Charles Van Doren, the scion of a prominent family who fell from grace in the 1950s when he was given the answers on the rigged television game show Twenty-One, died Wednesday at the age of 93, The New York Times reported.
A member of a prominent and wealthy New York family, Van Doren was a professor at Columbia University when he was brought onto Twenty-One to be a contestant. Van Doren defeated the show’s previous champion, working-class Queens native Herb Stempel, in 1956 and became the show’s champion. It was later revealed, however, that Van Doren had been given the answers to the questions. He parlayed this into a career as a media celebrity.
The show was exposed as rigged, with Van Doren admitting to a Congressional committee that he had, in fact, received the answers. The scandal was costly for Van Doren, as he pleaded guilty to perjury and lost his jobs both at Columbia and NBC.
After the scandal, Van Doren essentially ceased to be a public figure, spending most of his career with Encyclopedia Brittanica and later retiring to Connecticut.
In Robert Redford’s acclaimed 1994 film Quiz Show, Ralph Fiennes played Van Doren, opposite Rob Morrow as investigator Richard Goodwin and John Turturro as Stempel. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Van Doren had turned down an offer, for $100,000, to serve as a consultant on Redford’s film, which was based on Goodwin’s memoir.
In 2008, Van Doren broke his long silence in a New Yorker essay, in which he reflected on the quiz show scandal. He said in the article that he was bothered by the film’s assertion that he had never taught again after the scandal. He also revealed that around the time of the movie, Ralph Fiennes had driven by his house and even asked him for directions.
“During those four months, Freedman never stopped coaching me, and I came to see just how carefully controlled the show was,” Van Doren wrote of his interactions with the producers on the show. “In our sessions, he would ask me questions, I would answer them—and then he would tell me how to answer them: pause here; add this or that remark or aside; always seem to be worried, anxious; never answer too quickly, let the suspense build up.”
Van Doren, who passed away in a Connecticut nursing home, is survived by his daughter and son, as well as grandchildren.