Million Dollar Question

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Wed May 26 18:10:01 UTC 2010

There was a radio show in the 40s called Double or Nothing that was based on a quiz, with prizes ascending to $64.  The punchline of the show seems to have been "are you ready for the $64 question?"   I don't recall the show at all -- but my mohter would use the expression "that's the $64 question", meaning that's the major issue.  The show premiered in 1940, continued through 1954 -- this according to On the Air: The Encycl. of Old-Time Radio.  It spawned a show called "The $64,000 Question", on TV, beginning in 1955 -- This was the show that sent xxx Van Doren* into a mire of infamy, when it was revealed that he had been fed the answers to the $64,000 question.  As I recall, some of our more useless politicians raced to the scene, holding hearings and proposing to make it a federal offense to rig TV game shows.  Fortunately, the country had no problems at the time, only segregation and a few other matters, and so Congress was free to deal with this crisis.

* I forget his name: Charles, Jr.?  He was the son of either Charles or Mark, noted men of letters of the era.

So in 1940, Americans were rivetted by the possibility that one of their fellow citizens might win $64; 15 years later it took $64,000.  But it's taken 55 more years to go from $64,000 to the present day lottery payoffs.

GAT (the guy who still looks things up in books).

George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.

----- Original Message -----
From: victor steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
Date: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 1:34 pm
Subject: Million Dollar Question

> Has anyone ever analyzed the variations in the "That's an/the X Dollar
> Question"? I just heard a reporter say, "That's a hundred billion
> dollar question", in reference to some NYC board approval or
> disapproval of the downtown Islamic Center. I can unequivocally say
> that this is the /largest/ figure I have ever heard associated with
> the phrase. The inflation of the figures in this phrase does sound a
> lot like the evolution of Dr. Evil ransom demands in Austin Powers.
> VS-)
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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