Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Leonard Ross

Leonard Ross, a 12-year-old California school boy who won a total of $164,000 on the game shows The Big Surprise and The Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar Challenge, talks to Wallace about the effects of quiz shows on children, school, politics, eggheads, spanking, mothers, and Santa Claus.

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Guest: Leonard Ross

WALLACE: Good evening... tonight as a special pre Christmas program, we go after the story of a child prodigy, one of the biggest money winners in television quiz show history. He's twelve-year-old Lennie Ross, the California school boy who won a total of one hundred and sixty-four thousand dollars on The Big Surprise and The Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar Challenge with his amazing knowledge of the stock market.

WALLACE: Lennie, in a moment I shall ask you what you think of quiz shows, egg-heads, President Eisenhower, American education and Santa Claus. My name is Mike Wallace, the cigarette is Philip Morris.


WALLACE: And now to our story. In recent years, America has found a new set of heroes, quiz contestants like Teddy Nadler, Charles Van Doren and twelve-year-old Lennie Ross, and now that Russian Sputniks are whirling above our heads, it's generally agreed that America needs more youngsters like young Leonard Ross. Tonight we'll try to find out what he thinks of his problems and of ours. Lennie, first of all, let me ask you this, you've made a hundred and sixty-four thousand dollars answering questions, how does it feel to be doing it for free?

ROSS: I think I enjoy it. uh... I wouldn't tell until the end of the program before I can say for sure.

WALLACE: All right, I'll ask you that question again later. Last week, Lennie, the United Press asked one of the original radio Quiz Kids, actress Vanessa Brown, why she refused to appear on TV Quiz Shows and she said, "Because I want to be an actress, not an oddity. To appear on a quiz show -- she said -- there's no trick to it at all, it's a matter of collecting and saving facts like some people collect money." How do you feel about that?

ROSS: Well, quiz shows are entertainment like the Mike Wallace Interview and I certainly a lot of the questions asked deal with facts which are not too useful, but not everything is useful. Certainly there... a number of things that a person acquires are material things and information, which have no actual use and I think the quiz show is an entertainment based on the fact that some people have accumulated a specialized knowledge of a subject.

WALLACE: You don't feel, then, that you were a freak or an oddity when you answered stock market questions that might've stopped -stumped, as a matter of fact did stump, veteran stock brokers. You didn't feel like a...

ROSS: A stock broker is not in the business of acquiring facts about the stock market, which stocks pay dividends in a certain year, however if you're... if somebody is not in the business and has a side interest, it's perfectly normal to acquire such facts and thus you won't find a professional knowing them, and that's natural.

WALLACE: Well, is it possible that you just have a freak memory, for instance, Charles Van Doren said in the September Twenty-third Life Magazine, Lennie, he said about his own triumphs "I'm afraid that the knowledge that quiz show contestants exhibit is hardly more than junk," -- he said, and he said -- "I have an odd memory, I find it difficult to forget things." Could it be that you too, Lennie, just have kind of a... a freak memory or... do you feel that you and he and Nadler and people like you who win on quiz shows are rather extraordinary persons who are extraordinarily gifted, uh... in an over-all sense?

ROSS: Well as for myself, I wish I did have a freak memory. It could certainly help me in school, but I don't consider myself extraordinarily gifted as you term it and I don't know about Mr. Nadler and Mr. Van Doren, because I'm not they... uh... I think it's an interest that I've developed in mainly two subjects... the stock market and politics and I've acquired a... a fair amount of information no more than has interested me on these subjects and I'm interested in them...

WALLACE: Uhmmmm. Are you thinking per chance of going on a quiz show in the category of politics sometime in the future, Lennie?

ROSS: I wouldn't mind.

WALLACE: Do you feel that you know enough about politics? -- American politics now we're talking about...

ROSS: Yes, American politics.

WALLACE: ...and that it's possible that you know enough to go on a quiz in that category?

ROSS: I... I don't know exactly the extent of my information; I have the interest which is necessary.

WALLACE: What about the effects on the youngster of your age appearing on a network quiz show? Actor David Wayne said this, in the New York Sunday News back in January 20th of this year, he said "We -- meaning his wife and he -- we definitely wouldn't want our children to appear on a TV quiz program," -- and his reasons were these, he said -- "the heavy pressure built up on these shows and the publicity that might prevent them -- the children, that is -- from leading the normal carefree existence of the average child." Now, do you think that your appearances on The Big Surprise, The Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar Challenge have prevented you from leading a normal life?

ROSS: What is this normal child they're talking about? Is it so wonderfully normal not to have an interest in a special subject? I... I can't see their viewpoint and this idea of being carefree, I don't think I've developed any ulcers and I don't think I've been a... harmed in any way by it.

WALLACE: Lennie, I remember when you and I were doing The Big Surprise, I was the quiz master on The Big Surprise at the time that you won your...

ROSS: Uhmmmmm...

WALLACE: ...one hundred thousand dollars and there was there was one New York newspaper man in particular, J. Nelson Tuck, who said at some length and with a good deal of bitterness that he felt that it was very wrong for the producers of the show in general and for me in particular to be putting that special pressure on you. Now do you... uh..., seriously did you feel a considerable pressure, a considerable amount of worry as the amounts... uh... got larger and larger for which you were going?

ROSS: I think my worry (CLEARS THROAT)... excuse me... decreased as the amount got larger and larger. My main consuming worry when I got to New York was that I miss on the first question

WALLACE: Uhmmmm...

ROSS: (CLEARS THROAT) ...excuse me, I have a little cold... uh... I... I don't think I was under any special strain and if I was, there was a lot of strain in learning the material and making sure that I knew what I thought would be necessary...


ROSS: but I don't think... uh... it had any effects after the program. I...

WALLACE: Well, what has changed for you?

ROSS: My bank account.

WALLACE: That's it?

ROSS: That's about it.

WALLACE: Truly you feel that you are just the same kind of fellow, Leonard Ross, that you were... uh... three years ago before you got involved or what however long ago it was before you got involved, in quiz shows? Uh... What I mean is this, studying the stock market at the age of seven was which I believe the time that you told me that you had started...

ROSS: That's correct.

WALLACE: ...really to study the stock market. You were also active in meetings... and campaigns of the Democratic Party...

ROSS: Since that age.

WALLACE: Since that age. You go to school with boys several years older than yourself, now this isn't the result of quiz shows, this is a result of your intellectual activity. Does this lead to the care-free existence of childhood that is supposed to be so precious? That's what I mean when I say normal childhood.

ROSS: Well, I dont agree to the carefree existence, as this is called, is so precious. I mean... uh... I... I don't go around worrying, I have very few worries. Uh..., when I have trouble in my school work, I'm not worrying, I'm trying to study to catch up...

WALLACE: Uhmmmm...

ROSS: ...as I'm currently having trouble in science ...

WALLACE: Uhmmmmm ...

ROSS: Uh... The carefree existence mainly means that the entire time of every child should be spent playing with dolls or toy trucks, or something which will not affect the mind so as to expose any child to...uh... any mental stress. Now, I think this is wrong and you brought up Sputnik and I hate to just say something for the sake of the times but if we want scientists the way... the way to produce them is not to tell everybody under eighteen, or sixteen or fourteen to play dolls.

WALLACE: Well now wait just a second. We're not talking exclusively about dolls; you're twelve years old now, Len. Do you play ball much? Do you have many friends? What... what I'm trying to find out is this: who, not specifically, but what kind of people are your friends? Has your intellectual activity, has your studying and your preoccupation with things that are, let's say a little bit different from that which preoccupies most children? Has it made you kind of a different person and perhaps even a lonely young fellow?

ROSS: Well, first of all I'd like to... to have your definition of the term friend. I mean, I'm not saying this just from the point of argument. Uh... I want to know exactly what you mean so I can answer it fairly.

WALLACE: All right. Who do you spend your afternoons with? Who... what do you do on Saturdays and Sundays? Do you call fellow - fellows on the phone and go down to the corner and play ball? Do you go to the movies with them? Do you belong to a scout troop with them? Do you exchange, let's say, collect stamps together? I'm just trying to think back to some of the things that I did and that I figure that possibly, Lennie, you don't have an opportunity to do.

ROSS: I get up at six thirty in the morning and I have breakfast. I'm through at school at one thirteen. I get home at one thirty; I study until about three thirty and for the rest of the day I either read a little bit on serious matters, or read a mystery, or relax. This semester, and I'm speaking of this semester only, I did not spend too much time, I spend a lot of time relaxing, I have more leisure than I certainly need and I'm trying to... uh, uh... eliminate some of it because I'm not using my time to fullest advantage. For this semester instead of going to the movies I may read a mystery...

WALLACE: Uhmmmmm ...

ROSS: and this isn't because I'm antisocial or anything. I've had quite a few friends previously. It's because my schedule has changed.

WALLACE: Well, momentarily, then, you don't have very many companions of your own age or older?

ROSS: That's right and I see no necessity to have them. There's nothing wrong with it but I don't think it's mandatory.

WALLACE: Uhmmmmm... Leonard, have you ever heard of Professor Norbert Wiener?

ROSS: Yes and I think I read part of his book.

WALLACE: His autobiography called "Ex-Prodigy"?

ROSS: Uhhuh... My father read part of it aloud in chosen excerpts.

WALLACE: You smile, why do you smile about it?

ROSS: Well, uh... he's... all of the members of our family are continually pestering every other member of the family with chosen excerpts of the book or magazine we're reading.

WALLACE: Oh, I see what you mean. He, I believe entered high school at the age of nine.

ROSS: Uh... Uh...

WALLACE: I believe so and he wrote as follows, he said "The seats were much too big for me, my adolescent fellow students seemed to me already full adults, my classmates viewed me, socially, as an eccentric child" and this obviously caused him some pain, at least that's what we gathered from what he wrote. Now you... I wonder if you go through any of these experiences like his? I gather from what you say that you don't.

ROSS: Well, I... if I'm viewed as an eccentric, I don't know it; if I am, it doesn't bother me because I don't consider myself an eccentric. I think I am interested in certain subjects, which are of importance and good use of my time...

WALLACE: Uhmmmm...

ROSS: ...and I'm trying at least part of the day, and much less than I'd like to, because I spend far too much time relaxing uh... to spend my time to improve myself intellectually...


ROSS: ...and I can't see nothing wrong with it.

WALLACE: Oh, I'm not suggesting for an instant that there's anything wrong with it. I’m just trying to find out a little bit about you, Lennie... uh... is it possible that this is something that you've arrived at, in a sense through bitter experience. The reason I say that is this, The New York Journal American wrote about you last year. It said that when you were in Kindergarten your classmates on at least one occasion nearly made you cry by calling you a dope and saying, "You talk funny." They didn't seem to understand you. Did that bother you then more than it does now and have you... uh... kind of figured it out for yourself by now?

ROSS: Well, since the Third Grade this has not happened in any class, which I've been in. Uh... from quite a few kids who are not in my class, and this is I... I think this is substantially correct. Uh... need something to do so they... uh... make nasty remarks to the... at almost everybody -- who doesn't please them. And this doesn't bother me at all nor does it bother anybody else.

WALLACE: Professor Wiener puts his finger on what may be an important problem, half humorously and half seriously he wrote this, he said: "There's a tradition, not confined to the United States, that the child who makes an early start is doomed to an early collapse and permanent second-rateness. And both your mother and your former school Principal commented on this problem. Uh... your mother is quoted as saying, "I can't help worrying a little bit about him. So many children like him have come to really miserable ends."

ROSS: There's been a lot of publicity about this, the only time I heard that theory really expounded fully was at a drug store across from CBS... in Los Angeles

WALLACE: Perfectly all right. We acknowledge their existence... uh... Lenny.

ROSS: Fine. Uh... I... some woman came up to me while we were eating and said, "You will die an idiot." Just like that.

WALLACE: She came up to you and said that?

ROSS: Yes.

WALLACE: Yes. What did you say then?

ROSS: Nothing. She walked away. I mean, they're funny fanatics around Los Angeles.

WALLACE: (Laughing) You don't feel that you're going to die an idiot...

ROSS: I hope not.

WALLACE: but... doomed to permanent second-rateness. Tell me and... and this, well, do you feel that Americans, as a whole, either are jealous of or suspicious of "intellect" either in youngsters or in older people, more mature people as well?

ROSS: Well I think a percentage of Americans are, I don't think this is a national thing. But... uh... one thing that... particularly annoys me is that very little attention is paid to scholastic achievements in school. This is... uh... quite a few educators that are trying to remedy this "Sputnik" and I see in the paper everyday and I think that's a good thing.

ROSS: But I've never heard, and I'm speaking just figuratively, of a pep rally or a victory flag or a song for a person in school about a scholarship. But, if he happens to be a football player... uh... this is done. Now I think... I don't think there's over emphasis on football except comparatively to scholarship. And I think this is a poor thing, I think... uh... scholarship is being discouraged quite a bit. Not officially, but unofficially... uh... by quite a few kids, not most.

WALLACE: You're a freshman in High School now?

ROSS: I'm in the Tenth year... of school.

WALLACE: Tenth year. So that's... then you're...

ROSS: There are twelve.

WALLACE: Yes, so you're a sophomore actually in High School now.

ROSS: Well... uh... we're on a three-year High School basis in Los Angeles.

WALLACE: Oh, I see. What do you think from what you've been able to... see of it up to now. What do you think of American High School education?

ROSS: Why... I... uh... I'm very happy with my school but I think there's a lot of room for improvement. This semester I have no complaints, I'm working as hard as I can and I'm trying to keep up with my classes. I'm taking several new subjects.

WALLACE: I gather you're having trouble with science.

ROSS: With chemistry I did all right for the first ten weeks, since that I had a little trouble.

WALLACE: Of course there's a good deal of concern here about the... strides in science being made in Russia. The American Newspaper publisher, William Randolph Hearst Jr. just returned from a trip to Russia and wrote that "in elementary schools there, the fifth grade child finds algebra and physics on the curriculum and he is... is indoctrinated in the glories of winning the scholarship" -- that's a direct quote from Mr. Hearst -- "and if he passes exams, admitting him to high schools, -- says Mr. Hearst -- he becomes part of a special breed -- this is a quote -- that feels with some justification that the world is his oyster". That does not stack up with your experience I gather in your own high school?

ROSS: We can have the benefits of... uh...uh... advanced education which I certainly think is necessary without necessarily transforming us into a Soviet Union type of uh...atmosphere... uh... I think that there is everything to be gained and very little to be lost with... uh... in offering algebra and physics to confident fifth graders or second graders or two month old babies. If they can do it, fine and this is... is one trouble I've had quite a bit, not now but recently... several years ago...

WALLACE: You mean of...

ROSS: uh...

WALLACE: ...of being too slow for you?

ROSS: No! Uh... they're advanced courses but I wasn't permitted to take them. Not because I couldn't pass the examination... uh... the prerequisites, but because I was too young. They felt I might be socially maladjusted...


ROSS: ...because I... I couldn't stay at a lower level on one subject. I think this is incorrect.

WALLACE: Lennie, I know that you're an ardent Democrat, you attend meetings, pay dues, distribute campaign literature, what is it about the Democratic Party that attracts you rather than the Republican Party?

ROSS: Well I like to consider myself a liberal and I know that's a very broad term, so I... I... I'll use it in just a... use the regular usage of the term...

WALLACE: Uhmmmmm.

ROSS: ...but the... the only sizable liberal contingent in any party including the Prohibitionist Party is the... uh... is in the Democratic Party. I don't think there is any liberal influence of great extent in the Republican Party or any other party.

WALLACE: Don't you think the new Republicans at all are liberal? Don't you think perhaps that Mr. Eisenhower and particularly lately Mr. Nixon are showing definite liberal tendencies?

ROSS: No, I think the new Republicans are tired of losing elections and, uh..., not that all Democrats are liberal but I think that they're quite a percentage of the Democratic Party are dedicated liberals and I think new Republicanism is only... only came about after twenty years of defeat at the hands of the New Deal...


ROSS: ...and it's done pretty well for them.

WALLACE: Well, Lennie, in a moment we're going to continue with this political part of our discussion and I'd also like to get your frank opinion of the following: President Eisenhower, since you're a stock market expert: what kind of trend we can expect in the market next year, spanking, Momism and Santa Claus, and we'll go after the answers to those questions in just sixty seconds.


WALLACE: Lennie, before we get to those opinions, I understand that you'd like to run for office someday?

ROSS: Yes, I have a fear of being an unemployed office holder.

WALLACE: An unemployed office holder?

ROSS: Yes.

WALLACE: You mean because you're a Democrat and because you're a Californian you won't be able to be elected, is that it or...?

ROSS: Maybe it is because I'm a horrible speaker, I've never made a good public speech.

WALLACE: Uh... It possibly because... uh... Americans seem to have been wary of "egg-heads" in the last few last couple of elections, particularly it might be tough for you to get elected.

ROSS: I'd be very flattered to be considered an "egg-head" but I don't think I've attained that.

WALLACE: Lennie, what do you think of President Eisenhower?

ROSS: I don't know him personally so I can't have an opinion of him as a person but of... I think his attitude on many subjects has been more conservative than I'd like it to be and that's why I hope a liberal Democrat will take office.

WALLACE: Uhmmmm... Did you expect to have a strong President in President Eisenhower?

ROSS: Yes, I expected a a very strong President because of his military background and I was quite surprised this is only a personal reaction.

WALLACE: Yes, and disappointed, I gather.

BOSS: No... uh...

WALLACE: Not disappointed!

ROSS: I expected an extra strong President and I think he's turned out to be a fairly mild President. I can't see anything wrong with it.

WALLACE: With it or with him?

ROSS: Well, I... I mean with mildness. I think... uh... I don't think it's particularly good or bad but I'd rather have that than a strong President which you... which I anyway usually associate with military men.

WALLACE: Well, wasn't Franklin Roosevelt a strong President?

ROSS: Yes.

WALLACE: Did you disapprove from what you've read of Mr. Roosevelt?

ROSS: Uh... strength in a direction I approve is different at strength in the direction I disapprove...


ROSS: ...and that, that accounts for the difference. I don't mind strength on the face of it under certain conditions.

WALLACE: Lennie, have you ever been spanked?


WALLACE: Never? What do you feel...

ROSS: Uh... maybe uh... uh... maybe when I was five.

WALLACE: Uhmmmmm... What do you think of spanking for children?

ROSS: I'm not a child psychologist, I have no idea.

WALLACE: Uh... Do you know what the term "momism"...

ROSS: Protective... uh... mothers.


ROSS: Something like that?

WALLACE: Uhmmmmmm.

ROSS: Well, uh... I haven't read Mr. Wylie's book...


ROSS: Uh, uh... I haven't had an experience of a protective mother, I don't think so. I'll wait until I'm a little older and then we can see what happens and I don't think I will, so I have no grounds for an opinion of that.

WALLACE: Well, you can't beg off as having no opinion on this one: What can we expect of the stock market during nineteen fifty-eight? These dare --- these days we hear about a mild recession, more than three million unemployed, are we in for some tough times?

ROSS: I have an opinion all right but it's a complete guess, and I... my guesses have proved quite wrong in the past and I'd rather not state it because it it's uninformed.

WALLACE: I don't think...

ROSS: There's no basis on it.

WALLACE: ...I think... I think that... what you're... what you're saying now is reasonable but no one is suggesting that you're an oracle, Lennie. We're simply asking for you, Leonard Ross's opinions as to what is going to happen with the market and the general economic tone of the country during nineteen fifty-eight. You have disavowed being an oracle and we agree. Can we press it?

ROSS: No, I don't think you should because... uh... I... I have a complete guess on it and I don't want to be stopped a year from now and told how wrong I am because I think I will be, and since it's a guess, and since I have no basis for guessing, I'd rather not make it public.

WALLACE: You... you dislike intensely being wrong, Lennie?

ROSS: Uh... When I... when I'm wrong on a... on something which I stated I could be right on, then I... I... I think this is bad for me and I... I shouldn't have been wrong...

WALLACE: Uhhuh...

ROSS: ...but when I'm wrong on something which I know nothing about and don't claim to know anything about, I can't see anything wrong in that.

WALLACE: Two quick answers... Santa Claus?

ROSS: I'll wait until December twenty-six.

WALLACE: And have you minded answering questions for free?

ROSS: Not at all.

WALLACE: Leonard, I thank you so much for coming here from California...

ROSS: Thank you.

WALLACE: ...to spend this half-hour with us. I hope it's been a pleasant few days for you here in New York, please give my affection to your Mother and Father, and A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and to them.

ROSS: Thank you very much. Thank you.

WALLACE: It's a great temptation here to say something about "Out of the mouths of babes" but we won't, let us simply say that Lennie Ross would seem to be a twelve-year-old with the intelligence of an adult and still the fresh and enviable vision of a child. In just a moment we'll bring you a run down on next week's guest, a military prophet who believes our only chance for survival against Russia is to scrap our present military set-up for a new one. First, if there are any pipe smokers watching or if you know of one, here's a brief message about another fine Philip Morris product.


WALLACE: Next week our guest will be a military prophet who says that war with Russia is almost inevitable within the next five years and that, as things stand now, we won't stand a chance. He's Major Alexander de Seversky, you see him behind me, author of "Victory Through Air Power" and a frequent consultant to the War Department. If you're curious to know why Major de Seversky fears that one out of every three Americans will be killed in a third World War, why he charges that our present military set-up must be junked immediately and his opinions of the leadership being given us -- we'll go after those stories next week, till then for Philip Morris, Mike Wallace... Good night.

ANNCR: The Mike Wallace Interview is brought to you by Philip Morris Incorporated, the Quality House.

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