Last week’s New Yorker carried an interesting personal essay by Charles Van Doren, the Columbia University instructor who became a star on the 1950s quiz show Twenty One and then an object of disgrace when the public learned that the show was fixed by the producers. Movie fans probably know that story from Robert Redford’s Oscar-winning Quiz Show (1994), but Van Doren’s essay also details his life after the scandal, including the genesis of the movie. Redford offered him $50,000, and then $100,000, to serve as a consultant, but Van Doren, acting on the advice of his attorney and the feelings of his family, turned the offer down. According to the piece, that didn’t stop actor Ralph Fiennes (pictured) from driving up to Van Doren’s house and sneakily asking for directions in order to get a look at him.
A footnote: Redford’s movie was adapted from a superb book by Richard Goodwin called Remembering America: A Voice From the Sixties. A House subcommittee investigator on the quiz-show case, Goodwin later wrote eloquent speeches for presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and Senator Robert Kennedy. (He’s also the husband of presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.) Goodwin is a tremendously gifted writer, and Remembering America is an essential memoir of the 1960s. I can’t recommend it more highly.