Joyce Brothers

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Joyce Brothers

The psychologist Joyce Brothers (born 1927) pioneered the trend to phone-in questions for professional psychological advice. Her rise to prominence in "pop-psych" in electronic media followed her unusual success on a television quiz show in the mid-1950s.

Joyce Brothers, popular psychologist of a radio, television, and reading audience since 1958, was born about 1927, one of two daughters to Morris K. and Estelle (Rapoport) Bauer. Both her lawyer parents taught their children the importance of academic excellence and the work ethic.

As a bright child, Brothers displayed many of the qualities that would help establish her professional career. She was an honors student in high school, received a B.S. degree with honors in psychology from Cornell University (1947), and obtained her M.A. degree from Columbia University in 1949. She then married a medical student, Milton Brothers, and continued her research and teaching. In 1953 she earned her Ph.D. from Columbia, having completed her dissertation on the topic of anxiety avoidance and escape behavior.

After their daughter was born, Brothers gave up her teaching posts at Columbia and Hunter College (New York City) because she believed it vital in the early development of children to have one parent at home. (In 1974 she said that a father could be that parent, but generally the mother got that responsibility.)

Without her teaching salary the family was soon in financial straits because her husband's resident's income was minimal. To supplement their funds Joyce determined to try for an appearance on the television quiz show The $64,000 Question (1955). By laboriously memorizing 20 volumes of a boxing encyclopedia, Joyce Brothers became the only woman and the second person ever to win the top prize. She later remarked that she had good motivation "because we were hungry."

When the $64,000 CHALLENGE, which pitted experts in certain fields with the contestant, replaced The $64,000 Question, Brothers' boxing knowledge dismayed the seven ex-boxer experts. She answered each question correctly and brought her total earnings to $134,000, making her one of the biggest winners in the history of television quiz shows.

In spite of accusations of quiz show corruption and subsequent investigations which exposed the fact that some contestants were given answers prior to the shows, Brothers emerged unscathed in the quiz-fix scandal. She later revealed that the producers had planned to "knock me out" with impossible questions, but she had memorized her subject so thoroughly that she could provide all the right answers.

Her fame in the quiz shows led to her public psychologist career. In 1956 Brothers cohosted Sports Showcase, in which she interviewed prominent sports figures and discussed sports events. Her charm, dignity, and intelligence led to several appearances on television "talk shows."

By 1958 NBC offered her a trial on local afternoon programs in which she advised on the topics of love, marriage, sex, and child-rearing. When she proved an instant success, the same format was telecast nationally. Soon Brothers had several late-night shows (under various titles and formats) which included topics which had been tabooed earlier, such as menopause, frigidity, impotence, and sexual satisfaction. Much of her success was attributed to her sympathetic manner and her ability to discuss issues in laymen's terms rather than professional jargon. Brothers also gave personal advice on a number of phone-in radio programs. Some were taped, while others were "live," which sometimes provided on-the-air drama.

To her colleagues who criticized her for giving advice without knowing her callers well enough, Brothers responded that she did not attempt to treat mental illness, nor did she practice therapy on the air, and that when needed she advised callers to seek professional help. Her supporters also suggested that her public performance approximated group therapy with its many advantages.

Brothers also wrote a syndicated newspaper column for 350 daily newspapers, authored magazine articles, and advised several manufacturers on women's needs. She authored several books, including Ten Days To A Successful Memory (1964), How To Get Whatever You Want Out of Life, What Every Woman Should Know About Men, and What Every Woman Ought to Know About Love and Marriage (1985).

In the 1970s Brothers spoke against sexist bias, citing the need to change textbooks because children quickly pick up sexist attitudes from them. She noted that non-sexist cultures tend to be less war-like because the man does not have to prove that he is big and strong and needs to protect the weaker woman. She called for children to learn that it is fine to be either male or female, thereby developing more positive attitudes about themselves.

Without tremendous organizational ability, Brothers could scarcely have managed her many and varied professional activities. Without her keen interest in learning new things (she taught herself plumbing in college and could do her own electrical wiring), her multi-faceted life would have been less stimulating and her impact on American society less significant. Since she pioneered the psychological phone-in show in the 1960s, the idea proliferated to the extent that by 1985 there was an Association of Media Psychologists to monitor for abuses.

In the 1990s Brothers authored several books, including Positive Plus: The Practical Plan for Liking Yourself Better (1995), and Widowed (1992). She wrote the latter after losing her husband in 1990, and it is a guide to dealing with grief for women who have lost their spouses. The movie rights to the story were optioned by ABC -TV, and a television movie is scheduled. Brothers also appeared in Garry Marshall's 1996 film, Dear God.

Brothers' books have been translated into 26 different languages, and she was a regular columnist for Good Housekeeping magazine. In her columns, she addressed family-oriented topics such time together and the secret to a successful marriage. In her June 1994 Good Housekeeping article she said, "We are beginning to realize that real solutions to many of the nation's difficult problems may in fact be found in the home." Brothers also regularly wrote on other topical issues such as obsession and the elements of a healthy patient-doctor relationship. Throughout her career, Brothers guest-lectured at colleges and universities.

Further Reading

Biographical information on Joyce Brothers is limited primarily to interviews given in periodicals, her comments in electronic media, and newspaper accounts of her press conferences. A brief section entitled "The Joyce Brothers Story" in her book Ten Days To A Successful Memory (1964) gives insights into that period of her life when she became a successful quiz-show contestant. Additional materials may be gleaned from Authors In The News, Vol. 1 (1976); Coronet (November 1968), New York Times (January 5, 1971), Newsday (June 22, 1970), and Good Housekeeping (December 1980). A Web site with biographical information can be accessed at <www.clark.net/pub/speakers/on-line/spkr1069.html>. □

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