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Albert Freedman, a producer on the NBC program Twenty-One who became a central figure in the quiz show scandals that erupted in the late 1950s, has died. He was 95.
Freedman died April 11 in Marin County, Calif., his family announced.
In 1956, Freedman convinced Charles Van Doren, who was teaching at Columbia University, to come on as a contestant on Twenty-One. The reigning champion, Herb Stempel, was winning week after week, but the ratings were suffering and Geritol, the sponsor, wanted him gone.
“I’ve thought about it, Charlie, and I’ve decided you should be the person to beat Stempel. And I’ll help you do it,” Van Doran, writing in a first-person account that was published in The New Yorker in 2008, said Freedman told him.
“I swear to you, no one will ever know. It will be just between you and me. Jack Barry [the show’s host] won’t know and [producer] Dan Enright won’t, either. Stempel won’t know — I’ve got a way to handle that. The sponsors won’t know — anyway, they’ll be so happy they won’t give a damn. And the audience will never know, because I won’t tell them, and you won’t, either.”
Van Doren first appeared on Twenty-One on Nov. 28, 1956, and sent Stempel to defeat a week later. He kept going until March 11, 1957, and left the program with winnings of about $128,000, he said.
In a 2000 interview with the Archive of American Television, Freedman said that he did not give Van Doren actual answers to questions but “areas” that the contestant should concentrate on.
However, Van Doren wrote in The New Yorker that during his four months on Twenty-One, “Freedman never stopped coaching me, and I came to see just how carefully controlled the show was. In our sessions, he would ask me questions, I would answer them — and then he would tell me how to answer them: pause here; add this or that remark or aside; always seem to be worried, anxious; never answer too quickly, let the suspense build up.”
Van Doren’s exposure on Twenty-One led to him being hired by NBC as a White House correspondent, and he later worked on the Today show.
In the summer of 1958, questions surrounding game shows began to surface, and Freedman eventually was arrested and indicted for perjury. He said a photograph of him in handcuffs at a police station “appeared all around the world” and led producers on other game shows to admit that their programs were rigged.
In 1959, Van Doren recounted his innocence, pleaded guilty to second-degree perjury and lost his job at NBC.
Freedman’s family said that the producer “always claimed that this episode was, more than anything else, a witch-hunt against TV entertainment let by aspirational politicians and a beleaguered newspaper industry.”
Hank Azaria played Freedman, Ralph Fiennes portrayed Van Doren and John Turturro played Stempel in the 1994 movie Quiz Show, directed by Robert Redford.
Freedman was born on March 27, 1922, and raised in Taunton, Mass. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps. and fought in the Pacific Campaign. After the war, he studied at Boston College, the University of Southern California and at a film school in Paris.
He moved to New York in the early 1950s and caught a big break when he landed a job on You Bet Your Life, hosted by Groucho Marx. He also worked on other quiz shows including Tic Tac Dough and The Big Surprise.
After the scandal, Freedman was blacklisted in show business. He and his family eventually settled in London, where he embarked on a new career. In 1967, he launched the Penthouse offshoot Forum: The International Journal of Human Relations and worked with Bob Guccione to found the publishing company General Media International.
In 1981, Freedman earned a Ph.D. from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, his family said.
Survivors include his wife of 34 years, Nancy; children Tani and Derek; stepchildren Lori, Todd and Garett; and 10 grandchildren.
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