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Charles Van Doren

American academic

Charles Van Doren is ...


Born 12 February 1926 in Manhattan
Died 9 April 2019 in Canaan
Age 93 years, 2 months

Sex or gender male
Country of citizenship United States of America
Father Mark Van Doren
Mother Dorothy Graffe Van Doren
Occupation university teacher, non-fiction writer and biographer
Significant event 1950s quiz show scandals

About Charles Van Doren

Charles Van Doren: The Rise and Fall of a Quiz Show Icon

Charles Van Doren was born on February 12, 1926, in New York City, to a family of intellectuals. His father, Mark Van Doren, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and professor at Columbia University, and his mother, Dorothy Van Doren, was a novelist and editor. Growing up, Charles was surrounded by books and ideas, and he inherited his parents' love of learning.

After graduating from St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, where he studied classics, Van Doren went on to earn a master's degree in astrophysics from Columbia University. He then joined the faculty of Columbia as an English instructor, where he quickly became a popular and respected teacher.

But it was his appearance on the quiz show "Twenty-One" in 1956 that made Van Doren a household name. He became a regular contestant on the show, winning week after week and captivating audiences with his erudition and charm. He was soon offered a job as a panelist on the show, and his fame only grew.

However, it was later revealed that Van Doren had been given the answers to the questions in advance, as part of a rigged system that involved producers and contestants colluding to create drama and boost ratings. Van Doren initially denied any wrongdoing, but eventually confessed to Congress in 1959, and his reputation was irreparably damaged.

Van Doren resigned from his teaching position at Columbia and retreated from public life. He later wrote a memoir, "A History of Knowledge," and worked as an editor at the Encyclopaedia Britannica. He died on April 9, 2019, at the age of 93.

Van Doren's story is a cautionary tale about the dangers of fame and the corrupting influence of television. But it is also a testament to the power of education and the importance of intellectual curiosity. As his father once wrote, "The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, and all the sweet serenity of books." Van Doren embodied that ideal, even as he fell from grace.


- "Charles Van Doren, a Quiz Show Whiz Who Wasn't, Dies at 93." The New York Times, April 10, 2019.

- "Charles Van Doren, Quiz Show Scandal Figure, Dies at 93." NPR, April

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