This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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QUIZ KIDS: QUITE LEGIT
by Jack French © 2011
(From Radio Recall, April 2011)
Some OTR fans today cannot believe that the Quiz Kids were that knowledgeable and suspect that the show may have been "fixed" by feeding the kids the questions and/or answers beforehand.
Actually, yes, they were that knowledgeable. No, the show was not fixed. And no, the kids never got the questions or answers in advance.
But these suspicions are not new. From the debut of the show, many folks had reservations, including the media. Billboard said "We should imagine that the kids had stolen a peek at the puzzlers." Some newspapers hinted all the kids were college-trained midgets.
Norman Siegel, radio editor for the Cleveland Press , was more specific and claimed the show was rehearsed. Louis G. Cowan, who created and produced the quiz show, phoned Siegel and invited him to come to Chicago at Cowan's expense and do a complete investigation. Siegel accepted and spent three days, interviewing the staff, the kids, their parents, and the radio crew. "It's on the level" Siegel wrote later, "The answers come straight off the cuff."
The kids were darn smart; some were child prodigies who later had a hard time adjusting to life as adults. Hundreds of intelligent youngsters were auditioned for every vacancy so there was no chance of a letdown. Most of those chosen had IQs in the range of 180-200.
The records have long ago been lost but to total up every kid who qualified for the panel, whether for one show or several years (all were retired at age 16) would be approximately 600. However since most of them lasted many years, they became very familiar names in our popular culture: Joel Kupperman, Gerald Darrow, Harve Bennett Fischman and Ruthie Duskin.
A few others were not on long enough to become well-known but as adults, made their mark. One of them was actress Vanessa Brown, who was on the panel under her birth name, Smylla Brind.
Occasionally the questions would be chosen because they were in a field in which a kid was an expert. Ruthie knew virtually everything about Shakespeare, Joel Kupperman was a math whiz, and Gerard Darrow's specialty was ornithology. Remember: only one kid on the panel had to get the right answer. But did they ever get the questions in advance? Nope!
For more info on this remarkable program, read either of two books. "The Quiz Kids" by Eliza Merrill Hickok (Houghton Mifflin, 1947) tells the story of the show from its inception by the leading staffer on the program. "Whatever Happened to the Quiz Kids: Perils and Profits of Growing Up Gifted" by Ruth Duskin Feldman (Chicago Review Press, 1982) was written by one of the original Quiz Kids who located and interviewed several of her fellow panelists after they grew up.