Herb Stempel, the federal whistleblower who exposed how the NBC game show “Twenty-One” was manipulated for ratings, died last month at the age of 93. His death was confirmed this weekend by Stempel’s stepdaughter to The New York Times.
Stempel’s story was told in the Robert Redford film “Quiz Show,” which starred John Turturro as Stempel and earned five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Stempel, an Army veteran attending school on the G.I. Bill, applied to be on “Twenty-One” and was handpicked by producer Dan Enright to be the star of the show, portrayed as an American underdog making thousands for his family.
Stempel was given the answers to questions in advance, winning thousands during his run on the show.
But as ratings began to level off, Enright turned his attention to Columbia professor Charles Van Doren, seeing him as a new star to keep viewers interested. Herb Stempel was convinced to intentionally miss the final question and allow Van Doren to win after Enright promised that he would find him a slot on a panel show. Not only was that promised never honored, but Stempel said he felt personally humiliated when the question he was forced to throw was to identify the winner of the 1955 Best Picture Oscar.
“I knew that the answer was ‘Marty,’ but Dan Enright specifically wanted me to miss that question. This hurt me very deeply because this was one of my favorite pictures of all times and I could never forget this,” Stempel said in a 1992 interview with PBS’ “American Experience.” “A few seconds before that, as I was trying to come up with the answer, I could have changed my mind. I could have said, ‘The answer is “Marty.” instead of “On the Waterfront.” I would have won. There would have been no Charles Van Doren, no famous celebrity. Charles Van Doren would have gone back to teaching college and my whole life would have been changed.”
After attempting to expose “Twenty-One” through the press, Herb Stempel went to the authorities. “Twenty-One” became the basis of a New York State investigation that questioned the show’s producers, including Enright, who denied Stempel’s claims and dismissed him as jealous of Van Doren’s success. When the grand jury’s findings were sealed by a judge’s order, the investigation escalated to the federal level.
In February 1957, Stempel testified before Congress about his offer to throw the game to Van Doren, but it wasn’t until another contestant came forward with notes he took of questions provided to him by producers that Van Doren and the “Twenty-One” producers finally confessed. The scandal resulted in changes to the Federal Communications Act outlawing rigging of game shows.
Herb Stempel would not discuss “Twenty-One” for another 35 years, until he was approached by PBS for an interview on “American Experience.” While Stempel said he didn’t like his portrayal by Turturro on “Quiz Show,” he made multiple media and public appearances following the show’s release, including an appearance on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” in the very same NBC studio where “Twenty-One” was recorded.
Hollywood's Notable Deaths of 2020 (Photos)
Alex Trebek, Chadwick Boseman, Naya Rivera (Getty Images)
The former longtime commissioner of the NBA died Jan. 1 following a brain hemorrhage, according to a statement from current NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. He was 77.
Silvio Horta, creator of the ABC comedy series “Ugly Betty,” was found dead in a Miami motel room Jan. 7. He was 45.
The drummer and lyricist for the ’70s and ’80s Canadian rock band Rush, died on Jan. 7, according to the band’s Twitter account. He was 67.
Harry Hains, an actor and producer who had appeared on “American Horror Story: Hotel,” “The OA,” “Sneaky Pete” and “The Surface,” died on Jan. 7. He was 27.
The actor-screenwriter-director -- who co-created “Get Smart,” co-wrote “The Graduate” and co-directed the hit 1978 Warren Beatty film “Heaven Can Wait” -- died on Jan. 8 in Los Angeles. He was 89.
The actor, who played Vince Fontaine in “Grease” and also starred on the series “77 Sunset Strip” as the teen idol “Kookie,” died on Jan. 8. He was 87.
Ivan Passer -- a pioneering filmmaker in the Czech New Wave, a frequent collaborator with the late Milos Forman and the director of the 1981 film “Cutter’s Way” -- died on Jan. 9. He was 86.
Stan Kirsch, one of the stars of the syndicated '90s fantasy drama “Highlander: The Series,” died on Jan. 11. He was 51.
Rocky Johnson, a member of the WWE Hall of Fame and the father of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, died on Jan. 15 at the age of 75.
Terry Jones, a beloved member of the Monty Python comedy troupe who directed many of its classic films, died Jan. 21. He was 77.
Former “Bachelorette” contestant Tyler Gwozdz, who appeared on the 2019 season of the reality series, died Jan. 22 of a suspected drug overdose at age 29.
Retired NBA star Kobe Bryant was killed Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., that killed four others. He was 41.
Kirk Douglas -- the prolific actor and producer whose “Spartacus” is credited with helping to end the Hollywood blacklist, patriarch of a successful entertainment dynasty and one of the last surviving stars of Hollywood’s golden age -- died Feb. 5 at age 103.
F.X. Feeney, a film historian, screenwriter and longtime film critic for LA Weekly, died on Feb. 5 after suffering several strokes over the previous few days. He was 66.
Kevin Conway, known for his roles in films like “Gettysburg” and ‘Thirteen Days,” died on Feb. 5 of a heart attack. He was 77.
Veteran character actor Orson Bean, a regular on shows like “To Tell the Truth” and “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” and star of “Being John Malkovich,” died the night of Feb. 7 at age 91 after he was struck and killed by a car in Los Angeles.
Raphael Coleman, who starred as Eric in the 2005 Emma Thompson movie “Nanny McPhee" and went on to devote himself to environmental activism, died suddenly on Feb. 7 at the age of 25.
Robert Conrad, who was the star of the '60s TV series “Wild Wild West,” died from heart failure on Feb. 8 at the age of 84.
Paula Kelly, an Emmy-nominated actress known for TV series like “Night Court” and films like “Sweet Charity” and “The Andromeda Strain,” died on Feb. 8 in Whittier, California. She was 77.
Joseph Vilsmaier, a German director and cinematographer behind the acclaimed 1993 World War II drama “Stalingrad" died “peacefully” at his home in Bavaria on Feb. 11. He was 81.
Daniel Lee Martin
Daniel Lee Martin, country singer and host of “Brotherhood Outdoors,” was found dead in his Pasco County, Florida, home on Feb. 14 of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 54.
Caroline Flack, former host of “Love Island,” died at the age of 40 on Feb. 15. A lawyer for the family told BBC that Flack died by suicide.
Nikita Pearl Waligwa
Nikita Pearl Waligwa, the young actress seen in the 2016 Disney film “Queen of Katwe,” died on Feb. 15, according to the Ugandan newspaper The Daily Monitor. Waligwa, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2016, was 15.
Jason Davis, best known as the voice of Mikey Blumberg on Disney Channel’s “Recess,” died on Feb. 16. He was 35.
Ja’net Dubois, who starred on the CBS sitcom “Good Times” and wrote and performed the theme song to "The Jeffersons," passed away on Feb. 18. She was 74.
Katherine Johnson, a pioneering mathematician and NASA employee who was pivotal in America’s space race and was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson in the film “Hidden Figures,” died on Feb. 24. She was 101.
Dieter Laser, the German actor best known for his role as the deranged doctor in “The Human Centipede,” died on Feb. 29. He was 78.
"Inside the Actors Studio" host James Lipton passed away on March 2 after a battle with bladder cancer. He was 93.
Max von Sydow
"The Exorcist" star Max von Sydow died on March 8 at the age of 90.
Lorenzo Brino, a former child star in the family drama “7th Heaven,” died in a car accident on March 9, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said.
Beatrice, who played the beloved French bulldog Stella on the last seven seasons of “Modern Family,” died March 9 shortly after the cast shot the series finale.
Stuart Whitman, a star of Westerns like “The Comancheros” and the war movie “The Longest Day,” died in his home March 16, his son told TMZ. Whitman was 92.
Lyle Waggoner, an actor known for starring on “The Carol Burnett Show” and the '70s “Wonder Woman” TV series, died March 17 at age 84.
Maggie Griffin, Kathy Griffin’s mother and co-star of her Bravo reality series “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List,” died March 17 at age 99.
Country music legend Kenny Rogers passed away on March 20 at the age of 81. According to a statement, he died of natural causes.
Tony-winning playwright Terrence McNally died on March 24 of complications from the coronavirus. He was 81.
Bill Withers, the singer of classics like “Lean On Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” died on March 30 at the age of 81.
Jeff Grosso, the legendary skateboarder who hosted Vans’ “Loveletters to Skating” video series, died March 31 in Costa Mesa, Calif. He was 51.
Adam Schlesinger, the lead singer-songwriter of the rock band Fountains of Wayne and a music producer and composer on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” died on April 1 due to complications from the coronavirus.
Ellis Marsalis Jr.
Ellis Marsalis Jr., New Orleans jazz legend and father of Wynton and Branford Marsalis, died from COVID-19 complications on April 1. He was 85.
Ed Farmer, an MLB player-turned-White Sox radio announcer, died April 1. He was 70.
Eddie Large, one-half of the comedy duo Little and Large, died April 2 after contracting coronavirus while hospitalized for heart failure. He was 78.
Patricia Bosworth, a stage and screen actress who also penned celebrity biographies, died April 2 from complications of the coronavirus. She was 86.
Honor Blackman, the British actress best known for her roles in "Goldfinger" and “The Avengers” series, died at the age of 94, her family announced on April 6.
Actor Brian Dennehy, a Tony and Golden Globe-winning actor, passed away on April 15 of natural causes. He was 81.
Irrfan Khan, the Indian actor who bolstered his fame beyond Bollywood with roles in English-language hits like “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Life of Pi,” died April 29 in Mumbai at age 53.
Sam Lloyd, best known for his role as downtrodden lawyer Ted Buckland on “Scrubs,” died on April 30. He was 56.
Legendary NFL coach Don Shula passed away on May 4 at the age of 90.
Brian Howe, the lead singer for the British rock supergroup Bad Company and a former vocalist for Ted Nugent, died on May 6. He was 66.
Longtime music executive Andre Harrell, who founded the hip-hop label Uptown Records and mentored Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, died on May 7 at age 59.
Magician Roy Horn, best known as half of the legendary Siegfried & Roy magic and animal act in Las Vegas, died on May 8 from complications due to coronavirus.
Little Richard, the singer and pianist who became a rock pioneer with his high-energy musicianship and boundary-pushing personality, died on May 9 at age 87 from unspecified causes.
Jerry Stiller, the Emmy-nominated comedy legend of TV sitcoms “Seinfeld” and “King of Queens,” passed away on May 11. He was 92.
Phyllis George, a former Miss America winner who went on to become one of the first female broadcasters covering the NFL — and later, the First Lady of Kentucky — died on May 14 at the age of 70.
Comedic actor Fred Willard, best known for his roles in "Spinal Tap" and "Modern Family," passed away on May 15 at the age of 86.
Director and producer Lynn Shelton, who helmed independent films like "Humpday" and "Sword of Trust," died on May 16 from a previously undisclosed blood disorder. She was 54.
Ken Osmond, best known for his role as Eddie Haskell on “Leave It to Beaver,” died on May 18 at the age of 76.
Chris Trousdale, a former member of the boy band Dream Street, died on June 2. His former bandmate, Jesse McCartney, said he died "due to complications from COVID-19." He was 34.
Bonnie Pointer, a member of the iconic R&B group The Pointer Sisters, passed away on June 8. She was 69.
"Lord of the Rings" star Ian Holm passed away on June 19. He was 88.
Joel Schumacher, director of films like “St. Elmo’s Fire,” “The Client” and “A Time to Kill,” died on June 22 after a long battle with cancer. He was 80.
Legendary entertainer Carl Reiner, perhaps best known as the creator of “The Dick Van Dyke Show," died on June 29. He was 98.
The actor, who appeared in several Sam Raimi films including “Evil Dead II,” “Darkman” and “Spider-Man 2,” died on June 30 at the age of 68.
Ronald L. Schwary
Ronald L. Schwary, Oscar-winning producer of Robert Redford’s 1980 drama “Ordinary People,” died on July 2 at age 76, his family announced.
Longtime TV news anchor Hugh Downs passed away on July 2 at the age of 99.
Earl Camerson, one of the first Black actors to be cast in major roles in British films, died at the age of 102 on July 3. His first role was in the 1951 film "Pool of London."
Tony Award-nominated actor Nick Cordero died on July 5 due to complications from coronavirus. He was 41.
Mary Kay Letourneau
The Seattle-area middle school teacher -- who became infamous in 1997 after raping one of her students, serving a lengthy prison sentence, then marrying the student after her release from prison -- died on July 6 following a battle with cancer. She was 58.
Oscar-winning Italian composer Ennio Morricone died on July 6 at age 91, his lawyer told the New York Times. Morricone became famous for his melodic scores for 1960s Westerns like “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” and “Once Upon a Time in the West.” He drew on his work in so-called spaghetti Westerns for Quentin Tarantino’s 2015 Western “The Hateful Eight,” which earned the composer his first Academy Award after five previous nominations and an honorary award in 2007.
Charlie Daniels, a country music and Southern rock legend known for his song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” died on July 6. He was 83.
Atlanta rapper Lil Marlo (né Rudolph Johnson), best known for his 2017 hit “2 the Hard Way" with Lil Baby, was shot and killed in his native Atlanta on July 12, the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office said. He was 30.
Actress Kelly Preston, who starred in such films as "Twins" and "Jerry Maguire," died on July 12 after a two-year battle with breast cancer. The star, who had three children with husband John Travolta, was 57.
Former "Glee" star Naya Rivera was found dead on July 13 after going missing the week prior while out on a boat with her son in Ventura County, Calif. She was 33.
Grant Imahara, the engineer and roboticist who helped test some of the world’s most famous rumors on the iconic Discovery Channel series “Mythbusters,” died on July 13 at the age of 49.
The dancer and actress, who appeared in classic television shows like “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Twin Peaks,” died on July 14 at the age of 55.
John Lewis, the civil rights icon who played a key role in some of the most important battles of the era, died on July 17 following a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 80.
Longtime morning television host and five-time Emmy-winner Regis Philbin died July 25 of natural causes. He was 88.
The British guitarist, who co-founded the seminal rock band Fleetwood Mac, died at age 73 on July 25.
Olivia de Havilland
Olivia de Havilland, an Oscar-winning actress best known for her role as the timid but strong Melanie in the 1939 classic “Gone With the Wind,” died July 26 of natural causes. She was 104.
Herman Cain, a former GOP presidential candidate and business czar, died on July 30 from complications of the coronavirus. He was 74.
Wilford Brimley, a beloved character actor who starred in such film as “Cocoon” and “The Natural,” died on Aug. 1 at age 85.
Sumner Redstone, a movie theater owner’s son who became one of the most powerful moguls in Hollywood history, died on Aug. 11 at the age of 97.
Diana Rigg, who was best known for her roles as Lady Olenna Tyrell on “Game of Thrones” and Emma Peel in the 1960s TV series “The Avengers,” died Sept. 10 at her home in the U.K. following a battle with cancer. She was 82.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the celebrated Supreme Court Justice and feminist icon, died due to complications from metastatic pancreas cancer on Sept. 18. She was 87.
Michael Lonsdale, the actor who played the iconic villain Hugo Drax in 1979’s James Bond movie “Moonraker” and starred in 1973’s “The Day of the Jackal,” died on Sept. 21 at age 89.
Dubbed "The Queen of Technicolor," Rhonda Fleming -- who starred in Alfred Hitchcock's "Spellbound" and opposite Bing Crosby in "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court" -- died in mid-October at the age of 97.
The game show host, known for hosting "Name That Tune," "You Don't Say" and "Password Plus," died Oct. 11. He was 93.
The actress, who appeared in films like "Edward Scissorhands" and "Erin Brockovich" but was best known for playing the housekeeper Berta on “Two and a Half Men,” died on Oct. 12. She was 77.
Ferrell died on Monday, Oct. 12, due to complications following a cardiac arrest
MLB Hall of Famer and broadcast commentator Joe Morgan died Oct. 12 after suffering from polyneuropathy. He was 77 years old.
Ed, the brother of Bill Murray, inspired the hit film "Caddyshack" by introducing his family to the game of golf. Ed Murray died Nov. 25 at age 67.
The actor behind Darth Vader's mask died Nov. 29. He was 85.
David Lander, the actor who played Squiggy on the “Happy Days” spin-off “Laverne & Shirley,” died on Dec. 4 due to complications from multiple sclerosis. He was 73.
Tommy 'Tiny' Lister
Former wrestler and actor Tommy "Tiny" Lister, best known for his role in the "Friday" movies, died on Dec. 10. He was 62.
John le Carré
Famed British author John le Carré, whose books include “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” died on Dec. 13 after battling pneumonia. He was 89.
The Tony-winning actor and dancer most known for directing choreography in the 1996 "Chicago" musical and as protégée of Bob Fosse, died Dec. 14 in Washington state. She was 71.
Werden was a Hollywood publicist for 35 years and the Oscars' publicity lead from 1975 to 1993. He also was a unit publicist on over 40 movies, including "Pennies From Heaven" and the original "Superman" films. He died at his home in Los Angeles on Dec. 15. He was 94 years old.
The London-based actor was best known for appearing in the original “Tales of the City” miniseries in 1993. He died on Dec. 16 at the age of 55.
The prolific animator, writer, artist and songwriter whose work included "Spongebob," "The Simpsons," "Hey Arnold" and "The Fairly OddParents," died on Dec. 22 from undisclosed causes. He was 59.
The Tony Award-nominated Broadway actress and singer died on Dec. 23 at age 59 following a battle with ALS.
The professional wrestler with both WWE and All Elite Wrestling was best known under his ring names Brodie Lee and Luke Harper. He died on Dec. 26 from undisclosed causes at age 41.
The Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher best known for playing 20 seasons with the Atlanta Braves died on Dec. 26 after a battle with cancer. He was 81.
The seventh-generation fisherman was a regular on Discovery’s “Deadliest Catch” series, appearing as a deck boss on 78 episodes over seven seasons. He died on Dec. 27 at age 33, though no cause of death was given.
@NickMcGlashan via Twitter
The co-creator of classic TV series including “Columbo” and “Murder, She Wrote" died on Dec. 27 at age 87. His cause of death was congestive heart failure, his widow told Deadline.
The New Jersey high school principal was the subject of the 1989 biopic “Lean on Me” starring Morgan Freeman. Clark died on Dec. 29 at the age of 82.
The legendary fashion designer and entrepreneur died on Dec. 29 at age 98. He was known for futuristic designs like the bubble dress.
The public relations heavyweight died on Dec. 29 at age 88. His past clients included Donald Trump, George Steinbrenner and the Yankees, Columbia University and the Metropolitan Opera. His cause of death was not immediately revealed.
The last surviving member of the 1950s singing trio The McGuire Sisters died on Dec. 29 at the age of 89. No cause of death was immediately given.
Adolfo "Shabba-Doo" Quinones
The pioneering hip-hop dancer and star of the film “Breakin'" died on Dec. 30 at age 65. His cause of death was not immediately released.