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Where did they shoot the show?
From its debut in 1952 until June 1960, I've Got a Secret originated from CBS Studio 59 on 47th Street in the theatre district of New York City. Known to New Yorkers as the Mansfield Theatre, the facility had been home to legitimate stage shows from the 1920s until the late 1940s, when it began falling into disrepair. In 1950, CBS started leasing the theater for television usage. Garry's daytime variety show shot there too, as did a LOT of other game shows, most notably What's My Line?. For the seventh anniversary show in 1959, Garry took viewers on a brief tour of the interior and the exterior of the Mansfield ( E339 ). CBS used the theater for television production for ten years. In 1960, the theater was converted back to a legitimate stage, and renamed The Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Atkinson was a noted New York theater critic. In 2022, it became the Lena Horne Theatre, the first Broadway venue named after a Black woman. In recent years, the musicals Waitress and Six have called the theater home.
The Mansfield Theatre in 1926
CBS Television Studio 59 in 1959
The Lena Horne Theatre in 2023
In June 1960 (and literally, in
), the show vacated the Mansfield Theatre for new digs at CBS Studio 52 on West 54th Street. Originally the Gallo Opera House and later The New Yorker, CBS began leasing this property for radio programming in 1942 and later converted the studio for television. We get a peek at the control room and the interior of the stage on the 10th anniversary show in 1962 (
). Again, game shows made up the majority of the programming produced there, but it also served as home to such series as Captain Kangaroo and the soap opera Love of Live, which was the last television production to use the facility in the mid seventies. By 1976. CBS vacated and sold the facility, which became the legendary (and somewhat notorious) celebrity disco club Studio 54. That famous nightclub only lasted in that form for a few short years. Today, the facility is once again a legitimate theatre space. I've Got a Secret shot there from 1960 until 1966.
CBS Television Studio 52
Nightclub Studio 54 in the late 1970s
I've Got a Secret shot their final 1966-67 season in color at the nearby CBS Studio 50, best known at the time as the home to Ed Sullivan's celebrated variety show. In fact, the theater would be named for Sullivan in 1967 while his show was still on the air. The Sullivan show ended in 1971. In the seventies and eighties, as more and more television production moved to the west coast, the Ed Sullivan Theater served as home for cheaper and cheaper productions (including, yes, even more game shows) and slowly lost its luster as a broadcast facility. That changed in 1993 when CBS completely refurbished the theater and made it the home for their splashy new foray into late night programming, The Late Show With David Letterman (1993-2015). That effort, of course, was a huge success and lifted the Ed Sullivan Theater back into a position of prominence in the Broadway community. It continues to be home today to Stephen Colbert's iteration of The Late Show (2015-present).
How much did they get paid?
A lot. Especially when you consider how little they worked. Garry (and later Steve) would rehearse a show earlier in the day with the guests, but the panelists couldn't be in on the rehearsals or else there would be no "Secrets." So they could arrive at the studio just minutes before the show began, put in a half hour's work, and leave as soon as it was over. Henry, in fact, showed up late at least a couple of times (they just started without him), and once joked that he could be in a cab and headed for home before the credits finished rolling. When Steve took over as host, they would typically shoot two shows once every two weeks, even further lightening their work load.
In a 1967 newspaper profile of Bill Cullen, just after Secret had been cancelled, the story said that he began in 1952 making about $200 per week, and by the end he was making close to $2000. (As reference, that's about $2,500 and over $18,000 in today's dollars.) That is consistent with what other panelists have said. Jayne said in a 2005 interview that she started back in 1952 at $165 a week. In an early 90s interview for the oral history book The Box, Henry said he was making $1650 a week at the end. The only absolute, provable fact we have is that in a January 1960 affidavit over an alimony settlement, Henry said under oath that he was making $850 per week. On the other hand, an unauthorized biography of Bess published in 1990 said she was making $100,000 a year from Secret alone, a figure we find hard to believe. Each panelist probably negotiated their own contracts independently, but it's unlikely that any one was being paid significantly more (or less) than the others.
One thing that did not appear to change much over the years was the amount paid to guest performers. A handful of contracts have turned up which cover everything from Betty White as a guest panelist in 1958 to Cliff Robertson as a guest star near the end of the run in 1967, and both, a decade apart, were paid $500 for their services.
Hosts Garry and Steve would have been paid substantially more. A newspaper report in 1967 said that John Daly of What 's My Line? was getting around $5000 a week, so the Secret hosts' compensation was probably somewhere in that neighborhood.
Who were the original panelists?
The original original panelists are profiled here , but none of them stayed with the show very long. The first foursome that became most closely associated with the show were Bill Cullen, Jayne Meadows, Henry Morgan and Faye Emerson. Of the four, Faye was the last to secure a place as a regular panelist, and also took many more leaves of absence than the other three. She was gone for the entire 1953-54 season while she hosted a local NYC television series with husband Skitch Henderson. Two other times, she left the show in order to star in a Broadway play, only to return to the panel when the play flopped. The third time she left the show for a Broadway opportunity, at the beginning of 1958, Betsy Palmer replaced her on the panel. This time, when the play didn't work out, Faye did not return and Betsy officially became a regular. Jayne left the show later in 1958, and after a bit of transition, Bess Myerson emerged as the fourth regular. The foursome of Bill, Betsy, Henry and Bess stayed with the show through the end in 1967.
Were you thinking of Arlene Francis? She was with What's My Line?. Likewise Bennett Cerf and Dorothy Kilgallen. Kitty Carlisle? Sorry, that was To Tell the Truth. The truth is that a lot of these shows looked similar, and the viewing public across America primarily knew these people from their panel appearances, so a lot of confusion is to be expected. For the most part, outside of a rare guest appearance now and then, Goodson and Todman kept their panelists separate and avoided cross-pollination, but viewers still got them mixed up.
What the heck was "Telecast Enterprises, Inc"?
Telecast Enterprises Inc was the delightfully generic corporate-sounding name of a partnership between CBS and Garry Moore which was created for the sole purpose of buying I've Got a Secret from Goodson-Todman Productions. While most reports at least suggested that the partnership was equal, we've seen one unverified report which said that Garry owned a much smaller stake than the network. G-T made the deal (and a similar one with CBS alone for What's My Line?) for financial and accounting reasons we don't pretend to understand. The deal was struck in early 1960, and for the rest of the run, even after Garry had left the show, the Telecast Enterprises credit appeared at the end of every episode. On a practical level, nothing changed. Goodson-Todman continued to produce the show with the same staff it already employed.
What happened after the original run is a bit unclear. After 1967, Telecast Enterprises appears to have vanished. It's never mentioned again in any other reboot, nor are there any trade stories referencing it with regard to Secret or any other project. It seems logical to assume that G-T bought back the rights to the show sometime between 1967 and the 1972 revival, but if they did, we can't find any record of it.
The ownership trail gets hot again in 1992 when the Carsey-Werner Company, a TV production operation best known for its sitcoms, announced that they had acquired the rights to the show and planned to launch a new version in syndication in the fall of 1993. That revival never materialized. Carsey and Werner, however, were highly involved in the launch of the Oxygen cable television network, which was home to the 2000 version of the show at the network's debut. Carsey-Werner was not mentioned in the press kit for the 2006 GSN version of Secret, but a 2023 press release announcing yet another possible revival includes the phrase "based on the format owned by Werner Entertainment, Inc." (Carsey and Werner had split as business partners in 2005.)
Why "America's #1 Panel Show"?
That's what they called themselves, for nearly half of the show's run. Starting sometime in the summer of 1954, and continuing until the beginning of the Fall 1961 season, the sponsor of record (usually Winston, and later Bristol-Meyers), "...brings you America's #1 panel show, I've Got a Secret!"
You can hardly blame them for wanting to brag about their change of fortune. The show had gotten off to a rocky start. The first episode was an unmitigated disaster. Early reviews were less than kind, typically pointing out the all too obvious similarities to What's My Line? and even The Name's The Same, which had debuted months earlier. In what could easily have been the fatal blow, one of the two original sponsors backed out after the first 26 weeks. For the entire first half of the 1953 calendar year the show only aired once every two weeks, sharing a time slot with the rickety crime drama Racket Squad (1951-1953) .
Then the tide began to turn. A new timeslot helped, as did their new RJ Reynolds sponsorship. Also, now a year in, the show began to find itself creatively. Garry himself admitted in interviews that they didn't really have a single good episode in the first year. Now, with a more stable panel and the experience to know what worked and didn't work on their program, shows started to improve and the viewing public started to notice. Within a year, Secret was regularly beating the WML? mothership in the ratings, the objective standard they used to call themselves #1. Subjectively, What's My Line? was still -- and would always remain -- the jewel in the Goodson-Todman crown, but the kid sister had found her footing, and for the next seven years, would remain a dominant ratings force.