Million Dollar Question

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed May 26 18:27:06 UTC 2010

At 2:10 PM -0400 5/26/10, George Thompson wrote:
>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.

Exactly my experience (only with my own mother, not GAT's); I would
have been too young for the radio show, but heard about it from my
parents when I was puzzled by their apparently puzzling habit of
dividing the payoff (in the expression) by 1000.

>  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.

Charles Van Doren; Mark was his father.  Both were noted men of
letters.  The show was "21", hosted by Jack Barry.  That was actually
the one mired in scandal, although as I recall "The $64,000 question"
and I think other quiz shows were all either implicated or suffered
from guilt by association and cancelled around the same time.  It's
"21" that the (quite good) movie "Quiz Show" was based on.


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