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“All the Answers”

Each week, Stempel had been told what to do: how many points to choose, how to deliver his answers. He was to pat his brow (it was hot in those glass booths) but not rub it, to avoid smearing his makeup. In addition, he was instructed to get a Marines-type “whitewall” haircut, to wear an ill-fitting suit (it had belonged to his deceased father-in-law), and to describe himself as a penurious student at City College. In fact, he was a Marines veteran married to a woman of some means who once appeared on the set wearing a Persian-lamb coat and was quickly spirited away so that she wouldn’t blow his cover.

Stempel was also told to wear a six-dollar wristwatch that “ticked away like an alarm clock,” as he later testified, and was audible when he stood sweating in the booth, earphones supposedly damping all outside sound. Once, he wore a new suit and had let his hair grow out, for which he was severely chastised by Enright. As Enright apparently believed, a successful game show needed two distinct personalities, one unsympathetic and unattractive, the other the opposite.

Charles Van Doren (of eerily-young-looking-Ralph-Fiennes-in-“Quiz Show”-fame) broke his decades-long silence in 2008 with a piece in the New Yorker, and, after a few seasons of “American Idol,” it seems like a very curious and sincere remnant of a time in which any of these things would surprise us at all.


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