is it to “act out your fantasy” in this way?

Some of the ways of witnessing others playing that we refer to include Critical Role, The Adventure Zone, and Dimension 20.

The Join the Party game master Eric Silver wrote the article “Dungeons & Dragons Has an Antisemitism Problem.” You can also look at Wikipedia’s “Dungeons and Dragons in Popular Culture” entry or get a flavor of the range of options by looking at Dicebreaker’s list of “10 Best Tabletop Roleplaying Games Out Right Now“, this list of “The 12 Best Actual Play Podcasts,” or this video of “Top D&D Channels that Aren’t Critical Role.”

Follow Amanda’s podcast @jointhepartypod on @MultitudeShows. She also hosts the Spirits Podcast about folklore and urban legends.

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can access by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Learn to Play Senet, the 5,000-Year Old Ancient Egyptian Game Beloved by Queens & Pharaohs

Senet gaming board inscribed for Amenhotep III with separate sliding drawer, via Wikimedia Commons

Games don’t just pass the time, they enact battles of wits, proxy wars, training exercises…. And historically, games are correlated with, if not inseparable from, forms of divination and occult knowledge. We might point to the ancient practice of “astragalomancy,” for example: reading one’s fate in random throws of knucklebones, which were the original dice. Games played with bones or dice date back thousands of years. One of the most popular of the ancient world, the Egyptian Senet, may not be the oldest known, but it could be “the original board game of death,” Colin Barras writes at Science, predating the Ouija board by millennia.

Beginning as “a mere pastime,” Senet evolved “over nearly 2 millennia… into a game with deep links to the afterlife, played on a board that represented the underworld.” There’s no evidence the Egyptians who played around 5000 years ago believed the game’s dice rolls meant anything in particular.




Over the course of a few hundred years, however, images of Senet began appearing in tombs, showing the dead playing against surviving friends and family. “Texts from the time suggest the game had begun to be seen as a conduit through which the dead could communicate with the living” through moves over a grid of 30 squares arranged in three rows of ten.

Facsimile copy of ca. 1279–1213 B.C. painting of Queen Nefertiti playing Senet, via the Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Beloved by such luminaries as the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun and Queen Nefertari, wife of Ramesses II,” Meilan Solly notes at Smithsonian, Senet was played on “ornate game boards, examples of which still survive today.” (Four boards were found in Tut’s tomb.) “Those with fewer resources at their disposal made do with grids scratched on stone surfaces, tables or the floor.” As the game became a tool for glimpsing one’s fate, its last five spaces acquired hieroglyphics symbolizing “special playing circumstances. Pieces that landed in square 27’s ‘waters of chaos,’ for example, were sent all the way back to square 15 — or removed from the board entirely,” sort of like hitting the wrong square in Chutes and Ladders.

Senet gameplay was complicated. “Two players determined their moves by throwing casting sticks or bones,” notes the Met. The object was to get all of one’s pieces across square 30 — each move represented an obstacle to the afterlife, trials Egyptians believed the dead had to endure and pass or fail (the game’s name itself means “passing”). “Because of this connection, senet was not just a game; it was also a symbol for the struggle to obtain immortality, or endless life,” as well as a means of understanding what might get in the way of that goal.

The game’s rules likely changed with its evolving purpose, and might have been played several different ways over the course 2500 years or so. As Brandeis University professor Jim Storer notes in an explanation of possible gameplay, “the exact rules are not known; scholars have studied old drawings to speculate on the rules” — hardly the most reliable guide. If you’re interested, however, in playing Senet yourself, resurrecting, so to speak, the ancient tradition for fun or otherwise, you can easily make your own board. Storer’s presentation of what are known as Jequier’s Rules can be found here. For another version of Senet play, see the video above from Egyptology Lessons.

Related Content: 

Watch a Playthrough of the Oldest Board Game in the World, the Sumerian Royal Game of Ur, Circa 2500 BC

A Brief History of Chess: An Animated Introduction to the 1,500-Year-Old Game

A 3,000-Year-Old Painter’s Palette from Ancient Egypt, with Traces of the Original Colors Still In It

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Magnus Carlsen’s Mind-Blowing Memory of Historic Chess Matches

How many historic chess games can Magnus Carlsen recognize just by looking at the placement of chess pieces on the board? It turns out a lot. And that’s partly what makes him the reigning World Chess Champion.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

via Kottke

Related Content

Learn How to Play Chess Online: Free Chess Lessons for Beginners, Intermediate Players & Beyond

A Free 700-Page Chess Manual Explains 1,000 Chess Tactics in Straightforward English

A Beautiful Short Documentary Takes You Inside New York City’s Last Great Chess Store

A Brief History of Chess: An Animated Introduction to the 1,500-Year-Old Game

Vladimir Nabokov’s Hand-Drawn Sketches of Mind-Bending Chess Problems

The Magic of Chess: Kids Share Their Uninhibited, Philosophical Insights about the Benefits of Chess

Garry Kasparov Now Teaching an Online Course on Chess

More in this category... »
Quantcast
Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.