by: Eddie Trapp
A few times each year as folks discuss the world situation I hear the phrase, “That’s a $64,000 question.” It refers to a hard to answer problem. Many of those who use it aren’t even old enough to know where the phrase originated. Just ask the next person you hear use the phrase if they know the origin. Unless you are a senior citizen you probably don’t know where it came from. Grandpa McFadden was born in the late 1800’s and I heard him use it many times when confronted by a puzzling situation. For you youngsters, here’s the rest of the story.
The $64,000 Question was a thirty minute game show that ran on black and white television from June, 1955 until November, 1958. Actually the roots began on radio with the program, “Take it or Leave it” in the 1940’s. Your first question was worth one dollar and each correct answer doubled the amount. You had the choice after each correct answer to “take it or leave it.” Seven correct answers allowed you to receive the sixty four dollar prize which was a lot of money back then. In 1950 the name of the game changed to “The $64 Dollar Question” and remained that until 1952. The name of the program became a catch phrase referring to any difficult problem. For years I heard folks say “sixty four” and just assumed they didn’t know to add the word “thousand.”
When the name changed to The $64,000 Question in 1955 and was carried on television the contestants could choose between three categories such as Lincoln, boxing, or jazz. The show became very popular and was aired on Tuesday nights from 10:00 until 10:30. I can remember watching the program many times so apparently that must have been Eastern Time. I probably would not have been allowed to stay up that late on a school night. The first question was worth $64 and kept doubling until it reached $512 when it changed to even numbers $1000, $2000, $4000, and so on up to $64,000. At the four thousand dollar level they would answer only one question a week then go home to come back the next week. I don’t remember that part but it seems there would have to be several contestants come in each week to answer their one question in order to fill the thirty minute slot.
Beginning at the $8000 level the contestant was placed in a sound proof booth to prevent someone in the audience hollering out the answer. The first contestant to win the $64,000 was Richard McCutchen, a marine who chose cooking as his category. The game show almost immediately received the number one rating on Tuesday nights. Few programs have had such an effect on our country. On Tuesday nights the nation’s crime rate dropped substantially. Theater and restaurant attendance was significantly lower. In 1955 the program was the only one to ever knock “I Love Lucy” out of the number one spot. The second $64,000 winner was Joyce Brothers who would later provide psychological advice for forty years.
All winners became instant celebrities, recognized wherever they went and hounded for autographs. Many other television and radio personalities were affected by the popular show. Tightwad Jack Benny went on the show as a joke, answered the first question correctly, pocketed the money, and walked off the stage. The program was so popular it was mentioned on “The Honeymooners.” Ralph Kramden got so mad at Alice he told her he was going on The $64,000 Question and choose “aggravation” as his category. Ed Norton also got in on the act by telling his mother in law he was going on the program and selecting the topic, “nasty.” Ralph told Alice she should enter and select “everything” since she was a “know it all.”
“The Honeymooners” entire program one week was modeled after “The $64,000 Question.” Ralph was a contestant on fictitious “$99,000 Question.” I remember the episode. Seems like Ralph quit his bus driving job so he could study all week on his category, popular songs. He promptly missed the first question and had to go home to face the ever forgiving and ever loving Alice. Howie Mandell brought the phrase out to modern, national attention on “Deal or no Deal” once by mentioning the old program when $64,000 was offered by the bank.
Seems like the popular show would have gone on forever but its short life was credited to a scandal where the contestants were found to have been given answers beforehand. It’s a $64 question as to how long the show would have run if it had stayed honest.
Things I wonder about department. Was the crippled cruise ship situation not bad enough to carry everyone out on helicopters? Could helicopters not carry food to the ship and carry sewage out?
Upcoming catfish tournaments. March 2 at Lake Tawakoni. 6:30 a.m-3:00 p.m. For information call 270 395 6774. Cooper Lake catfish tournament is March 16. Get information at 903 395 4600.
My book seven is at the printer and will be ready any day. Call 903 439 8110 or email me to reserve your copy. This book includes articles 701-800 which were originally published in “The Cooper Review” from 2002-2004. An above average number of pictures in this one.
Thursday night we went south of Quitman to Seth’s Lake Fork Creek Restaurant to eat crawfish with Dan, Jennie, Welton, and Jeri Pickering. It was Jeri’s birthday the next day. The crawfish were great and as we ate I read some cute signs on the wall: Unattended children will be given two Red Bulls and a free kitten. If a man is alone in the woods with no woman to hear him, is he still wrong? Those that think they know everything annoy those of us that do.