Albert Freedman, Producer of Rigged 1950s Quiz Show, Dies at 95

At first, no potential rivals for Mr. Stempel thrilled Mr. Freedman, he told the Archive of American Television in 2000. Then, by chance, Mr. Freedman went to a party in Greenwich Village.

“Sure enough, God listened to me, and there was this Charles Van Doren,” he said, adding, “He was very charming and easygoing, and I said, ‘How would you like to appear as a contestant on my show?’”

In an article he wrote for The New Yorker in 2008, Mr. Van Doren recounted how Mr. Freedman had persuaded him to participate by dangling the possibility of augmenting his modest teaching salary with thousands of dollars in winnings. And Mr. Freedman told him how he would help him win.

Photo

Charles Van Doren, right, was a contestant on “Twenty-One,” a quiz show hosted by Jack Barry, left, and produced by Albert Freedman.

Credit
NBC, via Photofest

“Jack would ask you a question you could answer and Stempel couldn’t,” Mr. Freedman told him, referring to the host, Mr. Barry, according to Mr. Van Doren. No one else would know, the producer assured him. Not Mr. Barry, not Mr. Enright — and not the show’s powerful sponsor.

“In our sessions,” Mr. Van Doren wrote, “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.”

Mr. Freedman embraced the subterfuge because it allowed popular contestants like Mr. Van Doren — whose father, Mark Van Doren, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and a professor at Columbia — to return week after week and lift ratings for NBC and Geritol.

“I gave him the questions, and I assumed he would know how to play it,” Mr. Freedman told the archive.

Mr. Van Doren faced off against Mr. Stempel starting in November 1956, each standing in isolation booths that were not air-conditioned, answering questions in the quest to reach 21 points (thus the name of the show). Some games ended in ties; in one, Mr. Stempel incorrectly answered that “On the Waterfront” had won the Academy Award for best picture in 1955. Mr. Stempel knew the correct answer — “Marty,” one of his favorite movies — but said afterward that he had been told by Mr. Enright to give the wrong one.

He lost a final game, 18-10, to Mr. Van Doren, and took home $49,500.

Quiz-show rigging would be exposed in investigations by the New York district attorney Frank Hogan and the House Subcommittee on Legislative Oversight. The investigations formed one of the story lines in Robert Redford’s 1994 film “Quiz Show,” which featured Hank Azaria as Mr. Freedman, John Turturro as Mr. Stempel and Ralph Fiennes as Mr. Van Doren.

Mr. Freedman was indicted…

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