May 1, 2010

"A panic surged through me as I realized there were only two weeks until taping — and over two hundred countries whose capitals and major geographical landmarks had to be committed to relatively long-term memory."

My colleague Shubha Ghosh writes about his experience on "Jeopardy":
I also had to start watching the show again. The program guide on the Jeopardy web site indicated that the show aired at the same time accident attorneys, payday loan makers, and diet doctors advertise on the airways, and I set the DVR accordingly. The show used to be on after dinner, a nice way to end the day and begin the evening.  Re-engaging with Jeopardy, I asked myself: What had I committed to by agreeing to be a contestant? Was I a part of a desperate franchise?  Such thoughts were put aside quickly as I worked through, among other lists, the countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States and the names of people who would succeed President Obama.  VP, Speaker of the House, Secretary of State, and so forth....
That's from part 1. The series continues, but the show aired yesterday, so we already know what happened. I won't spoil it for you, but it set my thoughts flowing back to my junior high school guidance counselor, Mr. Hannan. He was on "Jeopardy" in the early 1960s, and it was horrifying when he lost because he confused cirrus and cumulus clouds — probably on a big "Double Jeopardy" bet. We'd all learned the different kinds of clouds, and Mr. Hannan had even taught science! How could it be! But he was good natured about it, and we accepted that you've got to understand what it's really like trying to think and remember things when you're caught in the bright camera lights. [CORRECTION: The teacher I'm remembering wasn't Mr. Hannan, but a science teacher whose name I've forgotten. The material that follows, however, about Mr. Hannan, is, as far as I know, correct.]

The coolest thing about Mr. Hannan — Joseph Hannan — was not that he went on "Jeopardy." It was that he wrote a novel about being a teacher — "Never Tease a Dinosaur" — and it was made into a TV pilot — "Hey, Teacher" — that starred Dwayne Hickman. Dwayne Hickman was Mr. Hannan. So, practically, Mr. Hannan was Dobie Gillis!

It's sad that there's so little trace on line of the things from that era. I wish I could find the full text of "Never Tease a Dinosaur." I wish I could find a video clip of "Hey, Teacher." (The pilot aired in1964 — back when the networks filled in the summer schedule with pilot episodes of shows that never got sold.) I did find a tiny obituary for my old guidance counselor. The obit spells his name 2 ways — Hannon and Hannan — and makes me wonder now if I got it right.
Author Joseph Hannon died at age 84. Mr. Hannan wrote the book 1961 "Never Tease a Dinosaur." The book dealt with his experiences as an elementary school teacher in the 1950s. His observation of a man working in what was then a mainly woman's job. The book was the basis for the 1964 "Vacation Playhouse" TV pilot "Hey, Teacher." Dwayne Hickman starred as Mr. Hannan. Mr. Hannan served his country in the US Coast Guard during WWII.
So I don't have a clip of Shubha missing his shot on "Jeopardy," and I sure don't have a clip of Mr. Hannan fluffing the cloud names on "Jeopardy," and I don't have a clip of Dwayne Hickman playing Mr. Hannan in "Hey, Teacher," but I do have a clip of Dwayne Hickman screwing up on "The Match Game":



Teachers and TV quiz shows. It's all good.

ADDED: A reader sends me the  January 13, 2008 obituary in The Record (nicely written by Jay Levin). This isn't otherwise available on line, so I can't give a link. Text after the jump:

A LIFE: JOSEPH F. HANNAN , 1923-2008 As 'male schoolmarms' go, he wrote the book "I am an elementary schoolteacher; a male elementary schoolteacher; a dedicated, hardworking, shave-twice-a-day male elementary schoolteacher," Joseph F. Hannan wrote early in his teaching career in Wayne.

As 'male schoolmarms' go, he wrote the book "I am an elementary schoolteacher; a male elementary schoolteacher; a dedicated, hardworking, shave-twice-a-day male elementary schoolteacher," Joseph F. Hannan wrote early in his teaching career in Wayne.

"Yet at least one-quarter of the notes I receive from parents are addressed to Mrs. Hannan."

So it went for the witty Mrs. ... er ... Mr. Hannan, a Pompton Lakes resident who chronicled his experiences as a "male schoolmarm" in his 1961 book "Never Tease a Dinosaur." He died Monday at 84.

Mr. Hannan wrote "Never Tease a Dinosaur" on a clipboard while soaking in the bathtub. His wife, Marge, said that was "a good place for him to think," what with four kids - the fifth would arrive a few years later - underfoot.

The book was turned into a TV pilot titled "Hey, Teacher." Dwayne Hickman, who a year earlier portrayed a teenager on "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis," was protagonist Joe Hannan, "a terrorized third-grade teacher who may not last out the term's first day," according to the blurb in the June 13-19, 1964, TV Guide.

Mr. Hannan liked the casting.

And why not? He was nothing if not agreeable and go-with-the-flow.

He had no problem being the one guy at the grade school. "The harem effect," he called it.

"He always said the staff was wonderful to him, and they treated him like a king," said Marge Hannan, who was a school librarian at Pompton Lakes High. "They even fetched him coffee."

There was a trade-off:

"The sultan has a duty to the harem," Mr. Hannan wrote. "You will be called upon countless times to perform duties only a man can carry out successfully. For example, you will: change flat tires, put on snow chains, unlock locked bumpers and carry in bulky packages."

Bill Ginter was hired by the Wayne schools the same year as Mr. Hannan. Eventually, they would work together at Anthony Wayne Junior High - Ginter as assistant principal and Mr. Hannan as guidance director.
Mr. Ginter! The man whose office I was sent to by teachers who didn't like my short skirts and long bangs! Ha. He tried to reason with me, hypothesizing what if a girl came to school in a bikini. What would happen to the poor boys? I reasoned back: I was not wearing a bikini, but a skirt — in the length that was fashionable. Let the girls wear pants then, but don't force me to wear a skirt that's the wrong length.
"I think Joe enjoyed being the only man, that's for sure," said Ginter, who lives in Sussex County.

"He just enjoyed life and was such an uplifting person."

Joseph Hannan grew up in Paterson on the banks of the Morris Canal, which helps to explain his membership in the Canal Society of New Jersey.

After serving in the Coast Guard during World War II, he worked as a letter carrier in Paterson while getting his degree at Rutgers at night.

An aunt suggested he go into teaching. He picked up the necessary credits and started his career as a sixth-grade teacher at Wayne's Packanack Lake School.

A few years later, he was teaching at Mountain View School and mining the experience for material. His essay "Snakes in the Classroom" appeared in the April 1959 edition of the New Jersey Education Association Review.

"As a gesture of love from a small boy or as a harbinger of spring, be assured that some day you'll have to face a snake. ... The snake must be made to feel welcome. I need hardly say that a loud shriek followed by a fainting spell is not conducive to a good snake-people relationship."

"Snakes in the Classroom" caught the eye of the publisher Holt, Rinehart and Winston, which asked Mr. Hannan to write a humorous book about being a teacher. The advance paid for the family's camping vacation at Yellowstone; subsequent checks helped put eldest son Joe through Syracuse University and a new Zenith television set in the living room.

It was around that Zenith that the Hannan family gathered on June 15, 1964, when "Hey, Teacher" aired on Channel 2 as part of CBS's "Vacation Playhouse" series. The Paterson Morning Call sent a reporter and photographer to capture the moment.

Celebrityhood was short-lived for Joseph Hannan. The network did not pick up the pilot. But Mr. Hannan soldiered on. He published another book, "Killing Time," about the challenges of leisure; taught for 20 more years; and enjoyed a retirement filled with canal-lecturing and banjo-playing and grandkids.

His lighthearted take on the perils of teaching in the "Leave It to Beaver" era - including three whole pages on gum-chewing! - lives on in "Never Tease a Dinosaur," thanks to Amazon.com.

24 comments:

lohwoman said...

Social Security Death Index shows the name as Hannan. So does findagrave.com. Not that these resources are infallible.

WV: packlin. Sarah Palin's horde.

Ann Althouse said...

And Amazon has the book as used here with the name spelled with an "a." I see IMDB as such an important website that I acceded to the spelling there.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm correcting it to "Hannan" in the post. That seems right to me. That was the way I originally Googled the name.

knox said...

I'm just old enough to remember all those great game shows from the 70s. Password, Match Game ...

I DVR everything now, but back when I used to flip through the channels, I'd get sucked in so easily if I caught one of them on the Game Show Network.

The witty and cheesey repartee, all those great personalities. It was so relaxed, so adult. Even as a kid I thought it would be fun to be on one of those shows.

sean said...

My mother was on the Match Game. She didn't do that well, but she won $100, which was more money then (ca. 1965) than it is now. We weren't allowed to watch TV, so it didn't mean much to us.

Paul said...

he confused cirrus and cumulus clouds

I have always been proud of my spelling ability, but was humbled during a spelling bee at the corporation where I once worked. I was doing very well until I was asked to spell "shepherd." For some reason I thought of a street near my house called "Shepard" and that was the way I spelled it. The moderator was surprised and asked me to repeat it, thinking I'd realize my mistake, but at that moment I was locked in on it and said the same thing over again.

One of many life experiences which has made me a humble man. (Raising children probably the main one.)

MrBuddwing said...

Unfortunately, next to nothing remains of the original "Jeopardy!" hosted by Art Fleming - NBC freely recycled the videotapes back then. And next to nothing remains of the original "Match Game," apparently because many of the shows were done live, and weren't recorded at all.

Word verification: ballsi.

rdkraus said...

Great Jeopardy scene in White Men Can't Jump.

She's in a zone, man!

David said...

Dobie Gillis was your favorite teacher. This finally explains things.

victoria said...

I was on a show called "Split Second" in the 70's, a great thing for college students in L.A. to do to get some cash. I then did pilots for game shows for Hatos Hall productions. $50 a show. For 1973 that was much cash. Totally fun.


Vicki from Pasadena

EDH said...

Brett Sommers' laugh. What a complete turn off.

Hey, Teacher?

I wonder if Roger Waters saw that?

edutcher said...

I've never really believed you could cram for something like "Jeopardy"; it's always seemed like something more dependent on accumulated knowledge, stuff you've spent a lifetime building.

MrBuddwing said...

Unfortunately, next to nothing remains of the original "Jeopardy!" hosted by Art Fleming - NBC freely recycled the videotapes back then.

Storing the tape would have probably cost a fortune - remember 5 shows every week and some shows had a nighttime version, as well. In any case, I seem to remember someone once saying Goodson-Todman was a notoriously cheap outfit.

PS Match Game and Jeopardy go back to the early 60s (another reason there wouldn't be tape) and Password was late 50s, IIRC.

PatCA said...

"When Jeopardy Attaches." Cute title. :)

Sea Urchin said...

edutcher - I've read Ken Jenning's book Brainiac about his experience on Jeopardy, and he does accredit a lot of his success to studying his brains out. Of course, he spent his whole life steeped in trivia, but there are a lot of categories and knowledge sets that the Jeopardy question writers go back to again and again that makes studying quite profitable. (He also, being Mormon, needed to brush up on categories such as "Potent Potables")

Plus, once you're on several times and have lost the dazed-in-the-headlights feeling, you have a significant advantage over new contestants, and though the clues are not quite recycled, frequently information in one clue shows up and helps with another.

It's a good book, but I was obnoxious for days after reading it, what with having to show off all the trivia I'd learned from its pages. And it made me realize that as much as I enjoy playing from home, I'm just not cut out to be a Jeopardy contestant. You have to be slightly crazy to be able to contain that level and breadth of knowledge, I think.

pm317 said...

"I won't spoil it for you,"

You did anyway with this:

"So I don't have a clip of Shubha missing his shot on "Jeopardy," "

grmapege said...

I, too, was on the old Jeopardy! in 1967. I couldn't remember what the capital of Maryland (the state capital closest to Washington DC) is/was and lost Final Jeopardy the 3rd day I was on--Thanksgiving Day between the Macy's Parade and a football game (though taped a few weeks earlier). It IS as shame that old tapes weren't saved.

Ann Althouse said...

@ pm317 Guilty!

Jeff with one 'f' said...

"The book dealt with his experiences as an elementary school teacher in the 1950s. His observation of a man working in what was then a mainly woman's job."

It's even more of a woman's job now.

edutcher said...

Sea Urchin said...

edutcher - I've read Ken Jenning's book Brainiac about his experience on Jeopardy, and he does accredit a lot of his success to studying his brains out. Of course, he spent his whole life steeped in trivia, but there are a lot of categories and knowledge sets that the Jeopardy question writers go back to again and again that makes studying quite profitable. (He also, being Mormon, needed to brush up on categories such as "Potent Potables")

Plus, once you're on several times and have lost the dazed-in-the-headlights feeling, you have a significant advantage over new contestants, and though the clues are not quite recycled, frequently information in one clue shows up and helps with another.


I think Jennings was the great exception in terms of champs, but, having watched it off and on over the years, I seem to get the majority of them right off the top of my head. No, I'm not bragging by any means, but part of that was a good general education and, as a kid, I'd flip through the papers when I was bored (Philadelphia had 2 major dailies back then) and accumulated a considerable mass of otherwise useless knowledge.

Your point (and his) about losing the stage fright is undoubtedly true.

grmapege said...

I, too, was on the old Jeopardy! in 1967. I couldn't remember what the capital of Maryland (the state capital closest to Washington DC) is/was

Annapolis; not sure if it always was.

Rialby said...

"Hey, Teacher" also featured a 5-year old Clint Howard. He was recently on the Dennis Miller Radio Show for an hour and had some really fascinating stories. Sounds like a really cool guy.

Also, admitted that he tends more towards the conservative side of the political spectrum. Surprising given that I think Ron is a Progressive.

Ralph L said...

In the 80's, Jeopardy was on two stations in DC, at 7:00 and 7:30. My brother's friend would watch most of the first one and then go to another friend's house and astonish him with his brilliance.

One error I caught on the show also involved Maryland. The clue was the founder of the colony, the contestant said Henry Calvert (correct), but Alex ruled him wrong and said it was Lord Baltimore (Calvert's title). The guy should have made them look it up and gotten his money back--I can't remember if it would have changed the outcome, but it might have put him on tilt, as the gamblers say.

wv - fantarid - soda chaser for a dry martini

William said...

Dregs from the wide, Sargasso sea. Not only are facts forgettable but the people who remember them like Mr. Hannan soon become lost in the seaweed. Win, lose, double your bet: the rules of Jeopardy are such that everyone loses in the end.

gpm said...

A somewhat related Dwayne Hickman game show
memory. Why do these things stick in your head?

From the circumstances I think I remember, it must have been before I went to high school, so no later than 1967. There was a show (was it the Match Game?) where they started off by goofing on the names of the "celebrity" participants. The clue for Mr. Hickman was something to the effect of how a baby would say "drain." His response, which I can hear in my head to this day, was instead "Water go bye bye!"

--gpm

grandrants said...

victoria said...
I was on a show called "Split Second" in the 70's...

I loved that show. As I recall, it was hosted by Tom Kennedy, one of the most genial and non-sleazy emcees of the time.

Never did like Gene Rayburn (talk about sleazy!) even in the original Match Game (yes, it used to be in b&w, as well).

When I was studying up for being on Jeopardy, I found that the trouble wasn't memorizing new stuff but making sure all the stuff in my brain was right at the tip of my tongue, to be ready when called for.

In general, I think it's fair to say that if you can qualify to get on Jeopardy, you'll likely know the answers to about 90% of the questions. The problem lies in:
a) ringing in quickly enough--but not too quickly
b) getting the correct answer out in the few precious seconds you have
c) ignoring everything else that's going on around you: lights, cameras, audience, stage, other contestants

Sad to say, I didn't win my round (Final Jeopardy question was a bitch!) but I had a blast doing it, and would do it again in a heartbeat were I allowed to.

And at least I didn't put up as dismal a showing as, say, Wolf Blitzer!