William H. Luden, creator of the eponymous cough-drop, made so much money with his proto-pharmaceutical empire that upon his death in 1949, he bequeathed $ 1,000,000.00 to found The Luden Foundation. Their primary mission, according to Luden’s will, was to: “Help people who know random crap to show off and feel smart and useful.”
With this very large endowment, first chairman, Sylvester P. Smythe made strides to fulfill that mission. The foundation quickly became a sponsor of several television quiz shows in the early 1950s, including Twenty One and The $ 64,000.00 Question. You may be aware of how those shows turned out.
The resulting scandal caused the nation’s nascent interest in letting nerds speak out in public to plunge to a new all time low. This Poindexterous ostracism persisted for the next 2 decades. In the late-seventies, two Canadian journalists devised the tabletop quiz classic – Trivial Pursuit. Suddenly, knowing the capitol of Iceland, Agamemnon’s daughter, and the only undefeated triple-crown winner were social assets.
American interest in trivia was rising, and the Luden foundation was poised to cash in.
Smythe, now in his 90th year, hired Italian film tycoon Dino DeLaurentis to put his production skill into play to create a hugely massive trivia tournament. Combining the names of the cough-drop baron and the Neapolitan film svengali into an unwieldy-portmanteau, they unveiled their plans for the MOST SPECTACULAR TRIVIA CONTEST EVER CONCEIVED: LUDIMENTIS!
DeLaurentis took this project seriously – starting with a large but straightforward public quiz event, and gradually adding more and more outrageous acts to the bill – fire-eaters, stilt-walkers, bear-baiting, trapeze artists, early prototype holograms, monster trucks, and a proposed pyrotechnic conclusion that would only be put into action 4 years later at the Statue of Liberty’s centennial celebration.
One of DeLaurentis’s other amazing productions.
What doomed the original Ludimentis? Entertainment historians will argue over the specifics for years. Was the ever-inflating budget, DeLaurentis’s ever-inflating ego, the dozens of bear maulings, or the other increasingly impractical spectacles planned that cursed this to become the Ishtar of public trivia contests. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were wasted, and the Richfield Coliseum was never the same after being flooded for the mock naval battles – it was finally torn down in 1999.
From another DeLaurentis joint.
The idea for a national trivia contest has lain dormant since then.