John Charles Daly was a war reporter and a news executive, but is remembered best as the warm, charming friend Americans welcomed into their homes every Sunday as host of “What’s My Line?”
Broadcasting legend John Charles Daly (Feb. 20, 1914 – Feb. 24, 1991) would have turned 100 today. Daly was a war reporter and a news executive, but he is remembered best as the warm, charming friend Americans welcomed into their homes every Sunday from 1950 to 1967 as host of What’s My Line? In honor of his centennial, we’re taking a look back at his long, unusual career.
Daly began his career in the news, as a radio reporter for NBC before moving on to CBS, where he served as the White House correspondent. When war came, Daly broke the news to America, reporting on the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. Daly covered the majority of World War II from London, returning to the U.S. shortly before the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, another story he had the dubious distinction of breaking to the American public.
As television grew more popular after the war, Daly looked to move from radio to newspapers, convinced the new medium had no place for him. However, one appearance on a long-forgotten quiz show, Celebrity Time, proved Daly was a natural in front of the camera. That guest spot eventually led to Daly hosting the new show What’s My Line? in 1950, with the understanding that it would last only about six months.
Those six months stretched into 17 years as Daly guided a panel of celebrities (regulars included actress Arlene Francis, syndicated columnist Dorothy Kilgallen and Random House publisher Bennett Cerf) and played host weekly to celebrity “mystery guests” including former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, playwright Noel Coward, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, and a veritable who’s who of A-list luminaries such as Jayne Mansfield, Esther Williams, Ed Sullivan, Andy Griffith, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Art Carney, Janet Leigh and Liberace.
Here he is in 1955 with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz:
While he hosted the game show on CBS, Daly also anchored the nightly news on ABC from 1953 to 1960. Despite his popularity as the host of What’s My Line?, a 1960 New York Times article noted that, “For many years news has been his first interest, and he has preferred to be recognized for his contributions to that side of broadcasting.”
After What’s My Line? finally ended in 1967, Daly’s career took him to Voice of America radio, where he served as director for a year. He stayed mainly out of the public eye following his resignation but did serve as a forum moderator for the American Enterprise Institute think tank during the 1980s.
Daly died in February 1991, four days after his 77th birthday and 22 days after the 41st anniversary of the debut of What’s My Line?
Written by Seth Joseph