Joyce Brothers: Psychologist who pioneered the television advice show


Joyce Brothers, who died on 13 May at the age of 85, was a psychologist who pioneered the television advice show in the 1950s and enjoyed a prolific career as a syndicated columnist, author and television and film personality. She first gained fame on a game show and went on to publish 15 books and make cameo appearances on shows like Happy Days and The Simpsons. She was on Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show nearly 100 times.

Brothers liked to recall that her varied media career came about "because we were hungry." In 1955 her husband Milton was in medical school and Brothers had given up her teaching posts at Hunter College and Columbia to raise her newborn baby, believing that a child's development depends on it.

The family struggled on her husband's income so Brothers entered the television quiz show The $64,000 Question, memorising 20 volumes of a boxing encyclopedia and becoming the only woman to win the show's top prize. She went on the superseding $64,000 Challenge, answering each question correctly. She later denied any knowledge of cheating, and during a 1959 hearing in the quiz show scandal, a producer, Mort Koplin, exonerated her.

The quiz show scandal erupted in 1958 when it was revealed that producers had been rigging the outcome of some shows, including The $64,000 Question, by giving favoured contestants the answers in advance. Brothers was one of a number of big winners who said in November 1959 that they knew nothing of any cheating.

Brothers applied to be a contestant as an expert in home economics and psychology. The producers, looking for an audience-pleasing oddity, suggested she try boxing as her subject. She learned it so well, Koplin said in testimony, that she kept on winning even after producers gave her tough questions aimed at eliminating her.

In 1956, she became co-host of Sports Showcast and frequently appeared on talk shows. Two years later NBC offered her a trial on an afternoon programme advising on love, marriage, sex and child-rearing. Subsequent late-night shows addressed such subjects as menopause, frigidity, impotence and sexual enjoyment.

She dispensed advice on radio phone-ins but was criticised by some for giving out advice without knowing her callers' histories. Brothers replied that she was not practising on-air therapy and that she advised callers to seek professional help when needed. Despite criticism, call-in shows took off, and by 1985, the Association of Media Psychologists was created to monitor them.

For almost four decades, Brothers was a columnist for Good Housekeeping and wrote a daily syndicated advice column that appeared in more than 350 newspapers. Briefly, in 1961, she hosted her own TV programme. Later she played herself in more than a dozen films, including Analyze That (2002) and Beethoven's 4th (2001). She was also an advocate for women; in the 1970s, she called for changes to textbooks to remove sexist bias.

Born Joyce Bauer in New York, Brothers graduated from Cornell University and gained a PhD in psychology from Columbia. She wrote numerous advice books, including Ten Days To A Successful Memory (1964) and Positive Plus: The Practical Plan for Liking Yourself Better (1995).