FOR the friends and family of Charles Van Doren, most of the fascination of his mental marathon is not what he says—which is fascinating enough—but the fact that he can say anything at all before the implacable eye of the television camera. "Why, I couldn't say a word up there with those earphones and all," marvels one distinguished Columbia scholar. "I'd come completely unstuck."

Charles Van Doren sticks together, in the opinion of Critic Clifton Fadiman, because of his family heritage. "Charlie was brought up to be unconscious of the fact that he has an inferior or superior," says Fadiman. "Because of...

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