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August 31, 2023

In the 1950s Dr. Joyce Diane Became Famous for Becoming the First Woman to Win the Game Show “The $64,000 Question”

Joyce Diane Brothers (1927–2013) was an American psychologist, television personality, advice columnist, and writer. She first became famous in 1955 for winning the top prize on the American game show The $64,000 Question. Her fame from the game show allowed her to go on to host various advice columns and television shows, which established her as a pioneer in the field of “pop (popular) psychology.”

Brothers’s first television appearance was at the age of 28. At that time, her husband was making $50 a month as a medical intern at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, which was not enough to support them and their three-year-old daughter. To escape what Brothers called the “slum-like conditions” of her New York City walkup, she was driven to enter as a contestant on the game show The $64,000 Question. The top-charting show had the largest jackpot of all quiz shows at the time.

To become a contestant, Brothers had to write a letter describing herself and her hobbies, explaining why she would make a great contestant, and outlining what she would do with the winnings. Eventually, the letter landed her an interview with Mert Koplin, the show’s producer. While in her letter she discussed her qualifications in the field of psychology and home economics, she was not allowed to use her expert knowledge for the show, as The $64,000 Question did not allow participants to be quizzed on topics of their expertise or profession. As such, Brothers had to come up with a new topic area for her to be quizzed on for the show.

With the gender roles of the time in mind, Koplin thought he could draw in the most viewership by juxtaposing Brothers’s perceived frailty as a woman with the idea that she knew a great deal about a more masculine field. He is credited with saying Brothers should be given a topic on “something that [she] shouldn’t know about... [something like] if it were football or if it were horse racing or boxing...”

Brothers’s husband was a great fan of boxing, so she chose that as her topic. To prepare, she studied twenty-volume boxing encyclopedias and many years’ worth of Ring Magazine issues and worked with boxing writer Nat Fleischer and former Olympic boxing champion and New York State Athletic Commissioner Edward P.F Eagan. After studying, she progressed on the show for several weeks. Despite the show’s producers’ efforts to stump her at the $16,000 mark by asking questions involving referees rather than the boxers themselves, she exceeded expectations and won the top prize.

“Would you repeat them very slowly,” is all she said to game show host Howie Mandel when he asked her the four questions. After repeating the questions, Joyce was given just 30 seconds to answer. With each answer, Howie could only answer “That’s correct!”

After offering the answer to the fourth question, he said, “You’re right, for US$16,000. You knew the answers pretty well, what were you trying to do, make me suffer?”

There was speculation Joyce was told to tank her appearance at the US$16,000 level but she refused.

The show’s sponsor, Charles Revson, head of cosmetics company Revlon, didn’t like Joyce as she wouldn’t wear makeup. “They were going to knock me out with impossible questions, but they didn’t,” she told The Times in 1981. “I’d memorized everything it is possible to know on the subject (boxing).”

She would return a week later and win US$32,000 before returning for yet another week to take home the US$64,000 prize money.

In an interview, after the competition ended, Nat Fleischer hinted that Brothers had some sort of eidetic memory, (not his word) stating that she could read a page of statistics and then repeat the page back almost verbatim; this she did with thousands of pages of information.

Here is the $64,000 (multi-part) Question Dr. Joyce Brothers answered correctly:
1. What were the gloves of Roman gladiators in the Coliseum called?
2. Who was the first scientific boxer, heavyweight champion of England in 1791?
3. What was the name of the heavyweight champion of England who taught a famous poet the art of boxing?
4. Who wrote the famous essay ‘The Fight’ after having seen Bill Neat defeat Tom Hickman for the English heavyweight title in 1821, and what was Hickman’s nickname?
5. What was the full name of the Marquis of Queensberry, who set up the Queensberry rules?
6. In 1933, Primo Carnera defended the world heavyweight title abroad. Who was his opponent, and where did they meet?
7. How many times did Jack Dempsey floor Luis Firpo in their famous fight in New York? How long did the fight last, within 30 seconds?
The Answers:
1. Cestus
2. Daniel Mendoza
3. John “Gentleman” Jackson (The poet was Lord Byron)
4. William Hazlitt / Hickman’s nickname: “Gaslight”
5. John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry (John Graham Chambers of the British Amateur Athletic Club, actually wrote the rules)
6. Paulino Uzcudon / Rome
7. 9 Knockdowns / three minutes and 57 seconds
Brothers used her photographic memory and focus to learn everything she could and quickly became regarded as an expert in the subject area of boxing. Her success on The $64,000 Question earned Brothers a chance to be the color commentator for CBS during the boxing match between Carmen Basilio and Sugar Ray Robinson. She was said to have been the first female boxing commentator.

Two years later, Brothers appeared on the spin-off series The $64,000 Challenge, which brought in the winners of The $64,000 Question and matched them against experts in the field. Again, Brothers won the maximum prize against seven other competitors. (The combined $128,000 in winnings was equivalent to over $1.35 million in 2023.)

While The $64,000 Question and The $64,000 Challenge later came out with cheating scandals of some contestants only pretending to be novices to their respective topic, Brothers was one of the contestants who was cleared of cheating allegations.

1 comment:

  1. What a terrific story! I had heard about Dr. Brothers appearance on this show but didn't know the details.

    I do need to point out that the host of the $64,000 Question was Hal March, not Howie Mandel.




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