The Original Panel (Don't Get Attached) (1952)
For all their celebrated successes in developing the very format of the TV panel show, producers Mark Goodson and Bill Todman did not have much luck putting together a perfect panel right off the bat. That's not surprising. As they would learn, when a show has time to develop its identity (time Secret almost didn't get), eventually the right combination of panel members comes together almost organically to create the chemistry essential for keeping the show interesting. If they're lucky (as G-T was often), a panel can survive departures and even deaths through the strength of the show itself, and through carefully selected and groomed replacements.
Despite the fact that three were from the world of show business, and the other a celebrated author, none of the original Secret panelists were particularly well known to the general public. This was not necessarily seen as a problem in the Goodson-Todman offices. Their original panel on What’s My Line? included a poet, a psychiatrist and a former New Jersey governor. Only Arlene Francis from the original quartet was truly a performer. Even Bennett Cerf, who came along a little later and became famous from his What’s My Line? appearances, would otherwise have been a relatively obscure book publisher. Still, Secret's more entertainment-based original panel faired little better. Three of them would be out by the eighth episode, and the fourth was gone by episode 15.
Orson Bean was a rising star on the New York City comedy club scene in 1952, but virtually unknown to the rest of the country. He was only 23 when he appeared on the panel. Bean would go on to have a rich, full career, with successes on stage, in film, and especially on television. His distinctive voice lent itself to cartoons and recordings. Among the iconic fictional characters he brought to life were Bilbo Baggins and Charlie Brown. He made many guest appearances on a variety of series, and was a regular on the western drama Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (1993-1998) playing shopkeeper Loren Bray. He would also become known as a popular raconteur on talk shows. Johnny Carson in particular was fond of Bean and had him on his version of The Tonight Show (1962-1992) some two hundred times, often with nothing whatsoever to plug. Carson knew he could just tell a good story and keep his audience entertained. Moreover, his ill-fated experience with Secret didn’t spoil him on game shows. He became a popular guest and panelist, most notably on various incarnations of To Tell The Truth. Bean left Secret after two episodes, to be replaced by Bill Cullen.
While in her 20s, Louise Allbritton appeared in some two dozen films between 1942 and 1948, usually in supporting roles but occasionally as the female lead, or at least the love interest of the male lead. In her brief career in the movies she worked in a variety of genres and with such diverse artists as Abbott & Costello (in a comedy), John Wayne (in a western) and Lon Chaney Jr (in a horror film). She married noted CBS newsman Charles Collingwood in 1946, and within a few years had essentially retired from movies, though she would continue to make occasional appearances in dramatic roles on television throughout the 1950s. Most of these roles were in anthology series, but she starred in the very brief series The Stage Door (1950) and for eight months, she played the lead character in the daytime soap opera Concerning Miss Marlowe (1954-1955). By the early sixties, she was pretty much out of show business entirely. She and Collingwood remained married until her death in 1979. Neither of her original two episodes of Secret survive. Jayne Meadows took her place on the panel in the third episode.
Melville Cooper was a distinguished British actor and occasional director. Most of his work was on the stage, but he also appeared in such films as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) (in which he played the Sheriff of Nottingham) and Pride and Prejudice (1940). He often played snobs and con men, characters not quite as smart as they think they are. In the handful of his Secret episodes that survive, he seems equal parts bemused and befuddled by the goings-on. Following his brief Secret stint, he would turn in solid dramatic work on a number of TV anthology series through the fifties, returning to the stage in his later years. His most prominent post-Secret stage role would be as Colonel Pickering in the original Broadway run of My Fair Lady (1956-1962). He took over that role in July 1959 and stayed with the show until it closed in September 1962. In the early seventies he toured as the absent-minded King Pellinore in Camelot. He died in 1973. Cooper appeared in all but one of the first fourteen Secret episodes. Comic Eddie Bracken took his seat for a few weeks, before Henry Morgan occupied it permanently.
In her literary world, Laura Z Hobson (it stood for 'Zametkin') was perhaps the most famous of the original foursome. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), her novel about thinly-veiled anti-Semitism in America, brought her wide acclaim. The film adaptation that followed was a commercial and critical success as well, earning eight Oscar nominations and winning three, including Best Picture. By the early 50s, she had published four novels but began to settle into a creative lull. Secret may have been a diversion for her during that time. The episodes that survive with her show her to be a shrewd, pointed questioner. She says in her autobiography that she was specifically being groomed to be the Arlene Francis of this panel. Still, as the show began to take on more traditional show business trappings, the sharp but dry author was replaced on the panel by a succession of bright young actresses. Her position at the end of the panel would eventually go to Faye Emerson. Hobson appeared in six of the first seven episodes. She would return to writing, creating many well-received works into the 1980s. She also wrote two acclaimed volumes of autobiography, the last one published, unfinished, after her death in 1986.