Charles Van Doren Dies

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Charles Van Doren of quiz show infamy has passed away at age 93.  It now seems almost quaint, but most Americans were genuinely shocked back in the Fifties to learn that many of the quiz shows they were watching on television were fixed, and that Charles Van Doren, scion of a family of intellectuals, who had achieved fame and fortune by his appearances on the show Twenty-One, had gone along with the cheating which had allowed him to win.  Van Doren initially vigorously denied cheating, but sang a different song when the evidence became overwhelming.  When he appeared before a Congressional committee he was contrite:

I was involved, deeply involved, in a deception. The fact that I, too, was very much deceived cannot keep me from being the principal victim of that deception, because I was its principal symbol. There may be a kind of justice in that. I don’t know. I do know, and I can say it proudly to this committee, that since Friday, October 16, when I finally came to a full understanding of what I had done and of what I must do, I have taken a number of steps toward trying to make up for it. I have a long way to go. I have deceived my friends, and I had millions of them. Whatever their feeling for me now, my affection for them is stronger today than ever before. I am making this statement because of them. I hope my being here will serve them well and lastingly.

I asked (co-producer Albert Freedman) to let me go on (Twenty-One) honestly, without receiving help. He said that was impossible. He told me that I would not have a chance to defeat Stempel because he was too knowledgeable. He also told me that the show was merely entertainment and that giving help to quiz contests was a common practice and merely a part of show business. This of course was not true, but perhaps I wanted to believe him. He also stressed the fact that by appearing on a nationally televised program I would be doing a great service to the intellectual life, to teachers and to education in general, by increasing public respect for the work of the mind through my performances. In fact, I think I have done a disservice to all of them. I deeply regret this, since I believe nothing is of more vital importance to our civilization than education.

Van Doren received accolades from some for finally coming clean.  However, Congressman Steven Derounian (R.NY) was having none of it:

“Mr. Van Doren, I am happy that you made the statement, but I cannot agree with most of my colleagues who commended you for telling the truth, because I don’t think an adult of your intelligence ought to be commended for telling the truth.”

Being fast on one’s feet intellectually, and the glibness that usually accompanies that ability, tend to be vastly overrated in our society.  Simple honesty, that base foundation for all the virtues, vastly underrated.

 

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4 Comments

  1. “Being fast on one’s feet intellectually, and the glibness that usually accompanies that ability, tends to be vastly overrated in our society. Simple honesty, that base foundation for all the virtues, vastly underrated.”

    Well said. And so true.

  2. Decades of employment at Encyclopaedia Britannica and what people remember of him is a six week period as a game show contestant. (IIRC, his accuser Herbert Stempel was also implicated in the scam, but seems to have escaped any ignominy).

    Fun fact. A dear friend of mine was in the van Doren family’s social circle. (His father was buds with Carl van Doren). Don’t recall what he had to say about Chas., but he was adamant that Carl van Doren and Mark van Doren were men of quite different character (and his assessment of Mark van Doren was harsh).

  3. Orwell: “We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”

  4. Being fast on one’s feet intellectually, and the glibness that usually accompanies that ability, tend to be vastly overrated in our society.

    I think the ability to be glib tends to be conflated with being mentally agile– when it may be better classed as a social skill.

    Some very smart people, like Churchill, deliberately cultivate the ability to do a quick and clever response in order to be identified as intelligent.

    But I agree, it is vastly over-rated, especially in the forms that are about doing folks harm.
    (I delight in word-play, even though verbally I’m ever coming up with great lines waaaaaay after they are of use. But I hate hurting people, or seeing them hurt, and that’s become a lot of even humor.)

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