Forget Beatlemania on The Ed Sullivan Show.
In the early months of 1964, University of Wisconsin alumni and friends were glued to their television sets rooting for their fellow Badgers in a battle of wits against some of the nation’s biggest B-list celebrities.
At stake: $15,000 and the UW’s reputation.
It all began on January 5, 1964, when host Clifton Fadiman welcomed three Wisconsin alumni to the game show Alumni Fun. The 13-week series, sponsored by American Cyanamid and airing on CBS, pitted 14 prominent college and university alumni teams against one another.
Alumni Fun was a spin-off of the popular radio and television program “College Bowl.” Read more about the UW’s 1965 championship team and where its members are today.
Playing for the UW team were Nat Hiken ’36, creator of television series Car 54, Where Are You? and Sgt. Bilko; William B. Murphy ’28, then-president of the Campbell’s Soup company; and David Susskind ’42, a producer whose credits include 1961’s TV movie A Raisin in the Sun — written by fellow alumna Lorraine Hansberry x’52.
They opened the series with a win over the University of the Pacific, represented by actors Janet Leigh and Darren McGavin, along with Richard Pederson, an assistant to UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson.
Murphy could not attend the final two rounds, leaving football legend Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch x’45 to step in and prove that his mental speed could match his talents on the field.
The win against Pacific earned the UW team a ticket to the semi-finals on March 22 versus Brown University, where the Badger team defeated actress Ruth Hussey and author Quentin Reynolds.
Victory belonged to Wisconsin!
Finally, on April 5, Badgers across the country tuned in to see if Hiken, Susskind and Hirsch could defeat Dartmouth’s celebrity alumni: actor Robert Ryan, former NBC president Sylvester Weaver and Missouri Congressman Thomas Curtis.
According to the April 6 issue of the Wisconsin State Journal, quiz questions ranged across history, art, literature, science and finance. The contestants were asked to identify drawings of car parts, list the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame and translate “criminal and teenage jargon into recognizable English.”
Our Badgers could not name the president of Cyprus (Archbishop Makarios) but did know Jane Eyre’s married name (Rochester).
The UW alumni won out over Dartmouth, and a month later, Wisconsin Alumni Association leader Arlie Mucks, Jr. ‘47 lauded them with a luncheon at the Edgewater Hotel.
The team handed its winnings over to the university’s president, who in turn gave it to WAA to fund construction of the new Alumni House on Lake Street and student scholarships.
Jargon of the 1960s
Because we were unable to locate the exact questions asked during the “Alumni Fun” finals, we’re left to wonder what sort of “criminal and teenage jargon” the contestants were asked to translate.
So, we took our best guess and constructed a quiz of our own. Match all six words to their correct definitions, and you can officially call yourself a “cool cat.”
|1. Lay a trip||a. Boyfriend or girlfriend|
|2. Drop a dime||b. Use the pay phone|
|3. Bug out||c. Crazy or strange|
|4. Hep, hip or primo||d. Cool car|
|5. Main squeee||e. With it, first-class or cool|
|6. Mean machine||f. Mess with your head, create conflict or confusion|
|7. Around the bend||g. Flee the scene|
Answers: 1. F; 2. B; 3. G; 4. E; 5. A; 6. D; 7. C