Sunday, May 16, 2021

Question Me an Answer

Began a cloudy morning with my first Blueberry Pancakes of the year and Wonderland. This Broadway Alice In Wonderland features an adult Alice, who is just moved into a tiny New York apartment with her daughter Chloe after a bad divorce. She reads the book to her daughter...then dreams herself into a distinctly dark Wonderland, with her ex-husband as the eternally rescuing White Knight, a grinning Hispanic Cheshire Cat, hipster Caterpillar, and the evil Mad Hatter, who is determined to take Wonderland from the hot-tempered Queen of Hearts. 

I enjoy this, but I love retellings of famous stories...and I can also see the problems. The story gets a little too metaphysical, with Alice's husband represented by both the White Knight and the Victorian Gentleman who encourages her seek childhood whimsey and remember her own childhood. It's really kind of confusing, more than even Alice. There's also a few too many triumphant ballads in the finale, which probably could have been shortened. 

Headed out shortly after the CD ended. I had cashiering today and wanted to get there on time. It wasn't really that busy when I arrived. It didn't pick up until around 1:30, after everyone came out of lunch and wanted to shop for barbecues. The manager put me in a line with a broken light that wouldn't turn on. I had to run over and call people in, and they didn't always hear me. 

Even after the next manager's shift finally moved me to a register with a working light in the last hour, I had a lot of annoying customers. The last woman was completely unorganized. She had four screaming kids with me and didn't have half of what she needed for her WIC checks (checks to cover food and formula needed for low-income families with infants and toddlers). She kept sending me back and forth to get the things on her checks. During the second run, I ran into a manager, who finally told her she has to get her own WIC check items, no matter how many kids she has with her. Not to mention, I was fifteen minutes from finishing when she came in, and several people in the line left because they got tired of waiting for her. A teenager took pity on me and came in so I could leave on time.

Went straight into writing when I got home. Brett corrals the boys from the kitchen. Jack Klugman's going to pick up her sons soon for their weekend with him. She immediately stops the stuffing-chips-in-you-mouth contest going on. Charles agrees to wake up Gary, while Betty and Allen head on their way. 

Broke for dinner at 6:30. Listened to the soundtracks for Lost Horizon and Doctor Dolittle while I ate. These two major flops have a few things in common. They both featured a leading man who couldn't sing, had songs that sounded better outside of the context of the film, and were overproduced messes laden with stereotypes and miscasting. At least in the case of Dolittle, Anthony Newley and Samantha Eggar could sing, even if Rex Harrison couldn't (and was a pain in the rear end during production). Both also had hit songs that outlasted the production, "Living Together, Growing Together" from Horizon and the Oscar-winning "Talk to the Animals" from Dolittle.

Finished the night online with some of the shows that took part in the infamous Quiz Show Scandals of the late 1950's. Quiz shows were the big thing in 1957-1958, with their difficult questions and major winners. As it turned out, the drama on many of these shows was manufactured. The shows' sponsors gave answers to contestants they wanted to win or lose. 

One of the earliest shows to blow the whistle was The Big Surprise. A contestant who had performed an act of heroism - including Errol Flynn in the one episode remaining - answer questions based after their families, lives, or what they did. Losing an easy answer loses all the money; harder questions, only half the money. This one never got as popular as some of the others and ended before the scandal began, but a contestant did file a lawsuit for her winnings after she asserted she was intentionally fed a wrong answer to take her out. Later newscaster Mike Wallace is in charge of this one. 

Dotto only has two episodes remaining...but unlike the dull Surprise, it's an interesting concept I'm surprised no one's tried to revive legitimately. This is sort of a predecessor to later "guess the drawing" shows like Win, Lose, or Draw and Pictionary, only here, you have to connect the dots via answering questions. The first contestant to guess their drawing is the winner. Or at least, they're supposed to be. A stand-by contestant found a notebook of answers being fed to winner Marie Winn. Her fixed match with Yaffe Kimball is one of those two remaining episodes. (Ironically, Winn would later write a book heavily criticizing children's television, The Plug-In Drug.) Jack Narz was the (innocent) host here.

We've already discussed Twenty-One the week I profiled the careers of game show producers Barry & Enright. One of the remaining episodes happens to be the infamous fixed match between Charles Van Doren and Herb Stempel depicted in the movie Quiz Show. Honestly, some of the faces the men make while trying to come up with the answers are so theatrical and unreal, I'm not sure how people were fooled. At any rate, Stempel wasn't happy with having to give up his time in the spotlight and blew the whistle on the show and the fixes. 

The $64,000 Question began in radio as The $64 Question. The TV version began in 1955 and kicked off the craze. It made stars out of many of its contestants, including Dr. Joyce Brothers. Here, the contestants chose a subject and tried to answer multiple questions based on that subject until they reached $64,000. The show proved so wildly popular, it spun off The $64,000 Challenge, where high-winning contestants came back and played new contestants. Couldn't find much of Challenge, but there are a few episodes of Question around, including one of Brothers'. Hal March was in charge of the original Question

Tic Tac Dough was another fixed Barry & Enright show, at least in its nighttime version. Here, there's no dragon, and the tic tac toe board charmingly clicks when it changes the subject, rather than makes booping noises. The entire episode was just a series of tiebreakers, one after another, as the men obviously try to avoid actually winning. It was so fixed, it was ridiculous. The man with the eye patch apparently finally decided to keep some of his winnings and broke the tie in the episode after this.

Learn about the history of quiz shows - and find out what people will do for $64,000 and fifteen minutes of fame - in these lost pieces of TV's past. (Most of them even come with vintage commercials!)

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