The Film & More|
DAVID McCULLOUGH, Host: Good evening. Welcome to The American Experience. I'm David McCullough. Tonight's film, The Quiz Show Scandal, is about deception, mass deception on television in the 1950's. "Photographs don't lie" was the old saying. That decent, educated Americans don't lie went without saying. No President had yet lied to us as far as we knew. The realization that President Eisenhower had spoken considerably less than the truth when the American U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union was still to come in 1960; and our own day of liars on television, of State Department officials, bank officers presidents of the United States all lying through their teeth was far in the future and unimaginable, as unimaginable as what happened to the value of the dollar.
The $64,000 jackpot of the big hit quiz show, The $64,000 Question was a fortune back then. I'd just gone to work in 1956 as a trainee at Sports Illustrated, a very good job at a salary of $4,500 a year, which. as it happens, was almost exactly what quiz-show contestant Charles Van Doren was then earning as a teacher.
Our story is a morality play and as timely and to the point now as then. "I learned a lot about good and evil," Charles Van Doren would later say. "They are not always what they appear to be." That he was not what he appeared to be stunned the country in a way that had never happened before and demonstrated as never before what unprecedented potential for deception lay in the new age of television.
NARRATOR: In the 1950's a powerful new medium took hold of America, leaving its signposts on almost every rooftop. Television was replacing the fireplace as the central focus of our homes and our lives. Television sales soared, as did America's fascination with the new programs they watched, especially the most successful and innovative of them all the first quiz shows with big cash prizes.
HOST: Ladies and gentleman, if either player stops the game now, Miss Spouser will win $5,500 more, which means she'll have $11,000. You've just won $69,500-- congratulations, again.
NARRATOR: The influence of individual show's was suddenly enormous. Television was both our link to reality and our escape from it. The popularity of the quiz shows was unprecedented. People lined up around the block to get a look at the winning contestants who were their new heroes.
And most acclaimed of all was charming and boyish Charles Van Doren, a 30-year-old English instructor and son of a famous literary family. For Charles Van Doren, involvement with quiz shows would lead to scandal and personal tragedy that he would hide from for the rest of his life. The quiz show scandals were one of the most bizarre, disillusioning chapters in the history of broadcasting.
The shocking disclosures of quiz-show fraud became a signature for an entire decade. President Dwight Eisenhower called the deception "a terrible thing to do to the American public." The audience, the medium and the participants themselves would never be the same.
1st VOICE: Did he give you all the questions and all the answers
2nd VOICE: Did anyone on the Twenty-One program ever ask you for money?
3rd VOICE: You knew exactly, then, what was going to happen on the program before the program went on the air?
NARRATOR: As a consequence of what began to unravel in this grand jury room, careers were destroyed and many went into hiding. Individually, about 100 quiz-show contestants and producers -- a cross-section of well-educated, decent middle-class Americans -- sat here and perjured themselves.
It all began with The $64,000 Question. The innovative staff of producers and technicians had no idea that their creation was about to change television. The show had its live-camera debut on June 7, 1955. Initially, there was no manipulation of the contestants. That would come later, in slow, escalating, indirect steps.
JOSEPH CATES, Producer/Director, "The $64,000 Question": Television was new then and this was the most exciting thing that was part of it, it was unique to television. It couldn't have happened in any other medium. It was a new idea, a big-money quiz.
HAL MARCH, Host, "The $64,000 Question": You're right, for $8,000!
SONNY FOX, Host, "The $64,000 Question": I remember one night walking down -- on a Tuesday night, walking down on a summer's night in the streets of New York and the windows were open. And out of every window, I heard the same sound and the sound was of $64,000 Question .
CONTESTANT: "The $64,000 Question" Gloria Scott.
HAL MARCH: That's correct, for $32,000.
JACK NARZ, Host, "Dotto": It just swept the country. I'm telling you, on the night that $64,000 Question was on, you could shoot a cannon down the street, 'cause nobody was on the street. Everybody was at home watching that show.
ANNOUNCER: "The $64,000 Question" And now, the star of our show, where knowledge is king and the reward king-size, Hal March!
NARRATOR: The idea for The $64,000 Question came from a popular radio show, Take It Or Leave It. Producer Lou Cowan added three zeros to the program's $64 top prize.
ANNOUNCER: Revlon, the greatest name in cosmetics, presents, the one, two, four, eight, sixteen
NARRATOR: His creation-- the first big-money television game show.
ANNOUNCER: Yes, The $64,000 Question.
Mr. CATES: Lou Cowan is the only man who ever said to me, in 40-odd year when he employed me -- he said, "The most important thing to me is my good name. I'll back you in everything, in anything that comes up as long as you don't dishonor my good name."
In any event, Lou's idea was that the contestant would go home, think about it for one week -- whether he'd like to try or whether he would prefer to take his money and run.
HAL MARCH: Tonight, he's back with his wife to tell us whether he will take his $16,000 and go home or leave it and try for $32,000.
Mr. CATES: It was a very interesting notion of spreading it over a five-week period. It also meant that you could build cumulative interest in a single contestant. If you didn't become interested in someone on the show, then he's off and finished. So then, if you became interested, you could bring him back. It was a novel idea for a television show and Lou had written it up and I don't think it ran more than a third of a page, just the scoring device, the notion of bringing them back.
And he asked me to produce run-throughs to develop the show. And we tested the language what the host would say. We tried different variations on the format.
HAL MARCH: "The $64,000 Challenge" Would you like to win some money now, Meryl? I don't know that you need it especially, but if you'd like to, right behind you is Revlon's Category Board. Which do you think you'd like to try?
NARRATOR: To present the initial questions in a dramatic way, producer Joe Cates placed an IBM sorting machine on stage. It gave the illusion that there was a random selection of questions, when in fact all the cards were identical.
Mr. CATES: It didn't matter what button you pressed. They were all on one line and they just served to distribute all the cards and a stagehand behind lit up the box. So questions came from the IBM machine.
When we got up to $8,000 or $4,000 and we wanted to make a change, one of the changes was obvious. Instead of going from stage left to the IBM machine, let's go to stage right and let's have somebody produce out of a safe and out of that evolved a banker who would have two guards. It's kind of funny when you think about it, two guards onstage with guns.
BANKER: The questions on which I'm about to break the seal have been carefully guarded in the locked safe deposit vaults of Manufacturers Trust Company New York. Manufacturers Trust Company certifies that these envelopes were received directly from the editors and that no one has had access to their contents, not Mr. March, not even I.
NARRATOR: The most memorable innovation was the isolation booth. It prevented contestants from hearing answers from the audience and it became the single most dramatic symbol of the quiz shows. Again, the idea came from radio.
Mr. CATES: Now, along the way -- and it happened quite by accident -- there was a "radio announce" booth. In a radio studio, they would sometimes isolate the announcer by putting him in a little booth, just barely enough room for him and a microphone. And I set up that booth and then, when the contestant got to a big money question, I put them into the booth and that would have added drama.
HAL MARCH: "The $64,000 Question" Can you hear me and see me, Joyce?
Dr. JOYCE BROTHERS, Contestant, -"The $64,000 Question": Yes, I can.
HAL MARCH: Ready for your $16,000 question?
Dr. BROTHERS: Oh, I suppose so.
HAL MARCH: OK, may I have it, please?
Mr. CATES: Now, of course, the announcer's box, the box used on the -- finally, the one that was built and designed for The $64,000 Question was not soundproof. It was almost impossible to soundproof, so they had to feed in a little music. The music would block out anything that the audience said.
We used to seat the people related to the contestants in a special prelit area. We would shoot close-ups of the mother or the son or the father and the close-up, literally, was from the bottom lip to the eyes. It was incredible reaction. People were moved. It was a very exciting program.
VIRGIL, Contestant, "The $64,000 Question": The "X" was the numeral number for the 10 and the "I" was for-- for--
HAL MARCH: Virgil, to be fair with you
VIRGIL: Ten in "T"-- 10 in Texas
HAL MARCH: You're right, for $32,000.
Mr. CATES: And that's how these things evolved. We decided to analyze everything that went into a quiz show, from how the contestant appears to how questions are gotten and devise a new way on a space stage of presenting it.
I distinctly remember, the evening of the very first show on air, Charles Revson, who owned Revlon, who stood in the booth behind me
I heard him say to Walter Craig of Norman, Craig and Kumbledy advertising agency, "Well, Norman [sic), that's another stiff you've bought on my account. This thing is terrible." And he walked out of there, mumbling and grumbling. And of course, Charlie was wrong and he was the greatest beneficiary.
The sponsors probably quadrupled their sales in one year. You're talking about $100 million.
HAL MARCH: This is the richest family on the block right now.
NARRATOR: Mark Goodson, was in Cowan's office discussing a show of his own when a call came in from Cohen's sponsor, Charles Revson.
MARK GOODSON, Producer: So I told Lou I felt that it was an interesting idea in theory, but, I said, "In practice, I don't think that little people, average people are ever going to reach for those high stakes and risk your money or they're going to fail along the way.
He said, "I don't think you're right." I said, "Lou, the only way this show is going to work is if it's rigged, if you fix it.
NARRATOR: Lou Cowan disagreed that the show would have to be rigged, but after the program's initial success and the departure of Cowan, the producers began to feel enormous pressures from tile sponsors and the subtle process of manipulating contestants would soon begin.
HAL MARCH: Good night, everybody.
NARRATOR: Producer Mark Goodson happened to be in the show's production office when a call came from tile sponsor, Charles Revson.
Mr. GOODSON: And somebody came in and said he had a call from Charlie Revson, he had to leave the meeting. And when he came back, he said, "Listen, that's Charlie. Charlie wants--" he said, "He thinks the Lincoln expert is boring. He wants you to stiff him." I remember that line- "He thinks the Lincoln expert is boring, he wants you to stiff him."
MERTON KOPLIN, Producer, "The $64,000 Question": And we'd sit in the sponsor's meetings and they would say, "Well, that one-- that one's got to go on to $64,000," or "I don't like that one, let's get rid of him."
Mr. GOODSON: And then, quite clearly, what they would do is take that man aside and ask him 200 questions in his own field. And they would examine his answers and they would then know what he knew.
Mr. KOPLIN: You knew you could ask some questions anywhere in that area. You didn't have to sit down with them and say, "All right, now if I ask you this, you're answer is that." You knew that their answer would be this.
Mr. GOODSON: It wouldn't surprise me that the people who were on The $64,000 Question or the The $64,000 Challenge, even, would deny that they had been given answers because the likelihood is they had not. It was simply that the producer knew what they knew and asked them what they had the answers to.
NARRATOR: Within months, Revlon cosmetics sales soared 200 percent while the sponsor kept a chart comparing contestants ratings with product sales.
HAL MARCH: Please bear with us. They're on the way. Thank you very much.
NARRATOR: Revson would always deny any involvement in rigging the program. At the weekly meetings, according to producers, Revson implied that popular contestants who drew large ratings should be kept on the show. A number of steps would be taken to hold onto popular contestants and to get rid of others.
Psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers is an example of an honest contestant the producers tried to manipulate unsuccessfully.
Mr. FOX: Interesting story about how Joyce Brothers got on The $64,000 Question. She went down originally and presented herself as a psychologist and she had an expertise in something and I'm not sure I remember what it was, but it certainly wasn't boxing. And they said to her, "Well, you're wonderful as a personality, but we're looking for those dramatic juxtapositions, the Marine officer who is an expert cook, the shoemaker who knows about opera."
Mr. KOPLIN: Before I turned her down, I said, "Lord, Joyce, you know, if it were something that you shouldn't know about, if it were football or if it were horse racing or for boxing." And she said, "Boxing?"
Mr. FOX: And she started studying about boxing and she made herself into a boxing expert. She did not come on it as a boxing expert. She invented herself as a boxing expert and she came on- she came back and said, "I'm a boxing expert. I'm a psychologist who knows about boxing."
HAL MARCH: Bill, who is Revlon's next guest?
Mr. KOPLIN: She knew the heavyweights and she knew the welterweights and she knew it all.
ANNOUNCER: Here's our psychologist from New York City, whose category is boxing- Dr. Joyce Brothers!.
Mr. FOX: And she was very popular, except perhaps with the sponsor.
HAL MARCH: Doc, welcome back to the show.
Dr. BROTHERS: Thank you, Hal.
Mr. KOPLIN: I had to face the "get rid of her, get rid of her" bit.
Dr. BROTHERS: I'm going on, Hal.
Mr. KOPLIN: She didn't fit in with their concept of what cosmetics were all about.
Mr. FOX: At about $16,000, they thought they would knock her off and this time, instead of asking her questions about boxers, they asked her a question about referees.
HAL MARCH: What man refereed the comeback attempt of an exchamp against Jack Johnson at Reno, Nevada.
Dr. BROTHERS: Tex Rickert.
HAL MARCH: You're right for $16,000.
Mr. FOX: So she really rode that one to stardom and fame.
NARRATOR: Joyce Brothers' career as a popular psychologist was launched by her frequent appearances on The $64,000 Question. All the big winners became instant celebrities and household names. For the first time, America's heroes were intellectuals or experts -- jockey Billy Pearson on art, Marine Captain McCutcheon on cooking -- every subject from the Bible to baseball. Not only had the contestants become rich overnight, but they were also treated to a whirlwind of publicity tours, awards, endorsements and meetings with dignitaries.
Traveler Gino Prato, whose category was opera, was brought to Italy for a special performance at la Scala and honored by an audience with the Pope. After winning $64,000, spelling whiz Gloria Lockerman became a guests speaker at the Democratic National Convention. Baseball expert Myrtle Power was made a sports commentator on CBS. Eleven-year-old stock market expert Lenny Ross was asked to open up the New York Stock Exchange. And with only an eighth-grade education, supply clerk Teddy Nadler, an expert on everything, won more money than any other contestant. It was a new kind of hero in America, a common person with the uncommon gift of knowledge.
The producers and sponsor of The $64,000 Question went on to create a second quiz show. The new show would push the innovations of The $64,000 Question to a higher level of fantasy. With The $64,000 Challenge, the spotlight would be on two isolation booths.
ANNOUNCER: On The $64,000 Challenge, presented by Revlon.
NARRATOR: Revlon had now become the sponsor of the two top-rated shows on television.
WOMAN: And remember, if it's the finest of its kind, it's by Revlon.
Mr. FOX: As a matter of fact, $64,000 Challenge was invented to take advantage of the stardom of $64,000 Question. Here Question had spent all this time making these people stars and then, they were just -- there was nothing to be done with them and that didn't sit right. So they said, "Well, wait a minute. If we bring them back and have them challenged, then we have a second crack at them."
Hence $64,000 Challenge. It was a way of merchandising, if you will, and profiting from what happened on Question. Now, when Challenge went on the air, it was Sunday night at 10, live. And it was a much awaited event, of course, and a much sought-after hosting job.
ANNOUNCER: "The $64,000 Challenge" And now, the star of our show, where challenger meets champion, with $64,000 at stake, Sonny Fox!
Mr. FOX: After I did the pilot, we went out to dinner and Charles Revson, representative of Revlon who was the chief sponsor at that time along with Kent of the program, said, "We may have to change your name because nobody will believe a man named 'Sonny' who's giving away all that money." And I think I said something like, "Well, for the money you're prepared to pay me, you can call me anything you want." Anyway, the first night of $64,000 Challenge, the announcer said, "And here is your host, Bill Fox," and I stood there for a moment until somebody said, "That's you."
["The $64,000 Challenge"] Thank you very much. Good evening and good welcome- good evening and welcome.
Mr. CATES: Sonny was not at his best doing this. It was alien to him. What happened was intelligent, bright, funny, wonderful Sonny Fox in person, when he came onscreen became a bumbler. He became a bumbler and a fumbler and he made mistakes.
Mr. FOX: "The $64,000 Challenge" Incidentally, you're cooking a
cooking a book- I mean, you're making a cookbook and- I'm stewing over it anyhow.
Mr. CATES: He misheard. He called questions correct that were not correct and in an effort to help him, on the -- I don't know when, the fourth or fifth week, we actually put an authority up on stage so that he could refer to that authority and say, "Is it correct," et cetera.
Mr. FOX: I left the show- [laughs] I didn't leave the show, I was fired. Let's face it, I was fired because I did have a predilection for asking the answers.
ANNOUNCER: "The $64,000 Challenge" And now, the star of our show, where challenger meets champion, Ralph Story.
NARRATOR: The $64,000 Challenge moved beyond subtle manipulation. Even the host was unaware that this new show would take the first step towards outright fraud.
RALPH STORY Host, "The $64,000 Challenge": I think our show has real punch in it tonight so let's get going.
NARRATOR: Some contestants such as the Reverend Stoney Jackson were indirectly given answers in advance without realizing it. Jackson didn't know he had been briefed until he was on the air. The Reverend Jackson, a now-destitute Colorado preacher, won $4,000 on The $64,000
Challenge by answering questions about "the world's great lovers."
Rev. STONEY JACKSON, Contestant, "The $64,000 Question": I came to New York for the Challenge. They had a producer, her name was Shirley Bernstein. She was the sister of the late Leonard Bernstein.
When I was in the office, she looked at me and said, "Do you know who wrote a poem similar to Marlowe's on Hero and Leander?" I said, "No, I do not." As I walked out of the office, she yelled at me, "It was Thomas Hood." In that booth, I was totally surprised when the question turned out to be Thomas Hood. There was the temptation to say to Ralph Story, "I know the answer to this because Shirley Bernstein gave it to me." It was a con game, that's all -- a scam from start to finish.
Well, I was furious about the whole thing. I refused to take the check at the time. I contacted Time magazine, The New York Times -- they didn't want to talk to me. The consensus of most everyone I knew was, "Why knock it? Makes no difference. You can put on a good show. You can help yourself. You can help those with whom you're associated, let them be proud of you and never mind the fact that there was any fraud involved. Who cares?"
ANNOUNCER: "Tic, Tac, Dough"- and here is your host, Jay Jackson.
NARRATOR: More and more producers copied the quiz-show formula. Newspapers and magazines began to publish weekly tallies of quiz-show winnings as if they were the latest baseball scores.
Mr. GOODSON: In that period of time, say, in the 50's, there was a tremendous proliferation of games. People think there are a lot of game shows on the air today -- it's not true. There must have been 30 on the air in the 50's.
ANNOUNCER: This is Eddie Hodges, a 10-year-old schoolboy and here is his partner, Major John Glenn, Junior, the Marine Corps jet pilot.
RICHARD N. GOODWIN, Congressional Investigator: Well, the quiz shows in the 1950's were probably the biggest thing that ever hit television. I mean, 60 percent of the entire country are watching quiz shows. At one time, the top five rated shows on television, all of them were quiz shows.
ANNOUNCER: "The Big Surprise" -- and here's your $100,000 host, Mike Wallace.
Mr. GOODWIN: I think we have to realize that $100,000 in the late 50's -- $100,000 was the equivalent of somebody going on television today and winning, let's say, $600,000.
MIKE WALLACE, Host, "The Big Surprise": Who is our first Big Surprise star?
Mr. GOODWIN: So it's getting over a half a million dollars to appear, so it's not -- you know, we're talking about the transformation of people's lives monetarily, becoming almost millionaires.
ANNOUNCER: Returning with $140,300
Mr. GOODWIN: But although the contestants made hundreds of thousands of dollars and the networks made millions of dollars and the sponsors made tens of millions of dollars and the producers were getting quite wealthy and all was right with the world
MIKE WALLACE: -- with a group of youngsters, if you want -- I'm sorry. I took the tough question instead of the easy one. Here it is.
NARRATOR: Twenty-One would take the ultimate step in quiz-show rigging. Most contestants were cast as though they were actors, every detail carefully orchestrated. Contestants were now full partners in the deception.
JACK BARRY, Host, "Twenty-One": America's number one tonic presents Twenty-One
DANIEL ENRIGHT, Producer, "Twenty-One": Twenty-One, no question about it, was our mainstay. It was the most impactful [sic] show we've ever had. The show went on the air in 1956 and we felt that it had such great quality and content to it that we would not have to rig it. In fact, the first show of Twenty-One was not rigged and the first show of Twenty-One was a dismal failure. It was just plain dull.
CONTESTANT, "Twenty-One": Blake
JACK BARRY: I'm sorry -- Titian. I'm sorry, you don't score and that puts you right back to zero. What are we going to do with these two fellows? This is supposed to be a quiz show. It's turning out to be the greatest comedy show on the air.
Mr. ENRIGHT: It lacked all drama, it lacked all suspense. And next morning, the sponsor called my partner, Jack Barry, and me and told us in no uncertain terms that he never wanted to see a repeat of what happened the previous night. And from that moment on, we decided to rig Twenty-One.
ANNOUNCER: "Twenty-One" From Forest Hills, New York, Mr. Herbert Stempel
Mr. ENRIGHT: Herb Stempel was a young man whom I had coached in his appearances on Twenty-One. When he applied to the show and he took the test, he scored a very, very high score. He was the type of contestant who could very well antagonize viewers.
You want the viewer to react emotionally to a contestant. Whether he reacts favorably or negatively is really not that important. The important thing is that he react. He should watch a contestant, hoping that the contestant will win or he should watch the contestant, hoping the contestant will lose. And Herb, I felt, was the type of personality who instilled the latter. Viewers would watch him and pray for his opponent to win.
HERBERT STEMPEL, Contestant, "Twenty-One": One afternoon, I received a letter and it said, "We'd like you to take our test." It was a 3-1/2-hour test, very, very difficult, with about 100 different categories and I was told that I would be contacted. Dan Enright, the producer, called me on the phone. He said he'd like to see me right away.
He came up to the apartment and then, all of a sudden, he leaned back in the sofa and said, "How would you like to make $25,000?" I said to him, "Who wouldn't want to make $25,000?" And he said to something, in essence, which was like, "Play ball and we'll make sure you make $25,000." I said, "Fine, what do I have to do?" he says, "First of all," he says, "you're going to be on the program tomorrow night."
JACK BARRY: "Twenty-One" How do you -- 'cause you have to take care of them. How do you manage to support yourself and your family?
Mr. STEMPEL: Well, I get $160 a month from the G.I. Bill of Rights and the Veterans Administration.
[interview] The whole idea was to make me appear like an ex-G.I. working his way through college. The reason I had been asked to put on this old, ill-fitting suit and get this Marine-type haircut was to make me appear as what you would call today, a nerd, a square.
JACK BARRY: Well, it's a very personal question to ask and it
sounds very, very rough, what you do.
Mr. STEMPEL: Well, things are not so good, but
[interview] I was never to call the Master of Ceremonies, Jack Barry, "Jack." I was always to call him "Mr. Barry" and be very, very humble and very sheepish. On the first program I was on, I was on for approximately four minutes and I won approximately $9,000. I had never had that much money in my life and I was absolutely flabbergasted.
JACK BARRY: If either of you want to stop the game, you must tell me so right now.
Mr. STEMPEL: I'll stop.
JACK BARRY: Then you win $9,000.
Mr. STEMPEL: And I went home and said to my wife, "Gee, this is the easiest money I ever made in my life."
JACK BARRY: Awfully sorry, Mr. Peloubet.
Mr. PELOUBET, Contestant: Congratulations.
JACK BARRY: You just won $9,000
Mr. STEMPEL: I used to go down to Enright's office every Wednesday afternoon before the show. Ann Enright would pull out cards with the questions and answers that would be used that evening. I ran through them, he would instruct me when to pause, when to mop my brow. Everything was very carefully choreographed.
JACK BARRY: How many do you want to try for?
Mr. STEMPEL: I'll try 11.
[interview] The hardest part of the show was not remembering the answers or knowing the answers, but, rather, remembering, "Mop your brow twice, count to ten," and "Breath heavily." This was the hardest part of the show was remembering the stage directions which Enright had choreographed.
Mr. ENRIGHT: We often turned off the air conditioning in the isolation booths so that they would start to perspire and we did coach them in terms of what dramatic pauses to take, when to ask, to have a question repeated, when to miss a question and sometimes, he would deliberately miss a question in order to heighten the drama of the moment.
JACK BARRY: Mr. Stempel, can you come back here next week, meet your next opponent and tell us whether you want to --
Mr. STEMPEL: As weeks went by, people began to recognize me more and more. I got more and more fan mail. My classmates at college were very proud of me. My professors were proud of me. I just couldn't hold this inside of me, though, because I was overjoyed about being a celebrity, winning and so forth. I was overwhelmed.
JACK BARRY: I'm Jack Barry. For six weeks, here on Twenty-One, a 29-year-old G.I. college student, Herbert Stempel, has successfully beaten all of his opponents and has run his winnings up to $69,500.
Mr. STEMPEL: Then, Dan Enright said to me, "You know, Herb, you're not going to get all the money that you've won so far or are going to win." I said, "What? What do you mean?" He says, "No," he says, "We have to look out for ourselves, so I have a paper here which you're going to have to sign." I realized that if I didn't sign, I might not find myself on the program too much longer, so I decided to sign.
NARRATOR: Even though Stempel had agreed to accept less money, it didn't matter. His ratings had begun to fall and he had to go. A new contestant was moved into the challenger's booth to knock him off, a college instructor with a flair for acting who would become, by far, the most acclaimed of all quiz-show contestants.
Mr. ENRIGHT: He appeared on the show. Everybody responded to him positively. He was the kind of guy that you'd love to have your daughter married to -- attractive, likable, good sense of humor -- and he just captured everyone's imagination. His name was Charles Van Doren.
CHARLES VAN DOREN, Contestant "Twenty-One": My father would know that.
NARRATOR: His father was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, his mother was a celebrated novelist, his uncle a respected American historian. Van Doren's erudition provided parents with a welcomed antidote to Elvis Presley at a time when Americans feared education was in decline. Charles Van Doren presented a portrait of elegant New England charm. He and his family symbolized the ideals of integrity and intellectual achievement that seemed beyond reproach.
JACK BARRY: He teaches English at Columbia University. He was a student at Cambridge University in England. He has written three books and is currently working --
Mr. ENRIGHT: And very soon, the viewers lined themselves up on the side of Van Doren. He was a hero.
JACK BARRY: Just out of curiosity, Mr. Van Doren, are you related in any way to Mark Van Doren up at Columbia University, the famous writer?
CHARLES VAN DOREN: Yes, I am. He's my father.
JACK BARRY: He is your father?
CHARLES VAN DOREN: Yes.
JACK BARRY: Well, the name Van Doren is a very well-known name. Are you related to any of the other well-known Van Dorens?
CHARLES VAN DOREN: Well, Dorothy Van Doren, the novelist and author of the recent A Country Wife, is my mother and Carl Van Doren, the biographer of Benjamin Franklin, the historian, is my uncle.
JACK BARRY: Well, you have every reason in the world to be mighty proud of your name and your fa mily.
Mr. ENRIGHT: The lines were clearly drawn. There was the hero, there was the villain and everybody knew whom they were rooting for and whom they were rooting against.
JACK BARRY: What'll it be?
Mr. STEMPEL: I'll take a chance on that.
JACK BARRY: You will take a chance?
Mr. ENRIGHT: When Van Doren was approached to appear on the program and was also told that he would be coached, his first reaction was negative. He did not want to be part of it. And frankly, we induced him to do it by convincing him that it would help glamorize information, it would help glamorize intellectualism. His name became synonymous with quiz shows and his impact was immediate. We played the games between Van Doren and Stempel for quite a while, a series of ties and the drama grew and the tension rose.
NARRATOR:. Lines stretched around the studio as the ratings skyrocketed. Tens of millions gathered in every part of the country to see if their new hero, Charles Van Doren, would beat Herb Stempel. Week after week, the drama and tension grew, as Enright wrote the final act. No one seemed to question what they saw. In the 1950's, seeing was believing.
Mr. ENRIGHT: And then, finally, at a particular moment, I told Herb Stempel that he was going to be losing that night to Charles Van Doren. He asked me whether he could not for go the losing and whether he could not play against Van Doren clean and I said no and I reminded him he had given me his word that when I would ask him to lose, he would lose.
Mr. STEMPEL: I was absolutely taken aback. I was shocked, I was horrified. All this celebrity business had gone to my head and I didn't want to lose. I felt that I wanted to play this game honestly, if necessary, to try to stay on and I was willing to take my chances. But Enright said, "No, you cannot do it. We've decided and you're going to have to lose."
JACK BARRY: Good evening. I'm Jack Barry. Tonight, here on Twenty-One, Herbert Stempel, our 29-year-old G.I. college student can win $111,500, the highest amount of money ever to be won on television.
Mr. STEMPEL: On the day I was due to lose to Van Doren, I sat home, watching television in the morning. Every few minutes, an announcement would break in on WNBC, saying, "Is Herb Stempel going to win over $100,000 tonight?" And I said, "No, he's not going to win $100,000. He's going to take a dive."
CHARLES VAN DOREN: "Twenty-One" Catherine Howard.
JACK BARRY: Right- and what happened to her?
CHARLES VAN DOREN: Yes, what happened to her? Considering Henry VIII, he probably divorced her, but let's see- but he- he divorced his- did he behead Catherine Howard?
JACK BARRY: He did. You've got 18 points.
Mr. STEMPEL: One of those questions on the final night involved the 1955 Academy Award winner.
JACK BARRY: Herb Stempel, you have 16 points. The category is movies and movie stars. What motion picture won the Academy Award for 1955?
Mr. STEMPEL: I knew that the answer was Marty, but Dan Enright specifically wanted me to miss that question. This hurt me very deeply because this was one of my favorite pictures of all times and I could never forget this. A few seconds before that as I was trying to come up with the answer, I could have changed my mind. I could have said, "The answer is Marty, instead of On the Waterfront. I would have won. There would have been no Charles Van Doren, no famous celebrity. Charles Van Doren would have gone back to teaching college and my whole life would have been changed.
Mr. STEMPEL: On the Waterfront?
JACK BARRY: No. I'm sorry, the answer is Marty -- Marty.
Mr. ENRIGHT: This man was taken from obscurity - he came from rather impoverished circumstances - taken from obscurity and then exposed to the light of celebrity, became for some six weeks a celebrity and then just as quickly was cast back into obscurity. And we, at the time deluded ourselves into believing that what we were doing was not that wrong and I bear a tremendous guilt to Herb Stempel and I was sorry. I should have been far more mindful and far more sensitive.
JACK BARRY: If either of you want to stop the game, you must tell me so right now.
CHARLES VAN DOREN: I'll stop.
JACK BARRY: Then you win $20,000. Congratulations.
NARRATOR: The night Charles Van Doren beat Herb Stempel, about 15 million viewers applauded Van Doren's triumph. As the nation's new hero, "Charlie" made the cover of Time, a distinction never bestowed oil his illustrious father or uncle. Admiring Students at Columbia University where he taught English, put up signs directing visitors to "the smartest man in the world." He received thousands of letters a week, including hundreds of marriage proposals.
JACK BARRY: Charlie, incidentally, I've had a lot of questions about you, about whether or not you're married or single.
CHARLES VAN DOREN: I'm single.
JACK BARRY: You are, eh? Are you in the market, so to speak?
CHARLES VAN DOREN: Well, I don't know if you'd put it so commercially. I'm in the market, yes.
NARRATOR: He signed a $50,000-a-year contract to become a host of The Today Show and gave personal interviews to some 500 reporters. As book, lecture and movie offers were waved in Van Doren's face, a resentful Herb Stempel would never forget how he had faded into the shadow of Van Doren's celebrity.
Mr. STEMPEL: That evening, as had been rehearsed, I took my dive and left the program. As I walked backstage, two technicians were talking and one said to the other one, "At least, we finally have a clean-cut intellectual on this program, not a freak with a sponge memory." I was appalled. I was hurt, as if somebody had taken a knife and shoved it right into me.
Mr. ENRIGHT: There was always a fear -- there was always a fear lurking that somehow the story would be exposed, that we would be revealed and that kept gnawing at us. But after a while, you rationalize that by thinking to yourself, "What contestant would reveal that he played a part in a rigging?" And certainly, we would not reveal that. We never took into account a contestant might reveal his role in rigging because he might be subjected to such trauma and such hurt that it would overcome whatever reluctance he had to tell the truth.
Mr. STEMPEL: I first contacted Jack O'Brian, who was a columnist for the Journal-American on -- who covered television and I told him the story. He believed me, but he didn't want to -- he printed little tidbits in his column once in a while about different things, but he would never come out directly and accuse them of perpetrating a hoax on the people.
JACK O'BRIAN, Syndicated Columnist: Ultimately, one day, I get a phone call for the Journal-American and the chief operator said that there was a fellow named Herb Stempel who wanted to talk to me, so he talked to me for four hours. At first, I thought it might be a crank, I thought it might be a phony, but everything hung together in his story.
Mr. ENRIGHT: And sure enough, within two days, I received a phone call from the newspaper, saying that they had been advised by a contestant who appeared on the show that the show was rigged. I asked them if that person was Herb Stempel and they said yes, it was.
Mr. O'BRIAN: And we could never get it printed in flat, factual terms because the lawyers for my newspaper syndicate wouldn't touch it until we had absolute proof.
Mr. STEMPEL It could not be printed because there was no real corroboration from anybody else who had been on the show. When the story finally did come out, it's because after a while, when the Dotto scandal broke, newspapers finally decided to print the story.
ANNOUNCER: "Dotto"-- and here's the star of Dotto, Jack Narz.
NARRATOR: Jack Narz, who was unaware of the rigging, became host of the show that would bring down all the big-money quiz shows and mark the end of an era.
JACK NARZ, Host, "Dotto": Thank you, you're very kind, Welcome to Dotto, brought. to you by Colgate toothpaste.
Mr. NARZ: Now, the show that I did went on the air in 1958 and five weeks later, Dotto, the show, was the highest-rated daytime show in the history of television.
Mr. NARZ: There we go.
[interview] Fate is a strange thing, isn't it? A successful thing like that show, two million or more a week sending in postcards to the show, climbing to the heights, number one rating in nighttime -- millions and millions of people watching it, everything just sailing along fantastically well and then some guy opens up a notebook that's about that big and sees some answers and everything ends.
What happened on this show -- there was a standby contestant backstage, a fellow by the name of Hilgemeyer. In this dressing room that all the contestants shared, he saw this lady in a corner making notes in a notebook and keeping rather to herself. Suddenly, somebody came in from the show and said, "You're on next," and I introduced her and she became a contestant on the show.
ANNOUNCER: Dotto welcomes back our new champion from New York, Miss Marie Wynn and --
Mr. NARZ: I'm onstage now at this point out there, doing a show live. This fellow, who was a standby contestant, followed her out and stood in the wings. He noticed that she was giving the answers rather smoothly.
MARIE WYNN, Contestant, "Dotto": The Cask of Amontillado.
Mr. NARZ: You are right
[interview] It looked too pat. He went back into the dressing room and there spotted this notebook that this lady had been writing in. He opened it up and there were the answers in the notebook that she was giving to the questions onstage at that moment.
Armed with the pages of the pages of the notebook, this standby contestant went to the press and told a newspaper reporter. The reporter called CBS. CBS, I guess, decided to look at a kinescope of a show and they matched the answers on this sheet of paper to the answers that she gave on the show and I guess they were a little too pat and they decided, "Well, this looks like it's rigged," and they took the show off the air immediately. That was the end of it.
NARRATOR: Dotto opened the floodgates. Now, all the quiz shows were subject to investigation. The shows fell like ten-pins in a bowling alley, one right after the other. Ratings plummeted. The top-rated $64,000 Question dropped to 73rd place. Rumors resurfaced about Twenty-One. For the first time, Herb Stempel's charges would be taken seriously.
Mr. ENRIGHT: The investigation started by the District Attorney in 1958, I believe it was, in 1958. It was started when Herb Stempel advised the newspapers that he had been rigged.
Mr. STEMPEL: I picked up a copy of a newspaper and read in there that District Attorney Hogan was planning to launch a probe about quiz shows. This was after the Dotto scandal had broken. And I went to a telephone booth - and I remember this as if it happened yesterday - made a call to the District Attorney's office and I was introduced to an Assistant District Attorney by. the name of Joseph Stone.
JOSEPH STONE, Assistant District Attorney, New York City: I interviewed Stempel over a period of about five days. It was very interesting because I really almost didn't have to keep notes of what Stempel told me. All I had to do was buy the newspaper and there was his story. He had told the story to the Journal-American and they had complete notes of what he told them, so this is what they published.
NARRATOR: The newspapers were filled with charges. The question that dominated the headlines for months was whether these charges could actually be proven by the District Attorney. The producer of Twenty-One, Dan Enright, moved quickly to deny that any wrongdoing or fraud had taken place. Enright went on a counterattack, suing the Journal-American and mounting a campaign to discredit Herb Stempel. At a sensational press conference, Dan Enright played a secretly-made tape recording of a conversation he had with Herb Stempel. This tape was presented to the press to demonstrate that Stempel was mentally unstable. To further discredit Stempel, Enright also produced a letter that Stempel had signed at an earlier date, saying that Twenty-One was an honest program, that Barry and Enright were beyond reproach and that no rigging had taken place.
Mr. STEMPEL: I was a damn fool to have signed such a thing, to have agreed to such a thing, but they again held out the prospects of jobs and money and this and that to me and I succumbed to that.
ROBERT LEWINE, Head of Programming, NBC: Dan Enright was the supervising producer of the show and I was the Head of Programming at NBC at the time of the scandal. In the course of our investigation, Dan came to see me in my office at NBC and when I put it to him very bluntly, was he involved, was the show honest, Dan became quite upset, almost to the point of tears and denied that he had had any part in fixing the show.
Mr. O'BRIAN: But as the investigation proceeded, I began to realize that there was some undercurrent. Someone was advising them not to tell the truth.
NARRATOR: Not only did some of the producers lie to the grand jury, but they also had urged contestants to perjure themselves. In lower Manhattan, the grand jury was convened for nine months and heard over 150 witnesses. A majority of them, about 100 contestants, lied under oath. As a lone voice Herb Stempel continued telling the truth to anyone who would listen, but it was Stempel's word against everyone else. There was still no corroborating evidence.
Stempel's testimony to the D.A. and to the grand jury implied that Charles Van Doren was part of the fraud, but Van Doren, still the most acclaimed and respected of all the contestants, continued to insist that he and the show were honest. Of all those involved, the stakes were especially high for Van Doren. No one wanted to believe that he was guilty.
Mr. GOODWIN: Everywhere he went, he was recognized, he was applauded. The nuns in convents would pray for his success every week. And I don't think he had any concept, nor even the producer any concept of how big this was going to become. And he told me he felt he was in the middle of this huge bull ring with hundreds of thousands of people cheering him on and all he wanted to do was get out and he couldn't get out.
NARRATOR: Suddenly, to everyone's surprise, the grand jury testimony was scaled from the public by Judge Mitchell Schweitzer, an unprecedented move in New York State by a judge whose intentions are still not clear. At the time, it was feared that the public might never learn what the grand jury had uncovered. Suspicious of a cover-up, Congress called an immediate investigation. Once just a trivial form of entertainment, quiz shows were now the subject of investigation at the highest level of government.
One of the early witnesses was child actress Patty Duke, who had appeared with another child contestant on The $64,000 Challenge.
Mr. FOX: They coached Patty Duke in the answers. That's when she was about 12. Three years later, she was about 15, she was summoned to testify and she was coached again and she went down and she testified. And she lied until she was ready to step down when one of the avuncular senators looked at her and said, "Now, Patty, is everything you told us here today the truth?" At which point, she broke down and started to cry and said, "No." And they put her back on the stand and then she told the whole story. It was the most poignant and startling demonstration of how widespread and deep this sort of corruption had led us.
NARRATOR: As the investigation was under way, the potential star witness, Charles Van Doren, now a host on The Today Show, was under pressure from NBC to testify, but to avoid the committee's subpoena, Van Doren went into hiding. It was a relatively obscure Twenty-One contestant by the name of James Snodgrass who would finally provide indisputable supporting proof that Twenty-One had been rigged. Snodgrass had documented every detail of the rigging in a series of registered letters he mailed to himself.
JAMES SNODGRASS, Contestant, "Twenty-One": I didn't think it was terribly wrong, but something told me that I had better cover my ass on this. Before each show, I sent myself a registered letter with the questions, the answers and my instructions as to how to comport myself in the isolation booth. Eventually, these letters ended up before a House investigating committee. Now, there was proof that the show was fixed.
They handed me the sealed registered letter that I had sent to myself and I was asked to open it and I read it. [reading] "May 11, 1957- the following are questions for the first game on the television quiz program, Twenty- One. Category: American literature, 11 points. Identify the major American poets who wrote the following lines of poetry."
Now, this was something that they were looking for.
NARRATOR: One month after the hearings began, Charles Van Doren emerged from hiding to appear before a congressional committee. Up until that moment, Van Doren had been unable to admit the truth to anyone, not to his lawyer, not even to his family.
CHARLES VAN DOREN: I said to the committee this morning that I was kind of like a child who refuses to admit a fact in the hope that it'll go away. I got panic-stricken. I've been afraid for a long time. I've been living in a kind of dread for three years - they've not been a happy three years - but I became almost panic-stricken then and I didn't act very well in the next week and so I just ran away. And my wife and I went up into New England and I drove aimlessly around from town to town, trying to reach some kind of peace with myself, trying to come to some conclusion.
I was so deeply involved with my family, my friends, I loved them so much. I could not bear to betray the faith that people had in me. My father had been saying to me, "Tell the truth." He didn't know what it was. I don't think he really cared what it was. It was just something that he knew was the right thing to do.
I made a very, very big mistake and I learned about making mistakes. I learned what you have to do when you make a mistake. I've also learned a lot about life and about human nature, about a man's responsibility.
NARRATOR: Eventually, an anguished Charles Van Doren, one producer and 17 other contestants were formally charged, arrested and convicted of lying under oath to the New York grand jury. All pleaded guilty. All received suspended sentences. None served time in jail. The District Attorney estimated that at least 100 others who testified with Van Doren -- two-thirds of all those who faced the grand jury -- had perjured themselves.
The television quiz show scandal had wide-ranging consequences. Quiz producers were unofficially blacklisted for years and forced out of television. Many contestants, in disgrace, hid from their past. Networks took control of programs away from the sponsors and federal regulations were enacted against broadcast fraud. The scandal left us feeling betrayed. Television had entered tens of millions of homes and lives in an era filled with trust and the violation of that trust chagned our view of a new medium in an age we still like to think of as innocent.