Dr. Joyce Brothers can thank her husband for becoming famous on TV
Here’s the forgotten story of how the TV doctor won fame on a game show.
For the Happy Days episode "Spunkless Spunky," Fonzie notices his dog seems depressed and decides to hire a psychologist to analyze the dog’s behavior.
Enter Dr. Joyce Brothers, who became one of the most famous popular psychologists through regular columns in Good Housekeeping and hosting her own TV talk show in the Seventies.
What many people forget about Dr. Brothers, though, is that she actually became famous for something other than her psychology expertise by winning the top prize on the game show The $64,000 Question in 1955.
The topic she dominated on that game show was not psychology, but boxing.
At that time, Brothers was 28 years old, and she’d been married to her husband Milt for five years.
During those early years of their marriage, she said that Milt was interning to become a medical doctor, and because he had to work so many hours, they made a rather adorable decision that ended up setting her up for the major game show winnings.
"We decided that we had so little time together, we would do only those things which we mutually enjoyed," Brothers told the St. Louis Globe-Democrat in 1955. "Milt loves boxing and I love golf. I promised to follow boxing if he would learn golf. That’s the way it worked out."
After the couple made this vow, Joyce became so enthusiastic about boxing that soon, "We were having friendly arguments about the boxing matches, and we’d look up information to settle a point," she said.
But in 1955 when Joyce applied to be on The $64,000 Question, she thought she’d be able to answer questions about her profession, psychology.
When the game show told her she’d have to pick a topic outside her established expertise, she was thinking on her feet and she said her second choice was boxing.
When viewers tuned in and saw Joyce Brothers quickly rattling off correct answers to seemingly esoteric boxing trivia, they were so enthralled.
Then, when Brothers decided to pass on going home with $32,000 and go for the big prize instead, everyone was on the edge of their seats, wondering if she’d possibly know the answer to the hardest question.
For Joyce, it was obvious to keep going for the gold, though, because she wasn’t worried about losing the money.
"My husband is going to be a fine doctor," Joyce said. "There was never any doubt in my mind that he wouldn’t be able to provide all I’ll need for the future. That’s the reason why I went for $64,000 instead of stopping at $32,000. I could afford to take the risk of losing."
Yet Brothers didn’t lose, and after she won $64,000, she became an overnight celebrity.
She said random people would stop her on the street to discuss her winnings, and that little boys would follow her around like she was a sports star.
"Maybe I’m naïve, but I thought the whole business would be over the day after the program," Brothers said. "I never dreamed people would be asking for my autograph."
It wasn’t just people in the audience who became fans of Brothers, either. Soon, she was being invited to do commercials for boxing events, becoming a sports commentator overnight.
She wasn’t used to the fame at all, but she had to admit that she liked the continued attention.
"I have the feeling that I want it all to stop — but I know I’ll miss it when it does stop," Brothers said.
After her big win, Brothers became a household name and frequent guest star playing herself on dozens of TV shows like Happy Days and many movies over three decades.
It’s an astonishing run for someone who only went on the game show on a lark, and only made it to the end because of the vow she made with her boxing geek husband.
She never could’ve predicted her life would take the turn it did when she submitted her name for consideration as a contestant.
"I wanted to answer questions on psychology," Brothers said, insisting she would’ve been just as happy to drive away that day with the consolation prize: a Cadillac.
Instead, she got an entire film legacy, appearing in everything from ALF to The Simpsons until she passed away in 2013.