Charles Van Doren

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Charles Van Doren (born February 12, 1926) is an American intellectual and former TV quiz show contestant. In the late 1950s he was involved in a scandal when he confessed that he had been given the right answers by the producers of the show, who had wanted to attract more viewers that way.

The son of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mark Van Doren and novelist and writer Dorothy Van Doren, Van Doren was a committed academic with an unusually broad range of interests. He earned a B.A. degree in English literature from St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, and went on to obtain a master's degree in astrophysics and a doctorate in English, both at Columbia University.

In 1956, he applied to be an contestant on the game show Twenty-One. Seeking to bolster fading ratings, the producers of the show engineered a dramatic rise to prominence for the polite and presentable Van Doren. Van Doren would be Herb Stempel's replacement. Starting from January, 1957 he entered a winning streak that ultimately earned him over $138,000 and he became hugely famous, appearing on the cover of TIME magazine on February 11 1957. His run finally ended March 11 1957, when he lost to Vivienne Nearing, a lawyer whose husband Van Doren had previously beaten.

When allegations of cheating were first circulated, Van Doren repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, saying "It's silly and distressing to think that people don't have more faith in quiz shows." Finally, on November 2, 1959, he admitted to the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, a Congressional committee, that he had been given questions and answers in advance of the show.

An assistant professor at Columbia University, in his later years Van Doren became an editor of the Encyclopædia Britannica and the author of several books, of which A History of Knowledge is probably his most famous.

The story of his quiz show scandal, and Van Doren in particular, is depicted in the film Quiz Show (1994).

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