Herb Stempel, whose admission that television game shows were fixed led to a major scandal and congressional investigation, has died. He passed at age 93 on April 7, but his death just recently came to light.
No cause of death was given by his stepdaughter, Bobra Fyne.
Stempel was a contestant on the game show Twenty-One, and became a nerdy star for seeming to know something about everything. The only problem was that he was supplied with the answers in advance, with the promise of winning $25,000 if he kept quiet. The sum later ballooned to just short of $50,000.
When he finally lost, he deliberately gave the wrong answer to a question on film that he knew well. The winner of the evening’s competition, Charles Van Doren, went on to be a TV Golden Boy.
Stempel later taught social studies in New York high school and worked for the city’s Dept. of Transportation. His celebrity was revived in the 1990s thanks to the Oscar-nominated film Quiz Show, which starred John Turturro as Stempel and Ralph Fiennes as Van Doren. He was also profiled in a 1992 documentary for the PBS series American Experience.
Stempel was born in the Bronx on Dec. 19, 1926. He attended the Bronx High School of Science and scored at genius level on an I.Q. test. He was in the Army from 1946 to 1952 and then enrolled at City College under the G.I. Bill.
He married Tobie Mantell in 1954, and she died in 1980. They had one son, Harvey.
In exchange for losing to Van Doren, who participated in the TV plot, Stempel was promised more television work. When that didn’t happen, Stempel went public. That led to a conviction of Van Doren for a misdemeanor and a suspended sentence.
At a 1959 congressional hearing, Stempel said he had not returned his quiz show money because he felt he had earned it. “May I say that I was not a quiz contestant in this program, in my opinion. I was an actor, as you probably have noticed by watching the kinescope.”
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