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Herb Stempel

Herb Stempel (1926–2020), 1950s TV quiz show whistleblower

by Kirk Fox

Herb Stempel was the contestant on the 1950s TV quiz show “Twenty-One” who exposed that the game was rigged. His story was told in the movie “Quiz Show.”   

  • Died: Tuesday, April 7, 2020. (Who else died on April 7?) 
  • Details of Death: Died at the age of 93. His death was confirmed to the New York Times by his former stepdaughter.   
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TV quiz show “Twenty-One”  

Stempel had an IQ of 170 and won almost $50,000 dollars on the TV quiz show “Twenty-One” which was hosted by Jack Barry. Even though he was bright, the show was rigged and the answers were given to Stempel during his six-week winning streak. The producers wanted the photogenic Columbia professor Charles Van Doren to be the next winner so they set up the game for Stempel to deliberately answer an easy question wrong. He was upset because he was told to answer wrong to what movie won the 1955 Academy Award, told to say “On the Waterfront” when he knew the answer was “Marty.” Stempel reluctantly but agreed as he was promised a job on the show. When the promised job did not happen, Stempel contacted the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the scam was exposed. He was played by John Turturro in the Robert Redford movie “Quiz Show.”  

How the scam started 

According to the Hollywood Reporter, “Twenty-One producer Dick Enright visited Stempel at his apartment in Queens and “started to ask me questions. I knew the answers to most of the questions. Some other questions I didn’t know the answers to, and he filled me in,” Stempel recalled. “Then he leaned back on the couch and said, ‘How would you like to make $25,000, just like that?'” I immediately understood what he was saying, obviously, because he wasn’t about to give me $25,000 for appearing on the program when I could have been easily defeated and gone off with nothing. Once I said, ‘Who wouldn’t?’ I became part of the game show hoax.”  

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What they said about him

Full Obituary: New York Times

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