Arlene Francis was a beloved actress, radio and television personality, and game show panelist who entertained millions of Americans for decades. She is best known for her long-running role as a panelist on the popular TV show What’s My Line?, where she displayed her wit, charm, and elegance. She also had a successful career in theater, film, and radio, and was one of the highest-paid women in TV history. But what was the cause of her death, and how did she cope with the challenges of aging, illness, and loss? This article will explore the life and legacy of Arlene Francis, and the circumstances surrounding her death.
Early Life and Career
Arlene Francis was born Arline Francis Kazanjian on October 20, 1907, in Boston, Massachusetts. Her father was an Armenian immigrant who became a portrait photographer and later a painter. Her mother was the daughter of an actor. Arlene showed an interest in performing from an early age, and attended the Theater Guild School in New York. She made her film debut in 1932 in Murders in the Rue Morgue, where she played a victim of Bela Lugosi’s mad scientist. She also appeared in many Broadway plays, such as The Doughgirls, which ran for over a year.
Arlene also became a popular radio personality, hosting several programs such as What’s My Name? and Blind Date. She married movie executive Neil Agnew in 1935, but they divorced in 1945. She then married actor-producer Martin Gabel in 1946, and they had a son, Peter.
What’s My Line? and TV Fame
Arlene’s breakthrough came in 1950, when she joined the panel of What’s My Line?, a game show where celebrities had to guess the occupation of a guest by asking yes-or-no questions. Arlene was the only female panelist for the entire run of the show, which lasted until 1975. She became known for her intelligence, humor, and style, wearing a diamond heart-shaped necklace that became her trademark. She also wore a blindfold when the guest was a famous person, adding to the suspense and fun of the game.
Arlene also hosted other TV shows, such as The Arlene Francis Show, a daily talk show that ran from 1960 to 1984 on WOR-TV. She interviewed celebrities, politicians, authors, and experts on various topics. She also appeared as a guest on many other shows, such as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and The Merv Griffin Show.
Personal Life and Challenges
Arlene had a happy marriage with Martin Gabel, who was also her manager and producer. They were considered one of the most stable and loving couples in show business. They lived in a penthouse apartment in Manhattan, where they hosted many parties and gatherings for their friends and colleagues. They also had a country home in Connecticut, where they enjoyed gardening and relaxing.
However, Arlene also faced some difficulties in her personal life. In 1979, Martin died of a heart attack at age 73. Arlene was devastated by his loss, and said that he was “the only man I ever loved”. She also suffered from breast cancer in the early 1980s, but recovered after undergoing surgery and radiation therapy.
In the late 1980s, Arlene began to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease, a degenerative brain disorder that causes memory loss, confusion, and dementia. She moved to San Francisco in 1993 to be closer to her son Peter, who was a law professor at the University of California. She lived in a nursing home for the last eight years of her life.
Death and Legacy
Arlene Francis died on May 31, 2001, at Kaiser Hospital in San Francisco. She was 93 years old. The cause of her death was complications from cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. She was cremated and buried next to her husband at Roosevelt Memorial Park in Pennsylvania.
Arlene Francis left behind a legacy of entertainment and inspiration for generations of viewers. She was one of the pioneers of television, and one of the most influential women in media history. She was admired for her talent, personality, grace, and courage. She received many honors and awards for her work, including two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, an honorary doctorate from Fordham University, and induction into the American Theater Hall of Fame.
Arlene Francis will always be remembered as a TV icon who brought joy and laughter to millions of people with her witty remarks and sparkling smile. As she once said: “I started out with one goal: I wanted to be a serious actress. Along the way I found that I could make people laugh.”