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Lighthouse Keeper Stumps Game Show Panel


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Lighthouse keeper Frances Johnson is shown here ...

On May 17, 1953, Michigan lighthouse keeper Frances Johnson made television history when she appeared on What’s My Line, a popular game show that appeared on CBS from 1950 to 1967. The show consisted of a moderator and four panelists who attempted to guess the occupation of the guest.

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Frances Johnson on the TV program “What’s My ...

Panelists were required to probe by asking only yes or no questions. A panelist chosen by the moderator would begin the game. If their question elicited a yes answer, they continued questioning. When given a no answer, the questioning passed to the next panelist and $5 was awarded as a prize for the guest. The amount of the prize was tallied by a moderator who flipped up to ten $5 cards on his desk.

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Michigan’s White River Lighthouse appears pretty ...
Photo by: Linda Osborne-Cynawa

A contestant won the top prize of $50 by giving ten no answers, or if time ran out, with the moderator flipping all the cards. The maximum payout of $50 was to ensure the game was played only for enjoyment, and that there could never be even the appearance of impropriety. TV Guide ranked What’s My Line as number 9 in its 60 Greatest Game Shows Ever.

Regarding Mrs. Johnson’s occupation, the panelists guessed that she possibly demonstrated something in a department store or worked with breakfast foods because of the relatively close proximity of her stated hometown of Whitehall to the “cereal capital” of Battle Creek, Michigan.

After more questioning, Mrs. Johnson was able to confirm for them that she provided a service of some type, worked for the national government, and that it was necessary for people “to come within the purview of her activities” to receive that service, which left the panel scratching their heads.

She agreed that the job didn’t require any specialized training, but after a series of unrelated wrong guesses and questions, all the cards were flipped and Frances Johnson became $50 richer. When the host, John Charles Daly, finally revealed her occupation by stating, “this is going to really shake you, panel. Mrs. Johnson runs a lighthouse. She is a lighthouse keeper!”, panelist Arlene Francis responded, “Oh, well, really now!” in surprise.

In an interview in 2007, Mrs. Johnson recollected that beyond the $50 prize money, she got a paid trip to New York and a night at the Hotel Edison for the taping, which must have been an exciting adventure for a Michigan lighthouse keeper of that era. The entire episode can be viewed on YouTube under the title “What’s My Line Mickey Mantle, May 17, 1953.”

Frances Johnson was born on November 5, 1921 in Noble, Georgia as Frances Lyle Gilmer. On August 30, 1944 she married Leo M. Wuori, who was the lighthouse keeper at the White River Lighthouse in Whitehall, Michigan starting in February of 1943. However, eventually the couple got divorced and on June 14, 1947, she married Harold Johnson.

When Frances Johnson learned that her ex-husband, Leo Wuori, was planning to leave the Coast Guard and his job as the keeper of the White River Lighthouse where she had served as his assistant keeper from August of 1944 to May of 1948, she asked the Coast Guard if she could be appointed the lighthouse keeper. Her request was eventually granted, and on May 28, 1949 she became the keeper of the White River Lighthouse.

When her husband, Harold Johnson, died in 1954 at the age of 49, Frances Johnson resigned as the keeper of the light. On June 14, 1947 she married John “Marv” Marshall. Frances Johnson Marshall died on January 22, 2011 in Muskegon, Michigan at the age of 89.

This story appeared in the Mar/Apr 2021 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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