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“A Make-Believe World”: Contestants Testify to Deceptive Quiz Show Practices

Television had become the nation’s largest medium for advertising by the mid-1950s, when the Revlon cosmetics corporation agreed to sponsor The $64,000 Question, the first prime-time network quiz show to offer contestants fabulous sums of money. As Revlon’s average net profit rose in the next four years from $1.2 million to $11 million, a plethora of quiz shows tried to replicate its success. At the height of their popularity, in 1958, 24 network quiz shows—relatively easy and inexpensive to produce—filled the prime-time schedule. Many took pains in their presentation to convey an aura of authenticity—contestants chosen from ordinary walks of life pondered fact-based questions inside sound-proof isolation booths that insured they received no outside assistance. To guarantee against tampering prior to airtime, bank executives and armed guards made on-air deliveries of sealed questions and answers said to be verified by authorities from respected encyclopedias or university professors. When the public learned in 1959 that a substantial number of shows had been rigged, a great many were offended. One survey, however, showed that quite a few viewers didn’t care. Following the revelations, prime-time quiz shows went off the air, replaced in large part by series telefilms, many of which were Westerns. The industry successfully fended off calls for regulation, and by blaming sponsors and contracted producers, networks minimized damage and increased their control over programming decisions. In the following testimony to a Congressional subcommittee, one contestant offered proof that he had been coached, while a second refused to acknowledge “moral qualms” in perpetrating the fraud. A third, a teenager, related how she “goofed” and won a match that she was supposed to tie.


Mr. LISHMAN. Mr. Snodgrass, is it not a fact that on the occasions when in advance you were given the questions and answers, you would put them in a sealed envelope immediately after receiving them and address them to you at your home address in a registered mail envelope?

Mr. SNODGRASS. That is right.

Mr. LISHMAN. What was your purpose in doing this?

Mr. SNODGRASS. Well, I still haven’t explained it to myself. It was just something that I knew maybe some day—that maybe I would have to prove, that I would perhaps say something and I would be called to task for it, and I would have to be able to prove it. I don’t know. I just did this to protect myself.

Mr. LISHMAN. Now, Mr. Snodgrass, is it not a fact that when you were given these questions and answers in advance, you were instructed to memorize them and immediately destroy them.

Mr. SNODGRASS. I was never given anything to destroy. The questions were always read to me.

Mr. LISHMAN. Did you type them up immediately?

Mr. SNODGRASS. When I would go home, I would then reconstruct the session and send it to myself.

Mr. LISHMAN. Now, Mr. Snodgrass, I am going to hand you—

The CHAIRMAN. Just a moment, Mr. Lishman. Let me get a little more information from him about this.

Mr. Snodgrass, let me see if I understand you correctly. Where would you be when these questions and answers would be given to you?

Mr. SNODGRASS. In Mr. Freedman’s office at the offices of Barry & Enright.

The CHAIRMAN. They would present you with the questions there in writing?

Mr. SNODGRASS. He read them off a piece of paper. He asked me the questions.

The CHAIRMAN. He asked you the questions?


The CHAIRMAN. You would undertake to answer them at that time?

Mr. SNODGRASS. That is right.

The CHAIRMAN. And if you did not know the answer, he would provide the answer?

Mr. SNODGRASS. He provided the answer; yes, sir.

The CHAIRMAN. Then you would go home?

Mr. SNODGRASS. I would go home. He provided the answer and maybe the sequence that they were to be answered in. Then I would go home.

The CHAIRMAN. You would go home and reconstruct them on the typewriter?

Mr. SNODGRASS. In one case longhand, twice on the typewriter, and sent them to myself by registered mail. . . .

Mr. LISHMAN. Mr. Snodgrass, I am going to hand you a sealed envelope. I don’t know the contents in it. I would like to have you first, before opening it, read exactly what there is on the face of this letter and indicate how it was registered and the date and so on, and ask you whether or not it is not addressed to you in your own handwriting? Is it not one of the letters that you mailed as you have just described?

(Document handed to witness.)

Mr. SNODGRASS. The envelope is addressed to Mr. James Snodgrass, 231 West 16th Street, New York, N.Y. The sender’s name is J. Snodgrass, 231 West 16th Street, New York, N.Y. It was mailed and registered at the Old Chelsea Station, New York, N.Y., May 11, 1959.

Mr. LISHMAN. Is that one of the letters that you mailed to yourself?

Mr. SNODGRASS. This is one of them; yes, sir.

Mr. LISHMAN. That letter is not opened; is it?

Mr. SNODGRASS. No, sir; it has not been opened.

Mr. LISHMAN. Is there a stamp mark showing the date on the face side of that envelope showing it had been posted May 11, 1957?

Mr. SNODGRASS. Yes. The meter thing from the post office is May 11, 1957, New York, N.Y., 43 cents worth of postage, 415674 is the registry number.

Mr. LISHMAN. Thank you. I will state for the committee that we have the benefit of a police laboratory report of the New York City Police Department that this letter has not been opened, and it has been delivered to us in the same condition as reported by the Police Department of the City of New York. At this time, I would like to ask that this letter be received in the record, following which I would like to have Mr. Snodgrass open that letter and read its contents into the record. I would like to have him do this publicly so all members can see that he is opening an unopened registered letter. . . .

Mr. SNODGRASS (reading) :

NEW YORK, N.Y., May 10, 1957.

To whom it may concern:

The following are some of the questions, specifically the one I will be asked for the television quiz show “Twenty-one” on the night of May 13 (Monday).

First category: “Movies”—I take 11 points. The question is worth 11 points.

In the story of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” after she is banished from the palace of her stepmother, the Queen, Snow White goes to live in the forest with seven dwarfs. In the Walt Disney version, what were the names of the seven dwarfs?

(I shall answer in this sequence—Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Happy (pause) the grouchy one, Grumpy (pause) Doc (pause) Bashful.

Second category: “England”—I take 10 points.

What was the name of the ruling houses to which the following monarchs belonged—Richard II, Henry VII, Edward V, George VI?

(I shall answer something like this. Richard II was the last of the Plantagenets; Henry VII was a Tudor. I shall then ask to come back to Edward V. George the Sixth of course was of the House of Windsor. Then I think about Edward V and mention that he was the kid murdered in the Tower of London by Richard III; he was not a Tudor, he was of the House of York.)

That ends the first game with a score of 21. Presumably Bloomgarden and I shall be tied.

The CHAIRMAN. Who was he?

Mr. SNODGRASS. He was the champion and I was the challenger.

The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Bloomgarden.

Mr. SNODGRASS. Bloomgarden. He was the champion and I was the challenger.

First round game 2: “Presidents.”

The first President of our country was a President—

I will read it as it is—it doesn’t make sense:

The first President of our country was a President as was President Eisenhower. Identify the following Presidents who also were generals. This man won fame by defeating the British at New Orleans during the War of 1812? (I answer correctly—Andrew Jackson.) This general led the American forces at the Battle of Thames in 1813? (I stress the fact that Thames is in Ontario, Canada, also during the War of 1812. William Henry Harrison.) This man enlisted in the army as a private, was appointed a brigadier general and fought with General Scott in capture of Mexico City—(According to the plan of the show I am to miss this question. I am to say “Ulysses S. Grant” which is wrong. The proper answer is “Franklin Pierce.” This general defeated Santa Ana at the Battle of Buena Vista? (Zachary Taylor.)

Second round—“The Twenties” (I again try for 11 points since I am at zero.)

The following authors were awarded the Pulitzer prize in the twenties. Name the work for which they received this prize.

Stephen Vincent Benet (“John Brown’s Body”), Edna Ferber (for her novel “So Big”), Edith Wharton (for “The Age of Innocence”), Thornton Wilder (“The Bridge of San Luis Rey”).

I must say in the dressing room prior to the program there was a change in schedule and I was told not to miss the question but to get it right. So there will be a discrepancy here between what is on this paper and what actually happened. . . .


The CHAIRMAN. Do you have an occupation or business or profession?


The CHAIRMAN. Are you familiar with what is referred to commonly as the “Dotto” show?

Mrs. HILLMAN. Yes.

The CHAIRMAN. Were you a contestant on the show?

Mrs. HILLMAN. Yes, I was.


Mrs. HILLMAN. In February 1958. It was around the 22d or 23d, somewhere in there.

The CHAIRMAN. How many times did you appear on the show?

Mrs. HILLMAN. Five times.

The CHAIRMAN. Consecutively?

Mrs. HILLMAN. Yes. Well, there was a weekend intermission, but 5 actual days.

The CHAIRMAN. Very well, Mr. Lishman, you may proceed.

Mr. LISHMAN. Mrs. Hillman, you appeared on the daytime “Dotto” show?

Mrs. HILLMAN. Yes, I did.

Mr. LISHMAN. If I told you that you appeared on that show on February 20, February 21, February 24 and February 25, in 1958, would that be correct?

Mrs. HILLMAN. I think so.

Mr. LISHMAN. Before you appeared as a contestant on “Dotto,” did anyone furnish you with questions and answers in advance of the show, and on occasion also tell you the name of the person who would be represented in the finished picture?

Mrs. HILLMAN. Well, in a very—yes. Specifically, yes. It was not done that precisely.

Mr. LISHMAN. Your answer is yes, and we would like to have you explain how it was done.

Mrs. HILLMAN. Each morning we would go to the studio. We would each be taken separately by Stan Green into a dressing room.

Mr. LISHMAN. Was it always Mr. Green that would do this?

Mrs. HILLMAN. With me it was. He would say, for instance, what do you know about baseball. Then you would say what? He would say, well, who has a home run record, and you would say Babe Ruth. Then he would ask a couple of other questions about baseball. Then he would say if you don’t know, for instance, oh, certainly you know, it is Joe DiMaggio. Then he would say, how would you recognize Mickey Mouse? You would say he has little bitty ears and a button nose and so forth. Actually the first day I was on the show he did throw me a curve and I think quite inadvertently, because he asked me in the preliminary thing how I would recognize Victor Borge. We went through this bit. Then when I got on the show and was answering the questions, I got my first clue and it was Danish. I didn’t think too much about that. Then the second clue was a musician. How many Danish musicians do you know? I couldn’t believe it was possibly the man he mentioned because I thought this was all very upright.

Mr. LISHMAN. Up to that point you thought it was honest?

Mrs. HILLMAN. Yes, I really did. Some of the questions sounded a little familiar to me, but I thought they were being kind. It was my first day around. Finally I had to give in and say Victor Borge. I was right and won. When I went off the stage I popped over to Mr. Green and started to thank him, and he said hush, hush. From then we played the whole thing like a solemn minuet, like everybody bowing and smiling and taking you back and forth and pretending nothing at all was going on. We would have these little talks, but we never came clean with each other. We got very cozy. Nice man and everything else. We pretended nothing else was done.

Mr. LISHMAN. You pretended you didn’t know what Mr. Green was doing, and he pretended he didn’t know what you were doing?

Mrs. HILLMAN. That is right.

Mr. LISHMAN. It is certainly a make-believe world, I can see that. It is a fact that you were given the questions and answers by Mr. Green on each and every time that you appeared?

Mrs. HILLMAN. Up until the last day.

Mr. LISHMAN. Were you told on the last day that your services as an actress would no longer be required?

Mrs. HILLMAN. That is a perfect way of putting it. That morning when I went in the little room with Mr. Green, he said today you can go on cold.

Mr. LISHMAN. He said what?

Mrs. HILLMAN. He said today you go in cold. We sat and had a cigarette and chatted perfectly amicably, and went in cold and missed totally on the picture. Those “Dotto” pictures were hopeless unless they did give you a little help.

Mr. LISHMAN. You mean without a clue it would be almost impossible for a normal person to recognize them?

Mrs. HILLMAN. I think so. . . .

Mr. ROGERS. Did it ever occur to you, Mrs. Hillman, or did you think about it from a moral standpoint what you were doing might be taking part in something that was fraudulent insofar as the American public was concerned?

Mrs. HILLMAN. I really didn’t.

Mr. ROGERS. You say you really didn’t?


Mr. ROGERS. Have you ever worried about what you did?

Mrs. HILLMAN. Honestly, I am perfectly blithe about it.

Mr. ROGERS. You think it was all right?

Mrs. HILLMAN. Yes.

Mr. ROGERS. Nothing wrong with it as long as you can make the people believe that you are being honest; that answers the question.

Mrs. HILLMAN. They were having a happy time; so was I. Everybody was.

Mr. ROGERS. As long as the are having a happy time. Would you think that same thing applied to contests in football or baseball or basketball or boxing?

Mrs. HILLMAN. No. Because those are genuine sporting events. They are not put on per se as an entertainment. Wrestling, I think, is a perfectly good analogy. . . .

Mr. ROGERS. You feel that as long as it is entertainment, it makes no difference whether it is honest or dishonest insofar as the participants are concerned, if the people are entertained?

Mrs. HILLMAN. I really don’t. I don’t think it is that serious.

Mr. ROGERS. You do not think it is serious at all?


Mr. ROGERS. You do not think this situation is serious with regard to the “Twenty-one” show?

Mrs. HILLMAN. It may have implications in terms of, you know, advertising, all that kind of thing. I never thought of that as a contest. I didn’t have any moral qualms about it. . . .


The CHAIRMAN. Were you a contestant on the quiz show “Tic-Tac-Dough”?

Miss FALKE. Yes, I was.

The CHAIRMAN. Do you recall when?

Miss FALKE. It was December 26 and 27 of 1956.

The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Lishman, you may proceed.

Mr. LISHMAN. Miss Falke, how old were you at that time?

Miss FALKE. I was 16.

Mr. LISHMAN. How did you come to be a contestant on “Tic-Tac-Dough”?

Miss FALKE. In answer to more or less an audition for a folk singer.

Mr. LISHMAN. Did you make an application to be a contestant on this program?

Miss FALKE. No. I was notified that there were some TV shows or a TV show that was looking for someone who could sing folksongs, and I went.

Mr. LISHMAN. You went to the offices? Where did you go?

Miss FALKE. I don’t know. I believe it was an office on Madison Avenue. I don’t know the exact place.

Mr. LISHMAN. Who did you audition for?

Miss FALKE. I remember singing in the office of Mr. Dan Enright.

Mr. LISHMAN. Mr. Enright?

Miss FALKE, Yes.

Mr. LISHMAN. Did you have a conversation with Mr. Enright about going on the program “Tic-Tac-Dough”?

Miss FALKE. Yes, I did.

Mr. LISHMAN. Do you remember what was said?

Miss FALKE. Not all of it. I do remember that the general plan was that I would go on the program and it was mentioned that if I happened to do well that possibly—my sister sang also—it might even work out that she could come on the program and sing a duet with me.

Mr. LISHMAN. Were you later asked to see a Mr. Howard Fisher?

Miss FALKE. Yes, I was.

Mr. LISHMAN. Who was Mr. Fisher?

Miss FALKE. I don’t quite know his exact position or status. All I know is that he was the person with whom I did most of my business. . . .

Mr. LISHMAN. Did he give you a card catalog to look at?

Miss FALKE. Yes, he did give me a card catalog. That brings back a couple of memories. In the offices after I had been introduced to Mr. Dan Enright, I was taken into some smaller offices. As I walked in I noticed a tall redheaded gentleman going through some cards. I was given a card file similar to that with several categories in it. My next few mornings were spent going through the card catalog.

Mr. LISHMAN Did those cards have questions and answers on them?

Miss FALKE. Yes, they did. . . .

Mr. LISHMAN. Were these the same questions and answers which were given later in the program by you?

Miss FALKE. I was told when I went through all these cards that these particular questions, all of the card files full of them, were the ones that were chosen to be presented as questions on the show. I was not told at that time exactly which questions would be asked.

Mr. LISHMAN. When you went there, did you think that the show was an honest contest?

Miss FALKE. I had actually not even thought about that aspect of it.

Mr. LISHMAN. Did Mr. Fisher tell you how long you would be able to stay on the program?

Miss FALKE. The final plan was that I would be on there approximately 2 days, maybe more. At any rate, I would tie twice with Tim Horan and finally beat him. At that point the interest would be enough that I could possibly bring my sister on to the show also. . . .

Mr. LISHMAN. On the first day you were given the questions and answers in advance of your appearance on the show itself, is that correct?

Miss FALKE. No. If you mean I was given the questions that were asked on that particular show—given the exact questions that were being asked on that show—I was not. I was given lots of questions to go through. They perhaps chose their questions from those.

Mr. LISHMAN. But among those questions that you were shown were the questions that were asked you when you went on the show, is that correct?

Miss FALKE. Yes.

Mr. LISHMAN. When Mr. Fisher handed you these cards, what did he tell you to do?

Miss FALKE. I was told to just memorize them as best I could because the questions that would be asked of me were included in these card files. I wrote as many down as I could remember, which were quite a few, and took them home and studied them, faithfully.

Mr. LISHMAN. Was each and every question that you were asked on the air a question that you had previously read from the cards you have just mentioned?

Miss FALKE. I think so.

Mr. LISHMAN. Were you ever told to lose?

Miss FALKE. No.

Mr. LISHMAN. Did Mr. Fisher tell you what categories to choose?

Miss FALKE. Not the first day. The second day I was told just before the show to choose two categories, boxing and President Eisenhower. I don’t remember the order. He said, “You remember the questions.” The morning before that or the day before that he had gotten much more specific about the questions. In other words, he narrowed the area down that the questions would be chosen from. Then that morning before the show he said, “Do you remember the questions about boxing and Eisenhower”? and I said I did. I was not too sure of them. But I thought I would probably recall them once the questions were asked of me. I was to choose boxing and Eisenhower in a particular order. There was some kind—I believe this was to have me tie with Tim Horan.

Mr. LISHMAN. To tie with somebody?

Miss FALKE. To tie with the contestant.

Mr. LISHMAN. Were you told that you were going to tie with the contestant?

Miss FALKE. Yes. The idea was that I was to tie with him for 2 days and then beat him.

Mr. LISHMAN. Did you tie with him as Mr. Felsher told you?

Miss FALKE. I tied him the first time. The second time I went through the questions in the wrong order and botched everything up. I defeated him.

Mr. LISHMAN. In other words, you defeated your opponent by accident?

Miss FALKE. I did.

Mr. LISHMAN. What did Mr. Felsher have to say about it?

Miss FALKE. Immediately after that there was a station break and Mr. Felsher came rushing across the stage, pulling his hair out, and he said, do you realize what you have done? I said “Yes.” I didn’t, really, but there was not much else I could say.

He was trying to console me and scold me and do everything at the same time. He was still in the rush of the time that was allowed for the commercial and he would shoot off the stage and I went on to be defeated by the next contestant.

Mr. LISHMAN. Were you supposed to be defeated by the next contestant?

Miss FALKE. Well, I will tell you. They had not given me the questions for the next contestant.

Mr. LISHMAN. After the show was over, in which you had in his view, botched up, and won, did Mr. Felsher say anything further to you?

Miss FALKE. Yes. He came over to me afterwards and I was rather petrified because I remember before the show I had said to him, pertaining to questions being given to the contestant, has anyone ever goofed before?

He said “No.” I said, “Well, I have a feeling I am going to.” He said, “Oh no, you won’t.” You know, so in a way I did.

Afterward when he came over to me he was very fatherly in a very stern kind of way and said it was OK and I should not worry about it. I said, “haven’t a lot of careers been ruined and everything”? He said, “Yes, but don’t worry about it.”

Mr. LISHMAN. Did Mr. Felsher tell you never to tell your family or friends that you had been given this assistance?

Miss FALKE. Yes, sir; he certainly did. I was not to tell anyone, not even my mother or my boyfriend or anything.

Mr. LISHMAN. Therefore, you did not tell your mother for some time, is that correct?

Miss FALKE. I did not tell my mother until after the scandal broke in the newspapers which is quite some time now.

Mr. LISHMAN. Can you tell us what you did then?

Miss FALKE. I told her directly that I had received answers and questions. Up until that time whenever anyone questioned me I misled them or I joked around or said that I was. My kidding manner made them assume that it wasn’t.

Mr. LISHMAN. When the grand jury investigation started, did Mr. Felsher try to stop you from telling the truth before the grand jury?

Miss FALKE. His words were to tell the truth, but he knew what the truth was and I knew what the truth was and there was some confusion there, although I am sure he did not want me to tell. He did get in touch with me ahead of time.

Mr. LISHMAN. Would he say something to you like this: “Now, Miss Falke, you tell the truth that you were given no assistance on these programs”?

Miss FALKE. That is about it.

Mr. LISHMAN. Is that the kind of language that he would use with you?

Miss FALKE. I believe that is almost word for word what he said.

Mr. LISHMAN. Did Mr. Felsher call you on more than one occasion about this?

Miss FALKE. Yes. He called me first where I was working and told me that I was probably going to be contacted by the district attorney’s office and that they would be kind of mean to me but not to really be scared and just stick to my guns and tell them the truth, that I didn’t get any answers. . . .

Source: Congress, House, Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, Investigation of Television Quiz Shows, 86th Cong., 1st Sess., October 6–10, 12, 1959 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1960).

See Also:"Every Effort Was Made to Control the Shows": A Television Producer Details and Defends Deceptive Quiz Show Practices
"A Sop to the Public at Large": Contestant Herbert Stempel Exposes Contrivances in a 1950s Television Quiz Show
"The Truth Is the Only Thing with Which a Man Can Live": Quiz Show Contestant Charles Van Doren Publicly Confesses to Deceiving His Television Audience