Herb Stempel, the federal whistleblower who uncovered how the NBC recreation present “Twenty-One” was manipulated for rankings, died final month on the age of 93. His dying was confirmed this weekend by Stempel’s stepdaughter to The New York Times.
Stempel’s story was instructed within the Robert Redford movie “Quiz Show,” which starred John Turturro as Stempel and earned 5 Oscar nominations, together with Best Picture. Stempel, an Army veteran attending faculty on the G.I. Bill, utilized to be on “Twenty-One” and was handpicked by producer Dan Enright to be the star of the present, portrayed as an American underdog making hundreds for his household.
Stempel was given the solutions to questions prematurely, successful hundreds throughout his run on the present.
But as rankings started to stage off, Enright turned his consideration to Columbia professor Charles Van Doren, seeing him as a brand new star to maintain viewers . Herb Stempel was satisfied to deliberately miss the ultimate query and permit Van Doren to win after Enright promised that he would discover him a slot on a panel present. Not solely was that promised by no means honored, however Stempel mentioned he felt personally humiliated when the query he was pressured to throw was to determine the winner of the 1955 Best Picture Oscar.
“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,” Stempel mentioned in a 1992 interview with PBS’ “American Experience.” “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.” as an alternative of “On the Waterfront.” I’d have received. There would have been no Charles Van Doren, no well-known movie star. Charles Van Doren would have gone again to instructing faculty and my entire life would have been modified.”
After making an attempt to show “Twenty-One” by way of the press, Herb Stempel went to the authorities. “Twenty-One” grew to become the premise of a New York State investigation that questioned the present’s producers, together with Enright, who denied Stempel’s claims and dismissed him as jealous of Van Doren’s success. When the grand jury’s findings have been sealed by a decide’s order, the investigation escalated to the federal stage.
In February 1957, Stempel testified earlier than Congress about his supply to throw the sport to Van Doren, nevertheless it wasn’t till one other contestant got here ahead with notes he took of questions offered to him by producers that Van Doren and the “Twenty-One” producers lastly confessed. The scandal resulted in adjustments to the Federal Communications Act outlawing rigging of recreation exhibits.
Herb Stempel wouldn’t talk about “Twenty-One” for an additional 35 years, till he was approached by PBS for an interview on “American Experience.” While Stempel mentioned he didn’t like his portrayal by Turturro on “Quiz Show,” he made a number of media and public appearances following the present’s launch, together with an look on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” in the exact same NBC studio the place “Twenty-One” was recorded.
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