Sunday 7 October 2012

An Interruption Smaller Than a Breadbox

On live television, when things don’t go as planned and something accidental happens, that’s okay, When things don’t go as planned because someone unexpectedly and selfishly interrupts the show, that’s quite another.

The difference was lost on one reporter.

Last year, we featured a post marking the anniversary of someone from the audience walking onto the middle of “The $64,000 Challenge” to push his agenda. On this date 50 years ago, the same thing happened on “What’s My Line?” And one columnist thought bringing the proceedings of the show to a confusing standstill was a great idea.

TV Review
Unexpected Mystery Guest Adds to Show
Scripps-Howard Staff Writer

NEW YORK, Oct. 8 — The bizarre incident that enlivened (or, from the other side of the screen, disfigured) last night’s telecast of “What’s My Line,” will be regarded in some quarters as proof that the only safe shows are tape shows.
The home audience, one imagines, would disagree. Something wild and unexpected is what this aging panel show needs.
A viewer could only feel a wave of sympathy for the confused chap, who leaped from the audience to the stage, crying, “I am the mystery guest!” But my goodness, what excitement! Such mystery guests should pop in more often.
Highly Agitated
Unfortunately, I was not watching the show when this curious little contretemps occurred.
But it appears that a 37-year-old clerk seated in the audience became highly agitated when Greek actress Melina Mercouri — the real mystery guest — made her entrance.
“It’s supposed to be me!” said Ronald Melstein. And before the ushers and pages realized what was happening Melstein was on stage, on camera and on several million home screens.
Then, just as quickly, he was off. (Off to the police station, as it happened, though there are those who say he should instead have got the minimum fee for walk-on part and a word of thanks from the show’s press agent).
It was M. C., John Daly who expedited Melstein’s exit. With typical British sangfroid he simply asked for volunteers to show the gentleman to the wings. The gentleman was shown — so quickly that the entire incident, observers said, took less than a minute of network time.
Sad Little Tale
How Melstein got the notion that he was the mystery guest is, at this writing, the oddest mystery of all. One report said he’d been approached on the street by a stranger who offered him a ticket and assured him he could be the mystery guest. All in all, it’s a sad little tale.
Viewers who’ve long been weary of watching beekeepers and lady bulldozer pilots submitting to the dainty probings of Arlene and Dorothy may be hoping that the excitable Melstein will inspire What's My Line? to new heights. An occasional imposter from the audience (“will the real mystery guest please stand up?”) might restore a bit of the old zest to this Sunday parlor game.
Incidentally, last night’s was not the most disastrous walk-on in the annals of show business.
The theater’s historians are still writing about the night the great Sarah Siddons, playing Lady Macbeth, had an unexpected visitor during her sleepwalking scene. It was the callboy, bringing her the beaker of ale she’d ordered him to fetch from a nearby tavern. Instead of delivering it to Mrs. Siddons in her dressing room between the acts, he delivered it stage center.

One wonders how columnist Van Horne mistook the Bostonian Daly for an Englishman. She must have known something about him since he was a veteran newsman in his own right. But she was correct that “What’s My Line” had settled into a routine, though it lasted on nighttime network television another five years then returned in the ‘70s for a syndicated run with a somewhat lesser panel and host.

Unlike the man who walked onto the “Challenge” set, I haven’t discovered what became of the interloper at the centre of this story.

You can watch what happened below.


  1. The reference to the "Bostonian" Mr. Daly as an Englishman may be explained somewhat by the fact that several times during the run of the show Mr. Daly noted that he was from South Africa. I remember this since I grew up in South Africa. I have wondered, though, why he does not speak with an accent.

    1. I suspect Vicky, because he moved to the United States at a young age and began to affect a cultured accent.

  2. John Daly isn't British. By the way