In 1950s America, it was an American as apple pie to be a little concerned about those Ruskies, even for politicians in Washington to pound their desks with their ham-like fists, shake their jowls and warn how dangerous the Soviet Union was to Our Freedom. But, even in America, there were limits.
54 years ago yesterday, someone decided to hijack live TV network airwaves to get America to do something about it. 45 million people watched.
Viewers Suddenly Challenged By Interloper on TV Quiz
NEW YORK, Nov. 18—(AP)—Viewers watching “The $64,000 Challenge TV” quiz last night were startled to hear themselves challenged.
In the midst of the program, a man later identified by police as Richard Fichter, 34, of Route 1 Springville, Pa., walked in front of a camera and read from a prepared statement:
“America, I have a challenge. The Russians are ahead of you. ... ”
Fichter got no further. The camera swung away from him, he was grabbed by the stage director and was ushered into the wings after his brief performance.
The director, Seymour Robbie, said later he saw Fichter walk into a televised area that included three contestants and a master of ceremonies but thought he was a CBS employe. As soon as Fichter began to read, Robbie shouted through an intercom system: “Remove him.”
Fichter was taken by police to Bellevue Hospital, where he was admitted to the psychiatric ward.
Police refused to divulge the contents of his statement. They said it was headed: “$64,000 Challenge as Prepared by Richard Fichter.”
Legitimately on stage at the time were the M. C., Ralph Story, and three contestants, Teddy Nadler, Norman Fruman and Barry Simmons. All three had already won $4,000 and Story was asking Fruman the $8,000 question when Fichter appeared.
Fruman, a comic book writer from the Bronx, finally answered the question correctly.
The three contestants were involved in an elimination match in the “general knowledge” quiz category. Nadler, a former civil service clerk from St. Louis, and Simmons, a 20-year-old New York City public relations man, will have a chance next week to draw even again with Fruman.
Studio officials said Fichter, a tall, bearded man, had tried to participate in rehearsals yesterday afternoon but was ejected. He had a ticket for last night’s show.
It’s easy to read this and think the guy was some kind of kook who, today, would be screeding incoherently all over the internet. But perhaps not. A little newspaper digging (thanks, internet!) reveals Fichter was born in Hamilton, Ohio and grew up in nearby Oxford, where his father was head of the state Grange, a farmer’s organisation. He and a brother became ministers and had been granted a deferment from military service in World War Two because they were conscientious objectors to war. A third brother was hauled before a grand jury for failing to report, after losing his attempt at deferral based on the same objection. Fichter took his Methodist ministry to Springville, but decided to go into dairy farming. That’s what he was doing when he challenged the ‘Challenge.’
Fichter was involved in a protest in December the following year outside a prison farm in Ohio where another minister had been incarcerated for refusing to pay taxes because they were being used for military purposes. He, his wife, and three children had driven 650 miles to picket the Cincinnati courthouse where the man’s sentencing was taking place.
Furthermore, the United Press story on Fichter’s TV appearance says he “told network official Julia Shorwell he could not ‘sleep two nights ago and got up and wrote a message to the American people about godlessness.’ His message said Americans were ‘frustrated’ because Russia was ahead scientifically and were ‘frantically blaming first this one and then that one.’” It would appear he wanted to warn about the end result of increasing Soviet paranoia, not feed it.
Later, he and his family lived for 13 years in Arzier, Switzerland, and Frankfurt, West Germany. While in Europe he founded and edited a magazine called “Equality,” at one time published in four languages. The family returned to Oxford in 1972 where Fichter died on June 3, 1977 after a long bout with cancer.
Crackpot or someone with a legitimate concern? Considering protests of various kinds have continued since Fichter’s day, it’s perhaps a challenge to decide who is what.