Quiz Kids, a popular radio and TV series of the 1940s and 1950s, was created by Chicago public relations and advertising man Louis G. Cowan. Originally sponsored by Alka-Seltzer, the series was first broadcast on NBC from Chicago, June 28, 1940, airing as a summer replacement show for Alec Templeton Time. It continued on radio for the next 13 years. On television, the show was seen on NBC and CBS from July 6, 1949 to July 5, 1953, with Joe Kelly as quizmaster, and again from January 12 to September 27, 1956, with Clifton Fadiman as host.
The premise of the original show involved Kelly asking questions sent in by listeners and researched by Eliza Hickok and Rachel Stevenson. Kelly often said that he was not an intellectual, and that he could not have answered any of the questions without knowing the answer from his flash card. Yet he was remarkably kind and affable, and put even novice young contestants at ease immediately. The answers were supplied by a panel of five children, chosen for their high IQs, strong academic interests, and appealing personalities, as well as such qualities as poise, quickness, and sense of humor. One of the first Quiz Kids was seven-year-old nature expert Gerard Darrow. For the initial premiere panel he was joined by Mary Ann Anderson, Joan Bishop, Van Dyke Tiers and Charles Schwartz.
Other Quiz Kids of the 1940s were Joan Alizier, Lois Jean Ashbeck, Claude Brenner, Geraldine Hamburg, Mary Clare McHugh, war refugee Gunther Hollander and math experts Joel Kupperman and Richard Williams. Panelists rotated, with the three top scorers each week joined by two others the following week; they were no longer eligible to participate once they reached the age of 16.
New York and Chicago
In 1949-50 the program was expanded to New York, where a series of competitions determined the panelists. Students from the New York City area were chosen from questionnaires distributed to elementary schools, and were "interviewed" in panels where questions simulating those sent in by listeners were used. Those chosen from the interviews competed weekly for Quiz Kid of the month, with the two weekly winners from each show going on to the monthly "finals". Monthly winners later competed against each other on another panel, from which the overall winner was chosen. There were also parallel shows hosted by Durward Kirby, involving some of the same panelists.
Norman Lane, age nine, was the winner of the monthly competitions and went on the air in Chicago in one show with the Chicago group. Malcolm Mitchell, age 12, won the three competitions on the parallel series of shows, with Lane second each time, and was selected by the producers to be on several shows with the Chicago Quiz Kid group at NBC Studios in New York. These notably included one where the Kids defeated a group of university professors from New York in "general knowledge" topics. Mitchell, later a medical professor at Yale, had the special talent of "perfect pitch" (able to identify musical notes and chords with certainty), which made for interesting radio moments aside from answering straight questions.
A television program, now in The Paley Center for Media in New York and Los Angeles, was filmed in 1950 with Milton Berle as guest host and featured the Chicago Quiz Kids. The popularity of the television series never approached that of the radio programs, which first aired on Wednesday evenings and later on Sundays and had a devoted following of both adults and children. The Quiz Kids not only spawned a host of quiz shows starring both extraordinary and ordinary people, but also gave rise to the now more-popular term "Whiz Kids," first applied to the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies "Whiz Kids", and later to several cabinet members in the Kennedy Administration. One of the notable ex-Quiz Kids is the Nobel Prize-winning biologist James D. Watson. Others include actor and dialect coach Robert Easton, legendary Hollywood acting coach Roy London, producer Harve Bennett, poet Marilyn Hacker, Mayo Clinic Chief of Staff Richard Sedlack, and actress Vanessa Brown (deceased).
Quiz Kids has been revived five times since the original television series:
- Quiz Kids was telecast in weekly syndication from April to September 1978, with Jim McKrell as the host and Mike Addams as announcer. The series originated from WNAC-TV (now WHDH-TV) in Boston.
- The New Quiz Kids aired in Canada from 1978-1979 on Global Television Network, hosted by Terry David Mulligan.
- A later American revival aired from October 12, 1981 to December 15, 1982 on CBS Cable, hosted by Norman Lear.
- The Quiz Kids Challenge, which featured a panel of three kids playing against three adults, aired in daily syndication from September 10 to December 28, 1990. Jonathan Prince hosted this version while Johnny Gilbert served as announcer.
- Bay Area Quiz Kids is a San Francisco-area high school quiz bowl, aired on KRON-TV.
- A short-lived version for Australian television was produced during 1957, and broadcast by ATN-7 and GTV-9 weekly from 9 June 1957 to 10 November 1957.
- A different version for Australian television aired 1964 to 1968 on ABC.
- Whatever Happened to the Quiz Kids? Perils and Profits of Growing Up Gifted by Ruth Duskin Feldman (Chicago Review Press, 1982; reprinted by Backinprint.com, 2000)
- Novel: Quiz Kids and the Crazy Question Mystery by Carl W. Smith (Whitman, 1946)