Charles Van Doren Biography

Charles Van Doren is the contestant famous for his fraudulent appearances on the 1950s TV quiz show Twenty-One. Van Doren was a professor of English at Columbia University when he appeared on Twenty-One in 1956 and 1957. He won over $100,000, going on such a winning streak that he became a national symbol of brains and grace under pressure. However, in 1959 Van Doren admitted to a House of Representatives committee that he had been "involved, deeply involved, in a deception." Show producers had provided him with answers and had coached him on how to act to milk maximum drama out of his appearances. Though Van Doren said he had told himself he was helping to inspire youngsters, his reputation was ruined, and his name became synonymous with the quiz show scandals of the 1950s. He later became an editor of Encyclopedia Britannica, and wrote books including the 1991 volume A History of Knowledge.

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Van Doren's father was the poet Mark Van Doren, whose Collected Poems won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize; his mother was Dorothy Van Doren, the author of the 1938 novel Those First Affections... Charles Van Doren was played by Ralph Fiennes in the 1994 movie Quiz Show, directed by Robert Redford.... A similar (but less controversial) game show sensation was 21st-century Jeopardy! star Ken Jennings.

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