American Experience

The $64,000 question.

The big-money quiz show that spawned a rash of copycats in the mid-1950s was none other than "The $64,000 Question." The idea for the show came from the 45-year old Louis G. Cowan, who created long-time radio quiz show hits such as "Quiz Kids" and "Stop the Music." Years earlier, Cowan had bought the rights to a popular radio show called "Take It or Leave It," which he hadn’t yet figured out how to repackage. Then he remembered the $64 question--the top prize offered on the show--and had the inspiration to expand that figure to $64,000 for the television version of the program.


The first episode of "The $64,000 Question" aired on CBS on June 5, 1955. The show was designed to involve both players and viewers in a drama that extended from one week to the next. It took eleven right answers -- and there were no multiple choices -- to win the full $64,000. The first four questions were provided by an IBM sorter, a cutting-edge technology of the day. The machine was used to create the impression that questions were picked randomly, when in fact all questions were pre-selected. To win at the next level — the $1,000, $2,000 and $4,000 prizes -- contestants answered questions pulled from a New York Manufacturer’s Trust bank vault protected by two guards. At the $8,000 and $16,000 level, contestants entered the isolation booth. The booth was far from sound proof and music was pumped in to drown out answers yelled from the audience. If the contestant answered the $32,000 question correctly, he or she was sent home for a week to consider whether or not to continue on to the final question. Contestants had the option to hold on to the money or risk it all to win the full $64,000. If a contestant decided to go for the $64,000 question, they were permitted an adviser for their final question. The contestants chosen for the show were another ingredient contributing to its appeal. Producers hired five people who worked full-time sorting through the 15,000-20,000 letters sent in by hopeful contestants each week. Their goal was to find ordinary men and women who had some area of specialized knowledge. Who was chosen? The show’s first guest was Redmond O’Hanlon, a Staten Island policeman with an expertise in Shakespeare. His knowledge of the date of the printing of Shakespeare’s first folio won him $16,000. Like many guests who followed, O’Hanlon achieved overnight fame. His appearance prompted offers to go on the lecture circuit and to even write a book on Shakespeare’s puns. Another guest was Catherine Kreitzer, a grandmother with a specialty in the Bible who worked as a typist in a supply depot in Pennsylvania (She later read from the scriptures on the "Ed Sullivan Show"). Gloria Lockerman, a black 12 year old from Baltimore won $32,000 with her spelling abilities. Gino Prato, a 5’ 4" cobbler from the Bronx answered questions about opera. America learned that he waited in line for hours to get standing-room tickets for New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Gino, one of the shows most popular guests, walked away with $32,000 after his father, still in Italy, told him that he has won enough. "The $64,000 Question" was a smash hit from the day of its premiere. One evening during the peak of its popularity, 55 million Americans watched the show, an astronomical viewership. In the first six months of the show, sales for Revlon, the show’s sponsors, increased 54 percent. The following year, Revlon’s sales tripled. Cowan, one of the stars at CBS, was rewarded with a vice presidency of the company. A little less than a year later, the station capitalized on the fortunes of the show by launching a spin-off called "The $64,000 Challenge." The show invited winners from "$64,000 Question" to come back and test their knowledge against challengers. Many of the new show’s contestants were celebrities, such as Vincent Price, who tested his knowledge about art against Edward G. Robinson. In July 1956, a little over a year after the first quiz show aired, "$64,000 Question" and "$64,000 Challenge" were rated number one and two on television. These CBS shows were so successful that they drove one of the most respected shows of all time, the "See It Now" with Edward R. Murrow, from the airwaves. A flurry of imitators followed, including "High Finance," "Giant Step," "Can Do" and "Brains and Brawn." One of the games that jumped on the bandwagon was "Twenty-One," which features Columbia professor Charles Van Doren in the spring of 1957. Through 1957, interest in "$64,000 Question" and "The $64,000 Challenge" dwindled. The producers of "The $64,000 Question" responded by announcing that their show would quadruple its stakes. The first contestant to win big was 10 year old Robert Strom of the Bronx who answered questions in the field of mathematics and went home with $224,000. Not long afterwards, "Twenty-One" had a huge winner of its own, as Elfrida Von Nardroff, a 32-year old personnel consultant from Brooklyn Heights won $220,500 during a 16-week run in the field of history. When the rigging of the CBS game "Dotto" show was revealed in May 1958, ratings for all the quiz shows tumbled. More and more formaer quiz show contestants came forward to reveal how they had been coached. A contestant from "The $64,000 Challenge," the Reverend Charles E. "Stony" Jackson, gave details to a grand jury, saying that he was given answers during his "screening" that enabled him to win. The same week that Jackson testified, P. Lorillard Tobacco dropped "The $64,000 Challenge." By October, 1958, both "Twenty-One" and "The $64,000 Question" were off the air. Louis Cowan, then president of CBS, defended his innocence. He never appeared before the Congressional committee investigating the shows due an illness many suspected was contrived. Cowan, however, was forced to resign from CBS. Many others connected with the quiz show phenomenon were temporarily blacklisted. The quiz shows disappear temporarily from prime-time television, giving way to the next television phenomenon: westerns.

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"The 64,000 Challenge"

"And here is your host, Bill Fox." I stood there for a moment until somebody said, "That's you." 

Dan Enright

Beginning in radio, Enright had worked with Jack Barry to create and produce a series of successful quiz shows.

Herbert Stempel

aAs the man who helped expose Charles Van Doren, the most famous quiz show contestant of all, Stempel earned a place in television history.

American Experience Newsletter

movie 64000 question

Ralph Fiennes in Quiz Show (1994)

A young lawyer, Richard Goodwin, investigates a potentially fixed game show. Charles Van Doren, a big time show winner, is under Goodwin's investigation. A young lawyer, Richard Goodwin, investigates a potentially fixed game show. Charles Van Doren, a big time show winner, is under Goodwin's investigation. A young lawyer, Richard Goodwin, investigates a potentially fixed game show. Charles Van Doren, a big time show winner, is under Goodwin's investigation.


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[At a poker game]

Dick Goodwin : I know you're lying.

Charles Van Doren : Bluffing. The word is bluffing.

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By Richard Bernstein

movie 64000 question

GIVEN THE CONTESTS OF the 90's, with their spinning wheels and flashing boards, it seems amazing that for a brief time in the 1950's, what seemed like deep knowledge of serious subjects could lead to great wealth and celebrity. An obscure graduate student from Queens named Herb Stempel, for example, briefly became about as celebrated as such contrasting heroes of the era as Elvis Presley and Willie Mays simply by answering questions: What was the name of the man who lent his horse to Paul Revere? What was the horse's name? What color was it?

The problem is, of course, that Herb Stempel probably did not know the answers to all those questions, even though, as he mopped his brow before millions of viewers, he offered a pretty good imitation of somebody who did. And who, no matter how smart, could have known all the answers? Richard McCutcheon, a uniformed captain in the Marines who was the first to win the top prize on "The $64,000 Question," correctly named the five dishes and two wines served in 1939 by King George VI to Albert Lebrun, the President of France. Could anyone have got that one without coaching?

But of course if television was going to make heroes out of game show contestants, the contestants had to be astonishing, and television's need to astonish was incompatible with truth telling. That is one of several themes in Robert Redford's new film, "Quiz Show," opening on Sept. 14, which recreates the rapid, dizzying rise and fall of the biggest of the 50's game shows, and the rise and fall of its most celebrated big-money winner, a well-born Columbia University English instructor named Charles Van Doren.

Mr. Van Doren is played by Ralph Fiennes, fresh from a triumphal performance as the Nazi camp commandant in "Schindler's List." The film's other stars are John Turturro as Mr. Stempel and Rob Morrow as Richard Goodwin, who, at the time, was an investigator for the Congressional committee that forced Mr. Van Doren and the shows' producers to publicly admit to fraud.

Mr. Redford sees "Quiz Show" at least in part as a modern retelling of one of the most compelling morality tales in the canon. "I was fascinated," he said, "by the seduction of Van Doren, by the Faustian bargain that lured entirely good and honest people into careers of deception." Stripped to its essentials, the scandal is about people lured into fraud by the promise of wealth -- and the price they said in public humiliation. The Issue Facts Versus 'Essential Truth'

Like another movie associated with Mr. Redford, the 1976 film "All the President's Men," "Quiz Show" recounts an incident well within the living memory of millions. Some of the people involved are still alive and remember, as many others do, the way it really happened. Mr. Stempel, the jealous, upwardly striving Queens resident who was the scandal's chief whistle blower, works in the litigation support unit of the New York City Department of Transportation. He still lives in Forest Hills and has vivid memories of that period.

"I was taunted for many years afterward," he said in an interview the other day. "I was the guy who destroyed Van Doren, and what right did I have to do that? Everything was Van Doren. It was as if I myself didn't have any feelings."

Mr. Goodwin, who went on to a visible career as a Presidential speechwriter and political consultant, was a consultant to Mr. Redford in the making of the film. The movie is based largely on a chapter in Mr. Goodwin's memoir "Remembering America."

Mr. Van Doren, now 68, lives in retirement in his family's home in Cornwall, Conn. (where his wife generally answers the phone and, on behalf of her husband, politely turns down all requests for interviews).

The show's owner, Dan Enright, died in 1992 after a long and successful post-"Twenty-One" career as a producer of daytime television shows. But his assistant, Albert Freedman, lives in New York and works for Penthouse International.

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Although the events of the film occurred within living memory, no one involved in the making of "Quiz Show" is suggesting that it be viewed as a documentary. "We took some dramatic license," Mr. Redford said. "We did things like condense the time frame. We squeezed events that actually stretched out over three years into just a few weeks. We also concentrated what several people did onto one character. But we were very careful not to stray too far from the truth, especially where somebody's reputation was concerned."

Mr. Redford's movie differs, sometimes strikingly, from histories of the period, including Mr. Goodwin's, as well as from the memories of some participants. It also differs from a 1992 documentary on the scandal by Julian Krainin, who went on to serve as a producer of Mr. Redford's film.

The contrast between the events as portrayed by historians and those in Mr. Redford's film suggests a certain irony: even movie makers striving to stick to what Mr. Redford calls the essential truth of the quiz show episode must tamper with reality. It is one of the requirements of entertainment. And of course it was in the service of better entertainment that the producers of the quiz shows engineered the fakes that for a brief few months in the 1950's shocked millions of television viewers. The History Instant Celebrities With Damp Brows

Most people old enough to remember the quiz shows probably recall them as a fading blur of ingredients: the isolation booths; the music to think by; a contestant here and there with an unexpected specialty, like the psychologist Joyce Brothers, whose field was boxing. But if anything is remembered more vividly after four decades, it is probably Mr. Stempel and Mr. Van Doren.

Both were contestants who went along with the fraud, in exchange for winnings, but they were also contrasting figures: one struggling, awkward, lower middle class; the other effortlessly charming, cultivated, upper crust. Mr. Stempel, the less appealing figure, was eventually the truth teller; Mr. Van Doren clung to the lie until forced to admit the truth.

"What attracted me to the story," said Paul Attanasio, a former film critic for The Washington Post and creator of the NBC series "Homicide," who wrote the screenplay for "Quiz Show," "was that you had these two guys with completely different backgrounds and temperaments, one high and one low. Both are confronted by the same choice, and they did the same thing. They both lied and took the money."

The game show that swept Mr. Van Doren and Mr. Stempel into high drama was "Twenty-One," the most lucrative of the dozen or more shows on which ordinary people could win inordinate sums of money in front of immense television audiences. Like the other shows, "Twenty-One" was rigged, and it had to be. David Halberstam, in "The 50's,' his recent history of the decade, quotes one game show producer saying: "You cannot ask random questions of people and have a show. You simply have failure, failure, failure, and that does not make entertainment."

On "Twenty-One," which came on the air in 1956, produced by Enright with Jack Barry as master of ceremonies, contestants were given answers in advance. They were told when to lose and instructed in theatrical gestures like wiping their brows, stammering with uncertainty, sighing with relief when they got the answer right. The producers gambled that nobody would come forward and admit their part in the deception, and they were almost right.

Audiences reached 50 million for the prime-time shows. Sponsors like Geritol (of "Twenty-One") saw their sales skyrocket. Newspapers followed the contests as if they were pennant races. Contestants became national celebrities and won amounts that while small in comparison to what was being raked off by the networks, producers and sponsors were staggering at the time. The Protagonists Three Men Striving To Make It Big

It was against this background that Enright recruited Mr. Stempel, a graduate student with a phenomenal memory, as a contestant on "Twenty-One." Enright drew him into the deception promising to make him rich, and scripted the shows so Mr. Stempel became a kind of indomitable gladiator of the test of knowledge. Then, having set him up, Enright planned his downfall, replacing him with another contestant discovered and coached for his performance by his assistant, Albert Freedman.

This new contestant was Carl Van Doren, the son of the poet Mark Van Doren and in style and background the ideal foil for Mr. Stempel. Mr. Van Doren, too, was drawn into the deception, buying himself a few short months of wealth and fame. He was on the cover of Time magazine and became a $50,000-a-year regular on NBC's "Today" show.

"He once told me that it was like being in a bullring with 100,000 people looking on and no way to get out," Mr. Goodwin said. "At the beginning, he had no idea how big this would be. He became so recognizable, like an intellectual Jimmy Stewart, so there was this sense of being trapped by the whole world."

Finally, as a protagonist in Mr. Redford's film, there is Mr. Goodwin. Like Mr. Stempel, he came from an upwardly mobile family of recent immigrants. But unlike Mr. Stempel, Mr. Goodwin was making it into the meritocratic elite. He had just graduated first in his class from Harvard Law School and was working for the Congressional committee that supervised the Federal Communication Commission, which, in turn, regulated the airwaves.

Mr. Attanasio saw his challenge as creating a drama that would be true to the three men's complex, crisscrossing relationships. Mr. Stempel has a kind of class resentment against Mr. Van Doren, a desire for vengeance and an obsession with getting Enright to reward him for his cooperation. Mr. Van Doren agonizes but never summons the courage to confess. Mr. Goodwin, drawn to Mr. Van Doren and repelled by Mr. Stempel, is reluctantly forced to conclude that the truth lies with the figure he dislikes; he will have to ruin the man who has become his friend. The Fictions A Script That Takes Liberties

The complicated, ambiguous relationships among the three protagonists seems to accord with the accounts of historians and participants. The denouement of the scandal, especially the slow, inevitable process by which Mr. Van Doren was brought from stardom to confession, is generally true to the historical event. At the same time, as Mr. Redford and Mr. Attanasio readily admit, many important details have been changed for the sake of dramatic effect.

The movie shows Mr. Goodwin as far more central to the case than he was in reality. The movie portrays him learning from the newspapers that a grand jury investigation into possible game show fraud had been sealed by the judge in the case. Having a nose for possible corruption, Mr. Goodwin goes to New York to try to pry the grand jury transcript from the judge. When the judge turns him down, Mr. Goodwin becomes a sleuth, tracking down former contestants, until he comes across Mr. Stempel and cracks the case.

As the movie unfolds, Mr. Goodwin is shown coming across a former "Twenty-One" contestant named Snodgrass who before appearing on the show had sent registered letters to himself containing the questions he was later asked on the air and the answers he was given. The letters, still sealed, were proof that Snodgrass had the answers before the dates of his show appearances. In the movie, Snodgrass's evidence breaks open the case, leading to one of the film's most dramatic scenes: Mr. Goodwin presents a copy of Snodgrass's letter to Enright, forcing Enright to admit that "Twenty-One" had been fixed all along.

In reality, matters did not unfold quite that way. Mr. Goodwin came into the quiz show picture well after most of the major disclosures about the fraud had already made headlines. Joseph Stone, who, some years after his stint in the District Attorney's office, became a judge (he is now retired), unearthed much of the information and presented it during a nine-month grand jury investigation. When months later Mr. Goodwin sought the grand jury record, it was made available, and it was from that that he learned most of the facts in the case.

"It was the headlines in the newspaper, first Stempel's whistle blowing and then Snodgrass's whistle blowing, that brought 'Twenty-One' to a close," said Judge Stone, who with Tim Yohn has written a book on the quiz show scandal. Mr. Yohn added: "The whole mechanics of the fixing were known to the public before Goodwin got into the act."

Other details have been altered for dramatic effect. Perhaps most important, Mr. Van Doren, who is sympathetically portrayed, is shown becoming a part of the deception without really intending to. When he is already on the air and inside the isolation booth, he is asked a question that he had answered correctly in the preshow interview.

"Van Doren does get off lightly in the film," allows Mr. Krainin. "The film leaves you with the feeling that Van Doren was tricked into it, but what is closer to the truth is that he saw the show as an opportunity for himself and he went along with the idea when it was presented to him."

How serious are these alterations of historical reality? There are those who feel they are grave moral taints. Judge Stone, for example, condemns "Quiz Show" as "a tawdry hoax." Another person who feels that "Quiz Show" does an injustice to the truth is Mr. Freedman, who is presented in the movie as one of the villains. He argues that the simplification of a complicated story has created a Manichaean cinematic world in which moral judgments are a lot easier than they were in reality.

"Ironically," Mr. Freedman said in an interview shortly before the opening of the movie, "the film is fixed. It is even more rigged than the show it portrays."

Mr. Goodwin disagrees. "I won't say that it's completely historically accurate because that's not the point," he said, "but I think it's authentic in that it catches the essence of wht actually happened." Mr. Attanasio explains that the detective work was all concentrated into the activities of Mr. Goodwin because to have spread it out among several characters would have sapped the movie of its dramatic focus.

"We wanted a bit of a detective story, and the truth is that there wasn't that much of a detective story," Mr. Attanasio said. "Once Goodwin got the grand jury records, it was all sort of laid out and it was a matter of getting somebody interested in it.

"In any case, somebody did the detective work, whether it was Joe Stone or the New York Police Department or somebody else, and I think it was well within the bounds of dramatic license to take all that work and personify it with Goodwin."

"Quiz Show" is entertainment, like the quiz shows themselves; nobody is pretending that the film is historical truth. The irony is that the makers of "Quiz Show" deal with a subject fraught with issues of fact and fiction, memory and reputation. Because they pay such scrupulous attention to getting the small details right, the question is this: Will moviegoers be left with the impression that the larger issues are right as well?

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movie 64000 question

By Ken Auletta

September 19, 1994 P. 46

The New Yorker , September 19, 1994 P. 46

ANNALS OF COMMUNICATIONS about a screening of Robert Redford's movie "Quiz Show," about the TV quiz show scandal of the 1950s, for a group of 24 former and current network executives. Afterward Robert Batscha, the president of the Museum of Television and Radio, moderated a discussion. The film tells how the NBC show "Twenty-One" was fixed so Charles Van Doren would replace Herbert Stempel as the winning contestant, at the insistence of Geritol, the sponsor. Merryle (Bud) Rukeyser, one of the former exec's at the screening, doubts the film's depiction of just how this occurred. Fred Friendly, also present, recalls Edward R. Murrow telling him that "See It Now" would probably be bumped from its time slot by "The $64,000 Question." Irwin Segelstein said the executives were not as bad as the film portrays them; Jerome Feniger disagrees. Delano E. Lewis, president of NPR, praises the film's ethical stance. Stephen Weiswasser, of Capital Cities/ABC, says the problems that led to the quiz show scandal still exist in broadcasting today. Director Redford answered the exec's charges that he had distorted the facts. Raises the issue of docudramas. Reuven Frank, who produced the Huntley-Brinkley news show, says, "There's nothing wrong with docudrama, I think, so long as newspeople don't do it." In fact, all three networks have begun using dramatic reenactments in news programs. The tabloid shows have been most active in this area: Fox's "A Current Affair" used actors to simulate unproved claims of child molestation which a 13-year-old boy had lodged against Michael Jackson. Tabloid TV also lowers standards by encouraging businesses that track true-life crime stories to sell to news organizations, and by encouraging people to sensationalize their stories in interviews. Criticizes reductions in overseas news bureaus, deceptive infomercial formats, and network merger deals.

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The $64,000 Question - Full Cast & Crew

The relatively brief era of 1950s big-money, isolation-booth quiz shows began here with contestants testing their knowledge in a single category. The first question was worth $64, and the value of those that followed doubled, up to a grand prize of $64,000. This was an immediate sensation (its first year, it displaced 'I Love Lucy' as the top-rated series), but its fall was equally famous, a casualty (like so many others) of the game-show scandals that dominated headlines in the fall of 1958.


IT WAS THE best and worst of times, the age of wisdom and folly, the epoch of “The $64,000 Question” and “The $64,000 Challenge.” It was the season of “Twenty-One,” the spring of “Tic Tac Dough,” the winter of “Dotto.”

We had excited quizmasters before us, contestants in isolation booths and cash prizes reaching $264,000. We had crookedness before us.

The television quiz scandals of the late 1950s were the most bizarre, disillusioning chapter in the history of broadcasting. These shocking disclosures of deceit became the big, looping signature of an entire decade, exposing the cynicism of television entrepreneurs who were able to control everything except their own fears of losing their audience. Also exposed were the incredible apathy of trusting Americans and the frailties of winning contestants who were fed answers or manipulated so that their fates were predetermined.

Not all contestants were swept up in the hoax, and those who were co-opted were mostly decent citizens. By rationalizing their roles, however, they became partners in this massive fraud.

October and November mark the 30th anniversary of Congressional hearings on the scandals, hearings that capped this tawdry episode of contemporary Americana. One of many winning contestants who testified there--after his earlier attempts to blow the whistle were ignored or ridiculed--was the Rev. C. E. (Stoney) Jackson Jr., now old and penniless in Denver, Colo. “The scandals,” Stoney says today, “started me on the road to cynicism.”

Stoney Jackson had two ambitions in the fall of 1956. The first was to become a best-selling author. A windy character who read the classics, fancied himself a humorist and philosopher and eagerly shared his folksy erudition with his fellow citizens in Tullahoma, Tenn., Stoney was thinking big at 43, bigger than “Sports Sermon,” the column he was writing for the twice-weekly Tullahoma News. Stoney was planning to make his literary mark by writing a novel that would present his humorous views on contemporary America.

Ordained as a minister in the Disciples of Christ Church, Stoney had another dream: to be a Protestant Father Flanagan working with wayward boys, possibly through sports. Sports was a passion with Stoney, who played freshman football in college and acquired his flat nose from 130 bouts as an amateur welterweight.

Following his father into the clergy, Stoney had run through a string of small-town ministerial assignments in the South. After a childless marriage that he jokingly dismissed as “a great recommendation for celibacy,” he returned to Tullahoma to live with his parents in the two-bedroom home they had built in 1949. Occasionally, he’d fill in for other pastors in the area and devise ambitious schemes.

One was the staging of Christian Bowls, football games on the order of the Sugar, Orange and Cotton Bowls. Stoney began modestly, with Tennessee high school teams, intending to use the profits to build a Christian boys’ home. Instead, he built a $25,000 deficit. Soon he had another plan, however, one he hoped would earn him money to pay his debt. Stoney set his sights on “The $64,000 Question.”

It had been more than a year since the “The $64,000 Question” was introduced on CBS in 1955, ushering in America’s era of big-money quizzes with a flair that hooked viewers immediately. Contestants competed separately in isolation booths while high-tension music ticked off the seconds as they attempted to answer questions held in a vault and then handed to the emcee by a dark-suited banker. What theater.

Sponsored by Revlon, “The $64,000 Question” was an immediate smash, transfixing a nation enthralled by amassing riches vicariously through television. So mesmerizing was it that much of America came to a halt on Tuesday nights when emcee Hal March appeared on camera to start the show.

CBS capitalized on its own creation by adding “The $64,000 Challenge” less than a year later, pitting the older show’s biggest winners against new contestants. Other big-money quiz shows began appearing, too, but most quickly died. Then in the fall of 1956, NBC launched “Twenty-One,” which would ultimately approach the success of “The $64,000 Question” and be exposed as a hoax--the biggest hoax of all.

Quiz shows had become a national ritual, with Americans having found a new set of heroes in these golden contestants who seemed to embody the American ethic of achievement through hard work, ingenuity and brain power. The national addiction to “The $64,000 Question” extended to Stoney, who was captivated by the show’s gaudy payoffs to colorful personalities. Would he ever be one of them? That’s what he wondered after writing to “The $64,000 Question” in New York, advertising his knowledge of boxing and football.

Soon, a woman from the show called. She nixed the sports categories, asking Stoney for an alternative. He suggested movie Westerns. She promised to call back. Several weeks passed, and no call. Stoney fretted. He remembered a magazine article saying the way to get on a quiz show was to pick a “far-out” category. He searched his mind for one. Finally, he had it.

Great lovers!

Stoney chuckled as he envisioned his ex-wife’s reaction to watching him on television being addressed as an authority on “great lovers.” He sent a telegram advising “The $64,000 Question” that his wisdom also extended to romance. The call back was swift. He’d made the show, but with one change: His category was “great love stories.”

The Protestant Father Flanagan was on his way.

He spent 10 days researching his category before being summoned to a meeting in New York with producer Mert Koplin, who questioned Stoney about “great love stories.” Stoney did well, but when he faltered, Koplin supplied the answers.

Stoney went on the show that night, surviving the first round. But, somehow, he felt uneasy. Doubts began to form in his mind--vague, unsettling feelings. What bothered Stoney was that his session with Koplin seemed less a meeting than a rehearsal.

Returning to Tullahoma before his second appearance, Stoney publicly disclosed his uneasiness about the show when he preached in church and later when he addressed a merchants’ group. No reaction. Meanwhile, a fellow minister advised him to stop worrying. Tullahoma News editor Morris Simon, Stoney recalls, flatly told him to “shut up and don’t be an idiot!”

Returning to New York, Stoney put his reservations aside. He was simply enjoying himself too much to be concerned any longer: enjoying being housed in a big hotel with a food allowance, enjoying the attention he was getting from the show’s staff, enjoying the laughter that greeted his jokes, enjoying being recognized on the street. How seductive television was.

“I’m in hog heaven,” Stoney said after passing the $8,000 plateau by answering a question on Longfellow’s “Evangeline”--a question Koplin knew he could answer after their first meeting.

Stoney would also win at $16,000--his finale. In the week preceding that show, Stoney got a signal that he should quit. The signal was silence. He had been pampered and humored by the show’s staff. After becoming an $8,000 winner, however, the atmosphere turned to ice. He was ignored.

“It’s the signal that you’re quitting at $16,000,” a young production assistant confided. That was news to Stoney. “I hope you don’t make the mistake another contestant did when he ignored the signal and decided to go on anyway,” the young woman added. “He was given a question they knew he couldn’t handle, and he lost.”

His usefulness ended, Stoney was being ejected like a show with bad ratings. Knowing that winning at $16,000 was essential to qualify for “The $64,000 Challenge,” Stoney heeded the signal, making it known that if he won at $16,000 he would leave. Suddenly, the ice curtain was lifted and everyone was friendly again.

After winning the $16,000 and saying goodby on camera, Stoney returned to Tullahoma to further study his category and bask in his celebrity. Speech requests poured in, and people clung to his every word.

Two months later he was summoned to New York to appear on “The $64,000 Challenge” against 67-year-old Doll Goosetree of Clarksville, Tenn.

The format called for the isolated challenger and champion each week to be asked an identical question, with the game continuing until one of them missed, making the other the winner. But that would be as far as the victor could go. He would take his winnings and exit along with the vanquished.

Week one: Doll and Stoney answered the $2,000 question.

Two days before the second week’s show, however, Stoney was ushered into the office of producer Shirley Bernstein, who began casually discussing “great love stories.” Did Stoney know who wrote a 19th-Century poem similar to “Hero and Leander”?

He didn’t. “It was Thomas Hood,” Bernstein said. Stoney was silent, not knowing what to say.

On the night of Dec. 29, 1957, the dueling Tennesseans were again in their respective isolation booths. Emcee Ralph Story asked Doll the $4,000 question. It was the one about Thomas Hood that Bernstein had asked Stoney.

Doll was a blank.

When Story asked him the question, Stoney almost jumped out of his skin and for an instant considered shouting: “I know the answer, because Shirley Bernstein gave it to me.” But he didn’t. “The answer is Thomas Hood,” Stoney said. He had won $4,000. But his heart sank, for he was off the show.

Stoney was outraged. He learned later from Doll that Bernstein had misleadingly told her to bone up on Shakespeare. In sabotaging Doll, moreover, the show kept Stoney from advancing.

So angry was Stoney that he wrote Time magazine, revealing all. No reply. Next Stoney repeated his story in a letter to The New York Times. Nothing doing. Stoney called the Nashville Tennessean. Not interested. Lastly, he appealed to Tullahoma News publisher Simon. “No one would believe you,” Simon replied.

The man who soon made it possible for Stoney and other estranged contestants to publicize charges of deception was a standby contestant on the CBS daytime show “Dotto,” who produced unrefutable evidence that the current champion won with pre-fed answers.

Reaction was almost immediate. The show was cancelled. Then came newspaper stories detailing former “Twenty-One” champion Herbert Stempel’s charges that he was ordered to lose to the more charismatic Charles Van Doren, a Columbia University professor who went on to become a national icon and regular on NBC’s “Today” program. Although the charges were denied, the dam was bursting. Other quiz show contestants began talking, too. One who was thrilled to unburden himself when a New York Times reporter called, was Stoney Jackson.

Stoney had already applied his winnings to the Christian Bowls debt and to adding a den to the family house. By now, he felt no guilt about “The $64,000 Question,” believing he earned his victory by studying so exhaustively. Still troubled by “The $64,000 Challenge,” however, he had relieved some of his uneasiness by sending Doll a token $400 check--10%, he felt, was adequate--and writing the show, describing his misgivings and vowing to repay the money in installments if necessary. The response was a written rebuke saying: “Your reasons for wanting to return the money are in your head.”

When word of Stoney’s disclosures in the New York Times reached Tullahoma, its citizens drew their own conclusions about his head--and they weren’t flattering. No one berated him for being sucked into a scam offering dirty money--only for blabbing about it. For Tullahoma’s big tattletale, there would be no further hero worship, no more opportunities to speak or be honored at social events. A heavy aura of disgrace clung to Stoney, who somehow felt required to apologize for his truthfulness. “I was ordained a minister, not a saint,” he said. Tullahoma would testify to that.

Meanwhile, the quiz shows were investigated by a New York County Grand Jury, which lacked authority to subpoena out-of-state contestants such as Stoney. But a final appearance did await him--in front of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, which opened its hearings on the quiz shows Oct. 6, 1959.

Stoney followed Van Doren, who stunned the packed chamber by reversing his previous denials and confessing to having won $129,000 fraudulently. Then he left as he arrived, cocooned by an entourage whose presence signified his importance.

When the hearings reconvened after lunch, Van Doren had been succeeded by an entourage of one--Stoney.

Stoney silently noted the irony: Here he was wearing his old television costume, a pin-striped suit, for another appearance that, unknown to the public, was as scripted as the quiz shows being vilified. A member of the subcommittee’s staff had earlier met with Stoney in Nashville, reviewing in detail exactly the areas to be covered in his testimony. In a curious way, the fix was in again, and all that was missing from the hearings was an isolation booth.

Stoney spent his two hours repeating what he told the New York Times. “Most of us at best have a good bit of larceny in us, if we admit it,” Stoney said, “because this is an age where a lot of respect is directed toward a man with money, and a good deal of looking askance at the man who doesn’t have it, regardless of what his character may be.”

By the time the hearings ended, top executives from CBS, NBC and Revlon had taken turns denying complicity in the riggings. Their naivete was hard to accept; yet the loftier the witnesses, the less combative and skeptical the subcommittee became.

The hearings did lead to legislation banning dishonest quiz shows. In 1960, a producer and 18 contestants, including Van Doren, were indicted for second-degree perjury for lying to that New York grand jury but received suspended sentences after pleading guilty.

In Tullahoma, meanwhile, Stoney Jackson contemplated his future. A year earlier he had set down his lighthearted musings on “great love stories” in a slender volume that he paid to have published. Still under unfinished business was that other book on his agenda, the one about America. He already had a title. He would call it “The Age of Hucksters and Suckers.”

“NEVER WROTE it,” says Stoney, now two months shy of his 76th birthday and still clear-minded about the scandals. “They produced a moral lassitude in America, and I think we are still feeling the results of the betrayal,” he says. “There is an increasingly cynical attitude in this country.”

And in this household.

Life for Stoney Jackson--minister, writer, wit, sportsman-- has come to this: a lonely, bitter existence with his beloved dogs, Pirate and Little Girl, in a squalid, roach-invested mobile home tucked into a run-down trailer court behind a muffler shop. This is a $160-a-month slum. The filth and dilapidation seem irreversible.

Stoney’s monthly income totals a paltry $462 from Social Security and a church pension. Medicare helps with health expenses. A semi-invalid who hobbles on crutches, he is seated at a table piled high with newspapers, leaving just enough space for an old Royal typewriter. Surveying his circumstances and plunge from brief fame to indigent anonymity, Stoney groans wearily: “I look back, I look at myself, I look at the dogs, I look at this place, and I say, ‘This couldn’t have happened.”’

But it did.

After a while, most Tullahomans forgave Stoney, and life was good again. Indulging his love of athletics, he founded the the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and the Churchmen’s Hall of Fame.

Preaching and newspapering remained in his blood, too, evidenced by his sermons in area churches and the column he continued writing for the Tullahoma News. In 1965, he began commuting 50 miles to Alabama for a job as editor of the Huntsville News.

Stoney’s plate was full. He and his retired parents had money in the bank, and the family house was paid for.

Then everything soured. The health of Stoney’s parents began failing and bills from their long hospital stays and home nursing care began piling up--enormous bills that soared far beyond the family’s insurance coverage and financial resources. Stoney’s mother died in 1968, and by the time his 93-year-old father died four years later, Stoney was submerged in debt.

In 1978, Stoney lost his job when he was forced to retire from his job as editor of the Grundy County Herald in Tracy City, Tenn., at age 65. A year later, he lost the house to creditors. He--and his six dogs--were homeless.

He was unwilling to abandon his dogs to live in government-subsidized housing. “I’m supposed to be one of God’s higher creatures,” he says, “and they are supposed to be his lower creatures. If I can’t maintain the same loyalty to them that they do to me, then how much higher does that make me?” So Stoney took his only option: “For 879 consecutive days and nights, I lived in my 1971 two-door Maverick with those dogs,” he says. At first he traveled, then for seven months parked the Maverick on his family’s burial plot in a Tullahoma cemetery. Later he moved to a house at the Pet Rest Memorial Garden in nearby Gallatin, where he gave eulogies for pets.

Finally, he landed in Denver, after a woman who had heard of his plight offered him a newspaper job there. It never materialized. “And I’ve been stuck here ever since,” says Stoney. He flashes a toothless grin. “I have more promises than a vestal virgin, less time than a parking meter and less results than a sterile sire.”

Amid the rubble of his life, he still has goals. “I can still write,” he says, proving it with his column in a neighborhood weekly and his latest project, a canine advice column under Pirate’s byline.

“We’ve gotta get outa this place,” Stoney says. But no escape route appears, as it seemed to many years ago when he sought relief from his problems on a quiz show. That’s a chapter of his life that he will never forget. For Stoney, the scandals were a lesson in human frailty, and he and his fellow quiz-show participants were an early, dramatic demonstration of television’s awesome power to influence and seduce us. “I was suspicious from the beginning,” Stoney says today. “But being an old Southern gentlemen and a nut for good treatment, I did nothing.”

He remains a minister, but his faith has been shaken many times. “There are days when I don’t have anything and all I want to do is live one second longer than my dogs,” Stoney says. “But then I sit down and think that God must have had some continuing purpose for me.” He pauses. “Else why have I survived?”

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