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Queen for a Day is an American radio and television show which helped to usher in American listeners' and viewers' fascination with big-prize giveaway shows when it was born on radio (19451957), before moving to television (19561964).

The series is considered a forerunner of modern-day "reality television". The show became popular enough that NBC increased its running time from 30 to 45 minutes to sell more commercials, at a then-premium rate of $4,000 per minute.


The show opened with host Bailey asking the audience—mostly women—"Would YOU like to be Queen for a day?" After this, the contestants were introduced and interviewed, one at a time, with commercials and fashion commentary interspersed between each contestant.

Using the classic "applause meter", as did many game and hit-parade style shows of the time, Queen for a Day had its own special twist: each contestant had to talk publicly about the recent financial and emotional hard times she had been through.

Bailey began each interview gently, asking the contestant first about her life and family, and maintaining a positive and upbeat response no matter what she told him. For instance, when a woman said she had a crippled child, he would ask if her second child was "Okay." On learning that the second child was not crippled, he might say, "Well, that's good, you have one healthy child."

The interview would climax with Bailey asking the contestant what she needed most and why she wanted to win the title of Queen for a Day. Often the request was for medical care or therapeutic equipment to help a chronically ill child, but sometimes it was as simple as the need for a hearing aid, a new washing machine, or a refrigerator. Many women broke down sobbing as they described their plights, and Bailey was always quick to comfort them and offer a clean white handkerchief to dry their eyes.

The more harsh the circumstances under which the contestant labored, the likelier the studio audience was to ring the applause meter's highest level. The winner, to the musical accompaniment of Pomp and Circumstance, would be draped in a sable-trimmed red velvet robe, given a glittering jeweled crown to wear, placed on a velvet-upholstered throne, and handed a dozen long-stemmed roses to hold as she wept, often uncontrollably, while her list of prizes was announced.

The prizes, many of which were donated by sponsoring companies, began with the necessary help the woman had requested, but built from there. They might include a variety of extras, such as a vacation trip, a fully-paid night on the town with her husband or escort, silver-plated flatware, an array of kitchen appliances, and a selection of fashion clothing. The losing contestants were each given smaller prizes; no one went away from the show without a meaningful gift.

Bailey's trademark sign-off was "Make every woman a queen, for every single day!"

Broadcast history


Ken Murray hosted the original radio version of the show on the Mutual-Don Lee Radio Network. When the series bgan, in New York Citymarker on April 30, 1945, it was titled Queen for Today. A few months later it was moved to Hollywood, and acquired the more familiar title Queen for a Day. with Jack Bailey, a former vaudeville musician and World's Fair barker, as host. The show aired five days a week, during the daytime.


In 1951, a fictional comedy-drama film adaptation of the show was released. Titled Queen for a Day, it purported to be a behind-the-scenes look at the show, while at the same time spoofing the show's basic premise. The movie starred Bailey as the host, and featured Darren McGavin and Leonard Nimoy, among other actors.


Bailey stayed on as host as Queen for a Day jumped from radio to television. With the addition of a visual component, the fashion aspect of the show expanded, and each episode featured three to five young women modelling the upscale apparel that would be given away to contestants. Other visual stunts, such as a circus themed episode featuring ponies and clowns from Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, helped bring the show into the television era. Through all of these changes, however, Bailey remained the interviewer who, over and over again, brought the contestants—and the live female audience—to tears.

Live remote broadcasts and unscripted interviews added to show's believability. One of the show's telecast locations was the Earl Carroll Theatre on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywoodmarker; another was the Moulin Rouge, a theater-restaurant on Sunset Boulevard near Vine Street in Hollywood. During each episode, the cameras panned over the audience as the women waved and cheered.

From 1948 through 1955, the show was simulcast on radio and television. Both versions aired locally in the Los Angelesmarker market on the Don Lee network.

NBC picked up the show for national broadcast from January 3, 1956 to September 2, 1960, and it proved to be very popular. Bailey and Queen for a Day were featured on the cover of TV Guide for the week of June 22-28,1957.

ABC broadcast the series nationally from September 5, 1960 until the end of the run on October 2, 1964.


On September 8, 1969, after a five-year hiatus, a new version of the show debuted in syndication with Dick Curtis as host. The premise remained largely the same; however, this version was short-lived and only ran until September 18, 1970. Viewers turned away from the format when it was revealed that, unlike the radio and earlier television versions, the new show was rigged and the "winners" were apparently paid actresses chosen to "win" the prizes prior to the start of each taping.

Similar shows

Queen for a Day shared much in common with two other shows of its era, Strike It Rich (on radio and television from 1947 to 1958) and It Could Be You (on television from 1956 to 1961).

A third similar show was On Your Way (on the DuMont Television Network and ABC from 1953-1954), which also used contestants with unfortunate stories, giving them transportation tickets as a reward for correct answers to quiz questions.

The major difference between Queen for a Day and these other "sympathy shows" was that they asked their poverty-stricken contestants to win prizes within a conventional quiz show format, with the winner essentially earning the prizes through his or her cleverness. Queen for a Day, on the other hand, dispensed with the quiz-show format entirely: All the contestants were women, and the only way a woman could win was by sincerely touching the heart-strings of the live female audience, who would then award her the greatest volume on the "applause meter".

Episode status

The series is believed to have been destroyed, as per network practices of the era.

Eight episodes are held at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, including two from the Don Lee network era: the August 21, 1953 radio episode, which was simulcast on television in Los Angeles, and the July 4, 1955 episode, with Adolphe Menjou guest-hosting to crown a King instead of a Queen, as was done about once or twice a year.

The latest episode held at the archive is from July 13, 1964, near the end of the show's run on the ABC network.

See also


  1. The New York Times Encyclopedia of Television by Les Brown (Times Books, a division of Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Company, Inc., 1977), ISBN 0-8129-0721-3, p. 348
  2. Queen for a Day as Reality TV
  3. Queen for a Day entry at
  4. Queen for a Day at Internet Movie Database
  5. UCLA Archive: Queen For A Day

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