Reality TV isn’t an invention of the 1990s – it dates back to the earliest days of television and shows like “Queen for a Day” (broadcast nationally by NBC from 1956 to 1960, after ten years on radio and local television). On that show, host Jack Bailey interviewed contestants, extracting all the tearful details of their unhappy lives, as those contestants explained why a new washing machine or a weekend in Las Vegas would help them cope with unemployed husbands, crippled children, and house fires. The contestant with the most pitiable story, sobbed out in the most engaging manner, was rewarded by the highest score on the audience applause-meter and was crowned Queen for a Day. Seated on a throne, cloaked in satin and fur, with a sparkly crown on her head, the Queen received the item she had asked for, together with a boatload of other “fabulous prizes” donated by the show’s sponsors.
Near the end of July, 1956, a dark-haired young woman from Oklahoma stood in line day after day, hoping for a ticket into the studio and an interview with producers. When she won a spot on the show on Thursday, August 2, and Jack Bailey asked her to tell her story, she looked through the camera and into living rooms all across America.
“I want to know, Who am I?”