Masquerade Party (1952-1960)

Masquerade Party was one of those shows that went from network to network and from host to host.  It started on NBC in 1952, went to CBS in ’53 and ’54, went to ABC, then back to NBC then back to CBS.  Along the way, its hosts included Bud Collyer, Douglas Edwards, Peter Donald, Eddie Bracken, Robert Q. Lewis and finally Bert Parks.  The four member panel was in a constant state of flux.

But the premise didn’t change.  The host would introduce a “Masquerader” — some celebrity who’d come out in heavy-enough make-up that you couldn’t tell who it was. The outfit and a little routine the Masquerader would perform would be a hint. For instance, when George “Superman” Reeves was a Masquerader, they had him dressed up as a giant pack of Kent Cigarettes, which just happened to be a sponsor. The panelists would ask questions and try to guess who the celeb was…and at the end, there’d be an unmasking which was often messy. That was it. Usually, there’d be three games a show which led to one of the show’s main weaknesses. Sometimes, to find three Masqueraders to fill a half-hour, the definition of a celebrity had to be pretty low and it sometimes descended into folks the panel had never heard of. That of course made it tough for them to figure out the answer.

Very few episodes of this show are known to exist. Before his passing, ventriloquist Paul Winchell scoured the country looking for a kinescope of a time he was on with his idol, Edgar Bergen. The two of them were joint Masqueraders playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — one playing one, the other playing the other. Some of the costumes and clues were quite clever, especially during a period when Allan Sherman, who’d been fired as producer of I’ve Got A Secret, was brought in to run things. In his autobiography, Sherman says that when the job was offered to him, his initial reaction was to turn it down because he thought the show was lousy. But he needed the job so he took it but didn’t put his name on the program…until it rose up to pass I’ve Got A Secret in the ratings.

In 1974, the show had a brief revival hosted by Richard Dawson but it was cancelled after one season.