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From the Archives: Hollywood Squares from Rutgers

If you have never heard of Hollywood Squares, you are not alone. The catchy title refers to a popular game show based on tic-tac-toe that ran on NBC from the mid 1960s to the early 1980s. The three-tiered “board” seated nine celebrities, who gave hilarious and witty answers to the game show host’s questions. Selecting one of the nine, two contestants alternated marking the board with an X or an O based on their choice of agreeing or disagreeing with the chosen celebrity’s answer.

In 1975, the Center of Alcohol Studies (CAS) co-sponsored an episode called “Beverage alcohol: Use and misuse.” The Alcohol Studies Archive proudly owns a copy, digitized from the VHS tape donated to the CAS Library by Gail G. Milgram, the director of the Summer School of Alcohol Studies and CAS education and training programs until her retirement in the 2010s.

The questions and answers used in the TV show were prepared by the Center along with a complementary publication called “A discussion leader’s guide to Hollywood Squares, Beverage alcohol: Use and misuse.” The guide was based on the pamphlet “What is alcohol and why people drink?” also written by Gail G. Milgram.

As stated in the guide, the primary purpose of this episode was “to motivate people to think about and discuss information on alcohol and its use and analyze their feelings and attitudes related to use.” No doubt Hollywood Squares remains entertaining (and still enjoyable after so many years!), but, due to its high profile, the educational benefit of a special program like this is much greater, adding tremendous value to this joint project.

What I personally find even more valuable is the group discussion that can take place after watching this show together. In the best practices and traditions of bibliotherapy, i.e., using books for a therapeutical need, this show checks all the boxes (no pun intended) as a combined treatment modality.

To begin with, watching the 27-minute show in a group setting has the potential to create a comfortable, non-threatening environment, essential to launch a free and open discussion on the sensitive topic of alcoholism. The guide helps trained discussion leaders moderate the discussion, rather than dominate it, with techniques to keep the conversation alive as well as motivate individuals to share their insights and come to their own conclusions.

It’s fascinating to discover that the nearly 50-year-old questions, whether asked during the show or suggested for discussion afterward, can still prompt meaningful discussions today, since they have remained relevant. For example:

  • Why do most adults drink?
  • Why do you think most teenagers drink?
  • What would you do if a good friend of yours told you that you had a drinking problem?
  • What do you think would be the most effective way to discourage heavy drinking or problem drinking, or both, in our society?

Although based on sound research related to treatment and prevention, the discussion guide remains very practical. The techniques presented here were also able to withstand time, even if we now might file them under different names. For example, the booklet features what we call today an “icebreaker,” which includes walking around, silently, with a name tag created at the beginning of the session. However, it’s a name tag with a twist: each corner lists each participant’s short answers to questions such as age at having first drink, with whom, where, and the person who most influenced drinking habits. After this “values-clarification” process, the moderator can continue with several suggested activities, using questionnaires, all available in the guide.

Follow-up ideas, still relevant and feasible today, range from brief to extensive, serious to playful and to be completed on site or by visiting other locations. For example, exploring pertinent state laws and alcohol-related violations in the community or visiting municipal court to study how these are handled might be interesting or relatable for some, while others could be reached via looking at drinking habits in novels, analyzing drinking scenes in TV shows, or role playing drinking situations.

We particularly liked the way the show set up the scene for literary discussion with questions mentioning Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald, such as in question number 25.

Q25: What famous literary figure once said, “Drink heightens feeling. When I drink, it heightens my emotions and I put it in a story?”
Answer: F. Scott Fitzgerald

In addition to the basics and a historical background, the rich accompanying content covers all areas of interest, originating from CAS research: the metabolism of alcohol, phases of alcoholism, teenage drinking, driving, and crime, and many more, benefiting from various pamphlets created or collected by CASAll prize money won by the contestants was donated to the Rutgers Summer School of Alcohol Studies.

Responsible use of alcohol and lowering risks related to drinking are the two of the most frequently recurring motives in the guide as well as in the show “Hollywood Squares.” After nearly 50 years, we couldn’t agree more.


Another question in the show asked about the source of this quote. As the CAS Library owns this poster, it was a no brainer for us!

: originally published on the blog roll of the Alcohol Studies Archives.