Joyce Brothers

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Joyce Brothers
Joyce Brothers NYWTS.jpg
Joyce Brothers in 1957
Joyce Diane Bauer

(1927-10-20)October 20, 1927
DiedMay 13, 2013(2013-05-13) (aged 85)
Resting placeBeth David Cemetery, Elmont, New York
Alma materCornell University (BA)
Columbia University (Ph.D)
OccupationPsychologist, television personality, advice columnist, writer
Years active1955–2013
Spouse(s)Milton Brothers (1949–89; his death; 1 child)

Joyce Diane Brothers (October 20, 1927 – May 13, 2013) was an American psychologist, television personality, advice columnist, and writer. She first became famous in 1955 for winning the top prize on the American game show The $64,000 Question. [1] Her fame from the game show allowed her to go on to host various advice columns and television shows, which established her as a pioneer in the field of "pop (popular) psychology".

Brothers is often credited as the first to normalize psychological concepts to the American mainstream.[1] Her syndicated columns were featured in newspapers and magazines, including a monthly column for Good Housekeeping, in which she contributed for nearly 40 years.[2] As Brothers quickly became the "face of psychology" for American audiences, she often appeared in various television roles, usually as herself.[3] From the 1970s onward, she also began to accept fictional roles that parodied her "woman psychologist" persona.[4] She is noted for working continuously for five decades across various genres.[1] Numerous groups recognized Brothers for her strong leadership as a woman in the psychological field and for helping to destigmatize the profession overall.

Family and personal relationships[edit]

Joyce Diane Bauer was born to Morris K. Bauer and Estelle Rapport, who were attorneys sharing a law practice. She grew up in a Jewish household in Far Rockaway, Queens, New York.[2] She had a sister named Elaine Goldsmith with whom she was close.[3] Joyce described that, while she was growing up, her father treated her like the son, even having decided to name her "Joseph" instead of Joyce before she was born.[1] As a result, she grew up in an environment in which her status as a female made no difference in the family's expectations of high academic excellence for all their children.[2] Consequently, she was often described as being a studious person, thriving on "hard work and academic achievement".[2]

In 1949, she married Milton Brothers who later went on to become an internist.[1] In 1989, Brothers lost her husband due to bladder cancer.[5] Following the death of her husband, Brothers fell into a state of depression for a year, and contemplated suicide; however, she used her work to achieve inner peace and recover.[2] With her husband, she had a daughter. Brothers was also close to her four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.[3]

Early education[edit]

Brothers graduated from Far Rockaway High School in January 1944.[1] Afterwards, she entered Cornell University, double-majoring in home economics and psychology and graduated with a B.S. degree with honors in 1947.[1] Brothers was a member of Sigma Delta Tau sorority at the time. She then attended Columbia University where she obtained an M.A. degree in 1949 and a Ph.D. in Psychology in 1953.[6] Her doctoral dissertation was titled "Anxiety Avoidance and Escape Behaviour as Measured by Action Potential in Muscle". While working on her graduate studies, she was a research assistant at Columbia, an instructor at Hunter College and a research fellow on a UNESCO leadership project from 1949 to 1959.[1][2] The American Association of University Women AAUW awarded Brothers the American Fellowship in 1952, which enabled her to complete the doctoral degree.[1]


Licensure as a psychologist[edit]

As a psychologist, Brothers had been licensed in New York since 1958.[citation needed]

Television and radio[edit]

$64,000 Question (1955)[edit]

Joyce Brothers' first television appearance was at the age of 28. At that time, her husband was making $50 a month as a medical intern at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York which was not enough to support themselves and their three-year-old daughter.[1] To escape what Brothers called the "slum-like conditions" of her New York City walk up, she was driven to enter as a contestant on the game show, The $64,000 Question.[1] The $64,000 Question was one of the top charting shows of the time and possessed the largest jackpot of all the current quiz shows.[1]

To become a contestant, Brothers had to write a letter stating a description of herself, the hobbies she immersed herself in, why she would make a great contestant and what she would do if she were to carry forth with the winnings.[1] Eventually, the letter landed her an interview with Mert Koplin, the show's producer.[1] While in her letter she discussed her qualifications in the field of psychology and home economics she was not allowed to use her expert knowledge for the show as The $64,000 Question did not allow participants to be quizzed on topics of their expertise or profession.[1] As such, Brothers had to come up with a new topic area for her to be quizzed on for the show.[1]

With the gender roles of the time in mind, Koplin thought he could draw in the most viewership by juxtaposing Brother's perceived frailty as a woman with the idea that she knew a great deal about a more masculine field.[7] He is credited with saying Brothers should be given a topic on "something that [she] shouldn't know about... [something like] if it were football or if it were horse racing or boxing..."[1]

Brothers' husband was a great fan of boxing, so she chose that as her topic.[1] To prepare, she studied twenty-volume boxing encyclopedias and many years worth of Ring Magazine issues, and worked with boxing writer Nat Fleischer[1] and former Olympic boxing champion and New York State Athletic Commissioner Edward P.F Egan.[1] After studying, she progressed on the show for several weeks. Despite the show's producers' efforts to stump her at the $16,000 mark by asking questions involving referees rather than the boxers themselves, she exceeded expectations and won the top prize.[3]

Brothers used her photographic memory and focus to learn everything she could, and quickly became regarded as an expert in the subject area of boxing.[1] Her success on The $64,000 Question earned Brothers a chance to be the color commentator for CBS during the boxing match between Carmen Basilio and Sugar Ray Robinson. She was said to have been the first female boxing commentator.

Two years later, Brothers appeared on a spin-off series of The $64,000 Challenge, which brought in the winners of The $64,000 Question[1] and matched them against experts in the field. Again, Brothers walked off with the maximum prize, winning against seven other competitors.[1]

While The $64,000 Question and The $64,000 Challenge later came out with cheating scandals of some contestants only pretending to be novices to their respective topic, Brothers was one of the contestants who was cleared of cheating allegations.[1]

Sports Showcase (1956)[edit]

After the success of the quiz show, Brothers co-hosted the Sports Showcase with journalist Max Kase. This made her one of the first female sports commentators.[1]

Local afternoon show on NBC’s WRCA-TV[edit]

Brothers' wish to use her platform to practice psychology was provided through reading letters from people that submitted it to the radio.[1] This opportunity was provided on a four-week basis on NBC's WRCA-TV.[1]

Appearances on talk shows[edit]

Brothers appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson as a means for the public to get to know her more than the advice columns.[1] With more than ninety appearances on the show, she provided detailed psychological updates on the accounts of the current social climate of that time.[1] She also appeared on daytime television programs like Good Morning America, Today, Entertainment Tonight, and CNN as well as late-night television shows with Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, and Conan O’Brien, amongst many others, including The Steve Allen Show, Body Language, and The Dick Cavett Show.[1]

Living Easy with Dr. Joyce Brothers, her own Talk Show (1973)[edit]

In efforts to market and promote their new textile fibre Trevira polyester, the German chemical company Hoechst provided Joyce Brothers with her own show.[1] While Brothers had the opportunity to host her own show and allow the public to learn more about her, the show's ultimate function was to promote Trevira and the company's latest fashions.[1] This was evident in almost every aspect of the show, from when Brothers would casually segue her discussions onto the topic of fashion, to the very set itself which was decorated entirely in the Trevira fabric.[1]

Initially the show was located in the Broadway Theatre District in New York but by its second year it moved to Studio 6B at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.[1] The show, titled Living Easy with Dr. Joyce Brothers, consisted of things like guest interviews, musical performances, how-to-demos and a weekly segment dedicated to psychology.[3] For three years the show ran 200 shows, across 150 stations.[1] Despite its run of three years, the show did face criticisms from stakeholders and the public who believed there was not enough focus on psychology and that Brothers was failing to adequately incorporate her psychological expertise.[1]

Dr. Joyce Brothers Show (1985)[edit]

Brothers in 1988

A decade after Living Easy with Dr. Joyce Brothers , Brothers premiered a new show. It consisted of 16 one-hour weekly installments on the Disney Channel.[1] This would be her first appearance on cable television.[1] The themes surrounding the show were family oriented, with each show consisting of a comedian and a special guest star, and calls from viewers to provide advice from a psychological and educational standpoint.[1]

By August 1985, Brothers was given her own television show on a New York station, but her topic was not sports; she began doing an advice show about relationships, during which she answered questions from the audience. Sponsors were nervous about whether a television psychologist could succeed, she recalled, but viewers expressed their gratitude for her show, telling her she was giving them the information they could not get elsewhere.[1]

Joyce Brothers covered a variety of topics, including: prognosis for American football, the psychology of football, women's changing clothing styles, HIV and AIDS, school shootings, and more.[1] In essence, Brothers brought psychology to the mainstream media.[5]

Brothers presented syndicated advice shows on both television and radio, during a broadcasting career that lasted more than four decades. Her shows changed names numerous times, from The Dr. Joyce Brothers Show to Consult Dr. Brothers to Tell Me, Dr. Brothers to Ask Dr. Brothers to Living Easy with Dr. Joyce Brothers. In 1964, she interviewed and posed for publicity photographs with the Beatles on their first visit to the United States.

Cameo appearances[edit]

Brothers made cameo appearances as herself in the comedy series Police Squad! and its first spinoff film Naked Gun. She also appeared in both season 3 and season 5 of comedy sitcom The Nanny as herself. She also voiced an animated version of herself in season 4 episode 17 of The Simpsons, as well as an episode of Frasier portraying a "nut".

Newspaper and books[edit]

Brothers also had a monthly column in Good Housekeeping for almost four decades and a syndicated newspaper column that she began writing in the 1970s, which at its height was printed in more than 300 newspapers. She also published several books including the 1981 book, What Every Woman Should Know About Men, and the 1991 book, Widowed, inspired by the loss of her husband. Her advice was also used as a source for some questions on the 1998–2004 incarnation of Hollywood Squares.

Joyce Brothers conducted self promotion and was seemingly skilled in navigating the male-dominated media industry.[5] In addition to her television and radio presence, Brothers wrote best-selling books; these books included advice on how to achieve a successful marriage and career.[1]


Social conversation[edit]

She was viewed as the public crisis counselor, as she was asked to comment on issues like Princess Diana's death and the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle.[1]

Joyce Brothers addressed homosexuality in 1972, and the transgender community in 1959, easing her viewers into it from the prior standpoint in which they were raised with. After the 1999 Columbine school shooting, she was persistent on CNN, for gun control legislation.[1]

More memorable episodes of her advice shows include when she helped a man on air who called in contemplating suicide as a result of being blind in one eye and nearly blind in the other.[1] Her efforts included keeping him on air for thirty minutes—long enough for National Save-A-Life to contact.[1] Another similar episode aired in 1971 when a woman called in and was threatening to overdose on sleeping pills. As this was a riveting circumstance, the show was left running for 3 more hours after uninterrupted, so that Brothers was able to extract a phone number from the woman to get an ambulance to her.[1]


Upon receiving acceptance into Columbia University for her Ph.D, the dean of her department, stated although her qualifications were impeccable, she was taking the position of a man who would use the degree, and it would be best if she dropped her position.[1] However, Brothers did not waver and maintained her position.[1]

Despite this, she was a product of the time evidenced by her belief that her husband should be the breadwinner. She thus gave up any notion of pursuing a career in psychology for herself, as it could mean being in competition with her husband.[1] Early in her career, when Brothers was asked by women for advice on when their husband would show interest in other women, Brothers was known to ask the caller to look at themselves and ask what they could do to be more like the women their husband seem to chase after.[1] Brothers later became more involved with issues of women's rights. In 1972, she was one of many who testified in front of the platform committee on women's issues, also serving as acting chair of a US delegation for the 16th assembly of the Inter-American Commission of Women.[1] In 1979, she provided proposals at the congressional hearing on "problems of mid-life women", speaking on employment, retirement income, and anti-ageism in television characters.[1]

Criticism, positive contributions, and awards[edit]

Controversy surrounding Brothers’ "Pop Psychology"[edit]

As her fame grew there was an increase in disapproval among psychologists and psychiatrists. They questioned both the validity of her psychological claims and her authority in providing psychological advice.[2] A growing number of psychologists began to believe the advice she provided to her audience was unethical insofar as she did not hold any clinical degree and she was giving advice to strangers, not to patients with whom she had professional relationships.[1] Stevens and Gardener, the authors of “Women of Psychology,” stated that “traditional psychologists smile subtly when her name is mentioned and they often complain that she actually does more damage than good."[2] There were many attempts by American Psychological Association members to revoke Brothers’ membership; they objected to the form in which Brothers' advice was provided.[4] Although her membership was never revoked, Brothers' very public professional activities did cause some uproar in the community.[1]

De-stigmatizing psychology[edit]

Despite the criticism, at the end of one of her TV appearance in December 1958, Roger Turtle and Joyce Brothers discussed the logistics behind the process of her TV appearances.[1] There were 15 hours spent preparing for each show, with consultations with other professionals and the breakdown of the grand field of psychology to be understood in terms of everyday language.[1] All this occurring behind the scenes, during the actual shows there were many references to scientific research and explicit statements that psychology is a service not simply a source of entertainment.[1] These shows provided a platform to "professionalize and de-stigmatize psychology".[1] Mental health was very stigmatized and not as covered in the media, but Joyce Brothers strived to contribute significantly to giving people a different perspective.[5] Her show allowed the public to view psychologists as real people.[7]

With an influx of letters from those that wanted advice from several topics like: marriage, parenting, work, money also other taboo topics like menopause, infidelity and sex.[5] Her light on these topics assisted in normalizing these within the mainstream media, with an explicit importance on therapy for everyday life and not only those with mental illness stated.[2]

Honors and awards[edit]

Brothers was also recognized with the following honors and awards: Women of Achievement Award, Federation of Jewish Women (1964); Professional Woman of the Year, Business and Professional Women's Club (1968); Award of the Parkinson Disease Foundation.[2] Brothers was also recognized not just by awards, but also in many different areas, Brothers was given an honorary degree, the L.H.D. which as from Franklin Pierce college in 1969.[2]


Brothers died on May 13, 2013 at her home in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Her daughter, Lisa Brothers Arbisser, says she died of respiratory failure.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg Collins, Kathleen (2016). Dr. Joyce Brothers: The founding mother of TV psychology. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group. ISBN 1-4422-6869-7.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Stevens, Gwendolyn; Gardner, Sheldon (1982). The women of psychology volume II: Expansion and Refinement. Cambridge, MA: Schenkman Publishing Company, Inc. ISBN 0-87073-446-6.
  3. ^ a b c d e Farley, Frank (2014). "Joyce Brothers (1927–2013)". American Psychologist. 69 (5): 550. doi:10.1037/a0036810. PMID 25046721.
  4. ^ a b DeAngelis, Tori (January 2011). "Ahead of her time". Monitor on Psychology. 42 (1). American Psychological Association. p. 30. Retrieved 2019-11-18.
  5. ^ a b c d e Gutgold, Nichola D. (2016). "Dr. Joyce Brothers: The founding mother of TV psychology". Journal of Communication. 66 (6): E12–E14. doi:10.1111/jcom.12262.
  6. ^ Joyce Brothers; 1929 – 2013 - website of the Jewish Women's Archive
  7. ^ a b Rutherford, Alexandra (2018). "Kathleen Collins. Dr. Joyce Brothers: The founding mother of TV psychology. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016. 225 pp. $35.00 (Cloth). ISBN-13: 978-1442268692". Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences (book review). 54 (2): 145–146. doi:10.1002/jhbs.21901.
  8. ^ Weil, Martin (13 May 2013). "Dr. Joyce Brothers, 85; TV psychologist and columnist". The Washington Post (obituary). Retrieved 4 November 2019.

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