Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Van Doren speaks!

Probably because it's not online--you have to buy the magazine and read the article, grumble, grumble, grumble--there hasn't been much talk about Charles Van Doren's candid article about the 1950s quiz show scandals in this week's New Yorker. (Maybe everyone's still upset over the Obama cover.) It's a good read, a full 50 years after his indictment following his planned "winning streak" on the Twenty-One show, and the basis of Robert Redford's award-nominated 1994 film Quiz Show.

Van Doren is contrite and at peace with himself, and it was interesting to learn of his moral dilemma over accepting a $100,000 consulting fee for the movie. He turned it down, and did not participate in the shoot. He did see the film, and was not happy with its compressions and distortions, but loved John Turturro's performance as the contestant he checkmated, Herb Stempel (all these years later, reality shows still adhere to the model of "hero" and "villain" rivals). He doesn't say so, but I imagine he was aggrieved over the way the film portrayed his relationship with his eminent father, played by a distant Paul Scofield; he remembers it more warmly, even at the height of his infamy. And he did meet his filmic self, Ralph Fiennes, in an amusing roundabout way. Quiz Show really could use a better DVD--if they didn't pay him, perhaps the more open Van Doren could be enticed to record a commentary track to set the record straight?

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