Charles Lincoln Van Doren (born February 12, 1926) is a noted American intellectual, writer, and editor who was involved in a television quiz show scandal in the 1950s. He confessed before the United States Congress that he had been given the correct answers by the producers of the show Twenty One.
The son of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and literary critic/teacher Mark Van Doren and novelist and writer Dorothy Van Doren, Charles Van Doren was a committed academic with an unusually broad range of interests. He graduated from The High School of Music & Art and then earned a B.A. degree in Liberal Arts from St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, as well as a master's degree in astrophysics and a doctorate in English (1955), both at Columbia University. He was also a student at Cambridge University in England.
Twenty One was not Van Doren's first interest. He originally approached producers Dan Enright and Albert Freedman to appear on Tic-Tac-Dough, another game they produced. However, Enright and Freedman were impressed by Van Doren's polite style and telegenic appearance, thinking the youthful Columbia teacher would be the man to defeat their incumbent Twenty One champion, Herb Stempel, and boost the show's slowing ratings as Stempel's reign continued.
In January 1957, Van Doren entered a winning streak that ultimately earned him more than $129,000 and made him famous, including an appearance on the cover of TIME on February 11, 1957. His Twenty One run ended on March 11, when he lost to Vivienne Nearing, a lawyer whose husband Van Doren had previously beaten. After his defeat he was offered a three-year contract as a special "cultural correspondent" for Today, as well as guest appearances on other NBC programs, even serving as Today's substitute host when regular host Dave Garroway took a brief vacation.
When allegations of cheating were first raised, by Stempel and others, Van Doren denied any wrongdoing, saying "It's silly and distressing to thin...