Born Joyce Diane Bauer in New York, Brothers earned her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia. Joyce Brothers was a pioneer in television advice shows. She started her famous show as a pop psychologist in the 1950s and went on to enjoy a long career as a syndicated columnist, appearing in Good Housekeeping for four decades, an author and a film and television personality. She was a guest on Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show” almost 100 times.
Interestingly, Brother’s career as a TV and media personality and author came about unexpectantly. She had quit her teaching positions at Columbia University and Hunter College while her husband was still in medical school to care for their newborn. She believed her child’s optimal development depended on her primary care giving. However, due to their low income and financial distress in New York City on her husband’s residency salary, Brothers needed to find away to make some money.
As Brothers like to tell it, her multimedia career evolved “because we were hungry.” In order to earn some quick cash Brothers decided to try and become a contestant on a television quiz show. The show was called “The $64,000 Question” and quizzed contestants on their specific areas of expertise. In preparing for the show, Brothers memorized 20 volumes of a boxing encyclopedia. With this knowledge on boxing she went on to win the top prize, only the second person on the show to do this.
Even more amazingly Brothers entered the show a second time as a contestant and also answered each question correctly on boxing to win again and become one of the biggest winners in the history of television quiz shows. These wins made her an overnight celebrity and opened doors for her to appear on many talk shows and co-host the “Sports Showcast.”
A few years later Brothers was offered a position with NBC for on air advice on all sorts of taboo topics for the times, including marriage, love life, sex, and child rearing (yes, this was taboo at times) ,as well as menopause, impotence and sexual enjoyment. This advice show was so successful it became nationally telecast and usually broadcast in the late hours.
She also gave advice on numerous call-in radio programs, sometimes going live on air with advice. One cannot help but imagine that the sit-com Frazier would not been invented much less a hit without Brothers as a real pioneer in this venue. Countless television and radio personalities have followed in her footsteps to become celebrities today. Among them, Dr. Drew Pinsky, television personality and medical advice expert, offered his condolences,
“Knew nothing about her history on the $64,000 question, but I did know Joyce Brothers,” he wrote on Twitter. “She was a pioneer and very knowledgeable.”
Importantly Brothers was an advocate for women. In the 1970s she was credited for changing textbooks to remove a sexist bias. She argued that nonsexist cultures tended to be less warlike.
She wrote numerous advice books, including “Ten Days To A Successful Memory” (1964), “Positive Plus: The Practical Plan for Liking Yourself Better” (1995) and “Widowed” (1992).
Brothers is an example of someone who was not only caught in the winds of change with pregnancy and being a new mom to a newborn but as a relatable woman who had to make tough career and family choices. In her case she choose to leave behind a career only to find her family needed her financial support which ultimately led her to a better and more diverse career that suited her flexibility, experience and passions.
Brother’s life shows us that we should not place labels or restrictions on ourselves and our abilities, even after we “settle down” into motherhood and maybe feel our professional or creative lives are put on hold forever as we change diapers and multitask. She shows us that a woman in the 1950s could become an expert on men’s boxing and host a sports channel, something that has unheard of in her time. She could also pioneer Television advice shows and talk radio about the unexpected and real life taboo subjects that people are really interested in. She was a woman who was not only able to give to her child and her family as the needs arose but to also give the gift of herself , her advice, opinions and knowledge to the world that wanted to receive it. Women like Brothers are inspirational to us all as we admire her legacy.