Home Entertainment Arlene Francis: A Biography of Fashionable Actress and Talk Show Host

Arlene Francis: A Biography of Fashionable Actress and Talk Show Host


Arlene Francis was an effervescent entertainer with a long and distinguished career spanning radio, television, film, and theater. While best known as one of the panelists on What’s My Line?, Francis also boasted numerous achievements and talents that made her one of the beloved figures of American culture.

Early Life and Education

Arlene Francis
Arlene Francis

Arlene Francis was born Arline Francis Kazanjian on October 20, 1907, in Boston. She was the sole daughter of Armenian immigrant Aram Kazanjian (portrait photographer and painter), and Leah Davis (daughter of an actor). Arlene took after both of her parents; who encouraged her to follow her dreams as an artist and performer.

Arlene moved with her family from Chicago to New York when she was seven, attending the Academy of Mount St. Vincent, a Catholic boarding school in Riverdale. Later she studied at Finch College – an elite women’s college in Manhattan – and Theater Guild School, which provided professional acting training.

Stage and Film Career

Arlene made her film debut in 1932 as one of Bela Lugosi’s victims in Murders in the Rue Morgue, appearing predominantly as supporting roles such as The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), All My Sons (1948) and One, Two, Three (1961). Additionally she co-starred alongside James Garner in romantic comedy film Thrill of It All (1963).

Arlene was passionate about theater, and had an acclaimed and prolific stage career that began on Broadway in 1936. Since then she had appeared in over 25 plays ranging from comedies, dramas, musicals, and one-act plays such as The Doughgirls (1942) which ran over 600 performances, The Fourposter (1951), which won her a Tony Award and Mary Mary (1961), which became one of the longest running comedies at that time. Arlene also collaborated with notable directors such as Orson Welles George S Kaufman as well as Martin Gabel who became her second husband before marrying him himself later that same year in 1946.

Radio and Television Personality

Arlene Francis was also an innovator and pioneer in radio and television media. Beginning her radio career in the late 1930s, she hosted popular programs like What’s My Name? and Blind Date (both quiz shows), along with The Arlene Francis Show a daily talk show that ran for 23 years on WOR-AM radio station in New York. Additionally, Arlene would contribute regularly to NBC Radio Monitor in its weekend variety show format in the 1950s and 1960s.

Arlene Francis had an equally outstanding and influential television career. In 1949, she made history when she adapted Blind Date for television broadcast. Additionally, she hosted Talent Patrol, Home, and The Arlene Francis Woman’s Hour before making headlines as one of the first women ever to host her own program, What’s My Line?. Arlene became one of the longest serving panelists since it debuted in 1950 as both its network and syndicated versions; becoming one of the most recognizable and beloved faces on TV during that time period.

Personal Life and Legacy

Arlene was married twice: first to movie executive Neil Agnew from 1935 to 1945; and later Martin Gabel, an actor and producer, from 1946 until his death in 1986. They had one son together named Peter Gabel who became both a lawyer and professor. Arlene was actively involved with many charitable and social causes such as UNICEF, March of Dimes and American Cancer Society.

Arlene retired from show business in the mid-1980s and relocated to San Francisco where she would spend her final years. Unfortunately, on May 31, 2001 she succumbed to complications from cancer and Alzheimer’s disease and passed away at age 93; after being cremated her ashes were scattered across Pacific Ocean.

Arlene Francis was an extraordinary woman renowned for her prolific and diverse entertainment career, beloved by millions of fans and colleagues alike, leaving an indelible mark on American culture as she put it herself: she considered herself “serious acting”.

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