Friday, April 04, 2008

Hal Block Blows It.

Hal Block, the increasingly irritating panelist on "What's My Line?" was fired last night after the show. Well, back in 1953.

The first player was a female minister from Georgia who came on wearing a mink. Hal made several comments about her good looks.

Then, he makes his big mistake. We can't see it because the cameras never pick it up, but as the next contestant is signing in, an older woman, you hear a bunch of laughter from the audience.

No reference is made, but what happened is that Hal Block chased the lady minister around the studio like the Marx Brothers. He was always making lewd comments to all the pretty girls, which might have been acceptable had he not been so creepy looking.

Supposedly, Gil Fates, the producer, took Hal to a bar, told him that they had decided not to pick up his option. He went through a long list of reasons, though it all had to do with the fact that he just didn't fit in with the other panelists. He was crude. They were classy.

Also, for the past several episodes, they showed all these big TV awards they had just been awarded. So, they were ready to class up the joint now that they had established an identity.

And Hal just wasn't funny enough.

Steve Allen, though, was. He was introduced as, "A new young comedian with his own show on another network."

And Steve, BTW, "invented" the question "Is it bigger than a breadbox?" this past week of shows, a phrase that has entered the lexicon.

Anyway, Hal was fired. He made a few more appearances, but it's easy to see by how nervous he's been that he already knew he wasn't fitting in.

What's My Line's producer Gil Fates wrote about Block in 1978:

Hal Block...was a strange man. He was rumored to have come from a very wealthy family in Chicago, where he wrote material for some of the stand-out, stand-up comics in the business. He was stocky with curly black hair, heavy lips, and rather bulging eyes. He wore bow ties, stood around with his hands clasped behind his back, and smiled most of the time.

He seemed completely uninhibited by either sensitivity or propriety. He referred to Ethel Barrymore as "you doll" and planted big wet kisses on both Sister Kenny and Helen Hayes as they passed down the panel to say goodbye. For our deodorant sponsor he gratuitously coined the phrase, "Make your armpit a charmpit."

Hal was totally oblivious to the panel's distaste for his jokes or to the icy correctness with which John Daly would greet one of his appalling observations.

"You're the prettiest nun I ever saw," he once complimented a Dominican Sister in full habit.

"So what was so wrong?" he asked in defense. "She was a real doll."

You couldn't teach the meaning of good taste to Hal, any more than Star Kist could teach it to Charley the Tuna. Hal's relationship to the show was much like that of the small-town, stay-at-home wife to her rising young corporate executive husband. Hal had served his purpose when the program was young but now that we were a class product, his gaucheries were no longer tolerable.

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