“The $64,000 Question” Show: A Story Of Smart Success 55 Years Since Show Release
Throughout the 1950s, television gained popularity in the homes of millions of people around the world, many radio shows had to think of dynamic ways to introduce their show to the screens. The $64,000 Question is no different, but back then, it was better known as Take It or Leave It. Let's dive into the category... The $64,000 Question!
HOW TO PLAY
We'll start by dusting off the old cobwebs on how to play The $64,000 Question. Contestants pick a topic on the Category Board. The topics ranged from sports to Shakespearean literature and contestants could pick whatever one category they wanted. They would be asked questions regarding just that one topic.
The first question was $64 and as contenders successfully answered questions, the reward would double in amount. Of course, the questions would increasingly become more difficult. The rules are that before you reach $512, you were up for being eliminated after getting one question wrong. If you lose any questions before reaching $4,000, you got to leave with $512.
THE $4,000 LEVEL
When contestants reached $4,000, they could take it or come back the following week to answer one question. Some contestants were relieved to walk away with their wins before they called time. Regardless, if they lost after the $4,000 level, participants walked away with a Cadillac as a door prize. It was totally worth a shot!
The Revlon isolation booth was pulled out at the $8,000 level. The contestant had to enter the confined space where they could only hear the voice of the host and as long as they could keep a streak going until they reached $64,000, they'd win the grand prize. So let’s learn more about the fascinating history of the show’s broadcasting from 1940 – 1958.
At the end of the Golden Age of radio, CBS was looking for a way to join the wave of radio quiz programs. The first was Uncle Jim's Question Bee which premiered in 1936! Four years later, Take It or Leave It aired its first broadcast with host Bob Hawk. He quit after a year and Phil Baker took over.
Baker was the host until 1947, the year the series was moved to NBC. He still hosted occasionally throughout the years, and up until 1950, it had been hosted by Garry Moore and Eddie Cantor. On June 11, 1950, Jack Paar joined the series and remained the host after it changed its name to The $64 Question later that year.
GAMEPLAY ON THE RADIO
People tuning in every Sunday at 10:00 pm would hear contestants going through very similar gameplay (without the isolation chamber) with slight variations. Players could "Take" the prize money after each question or keep answering questions until they reach $64. That's right! The first question was originally worth just $1 and doubled from there. Sponsorships are a wonderful thing.
Take It or Leave It was known for its audience participation. With every question, contestants had to mull through their own answers under the pressure of the whole audience calling out and schooling them. After a participant chose to leave the money and move on with the questions, you'd always hear people in the audience yell, "You'll be sorry!"
THE 1944 FILM
The radio series actually inspired a movie of the same name! The 1944 drama film was about a man named Eddie Collins who is trying to find $1,000 to help pay for his wife's medical fees. While the original final prize was always $64, the prize money was drastically increased because it was a special edition of the show.
THE $64,000 QUESTION
Three years after the success of The $64 Question, Louis G. Cowan, the former host of Quiz Kid, had the bright idea of bringing the show back... but with much higher stakes. At first, it was difficult to find a sponsor for the cash prize, but finally, Cowan was able to convince the cosmetics company, Revlon, to throw the dice.
Every Tuesday at 10:00 pm the streets were quiet and families were sharing the television screen to see the many game contestants trying to win the cash prizes. The show was an immediate hit and started topping the Nielsen's ratings in its first season. Reportedly, President Dwight D. Eisenhower did not want his $64,000 time to be interrupted!
On September 13, 1955, Richard S. McCutcheon became the first contestant to win the whopping $64,000! He was a Marine Captain with an incredible amount of knowledge about cooking. So many people loved the show and were so excited about his win, they'd stop him on the street to ask for autographs. Seriously, the show was huge!
Dr. Joyce Brothers was a psychologist in Brooklyn, New York, NY who became the second person and only woman to win The $64,000 Question. She chose the Boxing category and had Colonel Eddie Eagan, the New York State Boxing Commission’s President, as her mentor. After the show, she became a TV personality and columnist for advice and social topics.
After Phil Baker's failure with Whose Who (one of the only shows that were canceled after one episode), the network needed somebody new to soften viewers up for the television screen. They wanted somebody relatable and comfortable in front of a stage audience. Hal March fit the description perfectly and people were fans of his work!
Throughout the 1940s, March was partnered up with comedy pal Bob Sweeney on their own CBS radio show. He was also known for his supporting roles on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show and My Friend Irma. He even starred in the season 2 episode “Lucy Is a Matchmaker” as Eddie Grant.
AFTER THE $64,000 CANCELLATION
Unfortunately, The $64,000 Question was found to be involved in the TV quiz show scandals that came out in the 1950s. The scandal affected his ability to find work after the show's cancellation on November 2, 1985, but he didn't quit. He secured a few small roles in sitcoms and films throughout the 60s.
In 1960, March earned two stars on the Walk of Fame for his radio and television work. He starred in Neil Simon's Come Blow Your Horn, which catapulted his career in stage and film. The play had a total of 677 performances from February 1961 to October 6, 1962! The production later became a film that starred Frank Sinatra.
In 1956, March married his wife Candy Toxton who had recently divorced contemporary jazz singer Mel Tormé. She had two children from her previous marriage that March helped raise: Steven and Melissa. The couple also went on to have three children of their own: Peter, Jeffrey, and Victoria.
One of Hal's grandchildren through Jeffrey would follow in his footsteps as a host! From intern to producer to host, Hunter March rose through the ranks at AwesomenessTV, a generation Z-focused media company. Hunter is the host for Netflix's Sugar Rush that places professional bakers against each other for a $10,000 grand prize.
THE $64,000 CHALLENGE
The show was so successful it had its own spin-off! This time the show brought back contestants who had won over $8,000 on the Question show. Sonny Fox was the first host and remained on the game show for about 4 months. Later in life, Fox became the host for Wonderama, the children’s variety show.
NEW SHOW WITH MORE PRESSURE
In 1956, Ralph Story was introduced as the new host! Story remained on the show until its cancellation in 1958. He returned to KNX radio in Los Angeles where he originally found his big break hosting the morning show back in 1948. Story continued to find success in broadcasting and television journalism.
Starting at the $1,000 level, participants went toe-to-toe answering questions from the same category until they both reached $4,000 (or one got a question wrong). That’s when contestants were placed in the isolation booths! The winning contestant decided whether to take the money, get a new opponent, or continue on to the next round with the same player.
THE $128,000 QUESTION
Almost 20 years after the cancellation of Question and Challenge, a revival series returned to the screen with double the amount from the first shows. It was first presented by Mike Darow until 1977 when Alex Trebek (before Jeopardy) took over until the end of the show in 1978.
There was an attempt by Michael Davies to create The $640,000 Question. Instead, he went on to produce the American version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? which is so much milder than the Question rules. In Millionaire, you get 3 assists for your question-run. Additionally, contestants could decide to take the money after they saw the question.
Something must be said about the dedication that came behind the show's incredible run from radio broadcast to television. Hal March was an incredible television personality who will be remembered for his great career as the show's host. Maybe one day we'll see a million-dollar question hosted by Hunter March?