Quiz show whistleblower Herbert Stempel dead at 93

Herbert Stempel dies at 93

Herbert Stempel, who helped expose rigged television quiz shows during the 1950s, has died, his former stepdaughter told The New York Times. He was 93.

Bobra Fyne told the newspaper that Stempel died April 7. Stempel would be portrayed by John Turturro in the 1994 drama, “Quiz Show.”

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Stempel was a contestant on NBC’s “Twenty-One” in 1956 for eight weeks and won $49,500, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Stempel, with an IQ of 170, later said he was given all the questions and answers in advance by Dan Enright, the producer and co-creator of “Twenty-One,” the newspaper reported.

He also was scripted to take a dive and lose to Charles Van Doren, a Columbia University instructor, the Times reported. Stempel was “defeated” by Van Doren when he purposely botched the answer to the question: Which film won the Academy Award for Best Picture?

Even though Stempel knew the answer was “Marty,” he agonized over the question, while 50 million viewers watched, before answering, “On the Waterfront,” the Times reported.

Stempel had been coached on lip-biting, wiping his forehead and stammering, to lend drama to his appearances, the newspaper reported.

In testimony before investigators, Stempel said, “Remembering the questions was quite easy, but the actual stage directions were the most difficult thing because everything had to be done exactly.”

In an interview for the Archive of American Television in July 2004, Stempel said what he did on the show was not illegal, “but it wasn’t quite kosher,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Van Doren also was part of the deception, and Stempel signed a false statement that he had not been coached as a contestant, the Times reported. Stempel said he was promised more television work by Enright, but when no jobs materialized he went public with accusations that the quiz shows were fixed.

NBC and the show’s producers denied the charges, but “Twenty-One’s” ratings dropped significantly and the show was canceled in 1958, the newspaper reported.

After the scandal, Stempel became a high school social studies teacher in his native New York and later worked for the New York City Department of Transportation, Variety reported.

He assisted in a 1992 documentary about the scandal for the PBS series “American Experience” and was a paid consultant on “Quiz Show.” Stempel made a cameo appearance in “Quiz Show."

Herbert Stempel, the whistleblower who exposed the 1950s television quiz show scandal, died April 7. He was 93. His death was announced May 31.
Herbert Stempel, the whistleblower who exposed the 1950s television quiz show scandal, died April 7. He was 93. His death was announced May 31. (Bettmann/Getty Images)