Bauer excelled at Far Rockaway High School, graduated early and headed upstate to Cornell University, where she double-majored in home economics and psychology. She then went on to Columbia University where she earned a Ph.D. in psychology. But that's not how she got famous.
It was 1955, and the nation was enthralled with the new medium of television, and among the most popular offerings were the quiz shows -- Beat the Clock, Name That Tune, Truth or Consequences.
And The $64,000 Question. For this show a contestant would select a category, and then answer increasingly difficult questions as the prize money kept doubling, up to $64,000. Once a contestant got past the $4,000 level, they came back to answer only one question per week, and if they missed a question they lost the money but got a Cadillac (which then cost around $4,500) as a consolation prize.
The $64,000 Question shot to the top of the television ratings, beating out I Love Lucy as the No. 1 TV show in the 1955 - 56 season.
By this time Bauer was married; her husband was studying to be a doctor (he was an internist with a specialty in diabetes); and the young couple was struggling to make ends meet in New York City. So Bauer decided maybe she could make some extra money going on one of the TV quiz shows.
She approached The $64,000 Question and selected the category of boxing, a sport she knew nothing about. But she was a good student and a voracious reader, and so she dove into every book about boxing that she could find. She correctly answered all the questions, and after seven weeks she became the second person, and only woman, to win the top prize of $64,000 -- and ended up famous in the process.
The government later investigated the TV quiz shows, alleging that they were rigged. Several contestants admitted they had been fed answers in advance. But Bauer always insisted she had not cheated, and she was exonerated by the investigators. Her boxing title was for real. And in 1957, she was invited to provide color commentary during the championship boxing match between Carmen Basilio and Sugar Ray Robinson.
By this time Joyce Diane Bauer had become a household name . . . as Dr. Joyce Brothers, the wife of a respected New York internist, Dr. Milton Brothers, and the woman who knew everything there was to know about boxing. But in 1958 she went back to her true field of expertise. She developed a revolutionary new TV show in New York not to talk about sports, but to offer advice on relationships, during which she answered questions from the audience.
She covered all manner of topics from blind dates to breastfeeding, from divorce to depression. The show was syndicated across America, and was also supported by a radio show with a similar format -- Dr. Brothers issuing advice and answering questions.
Dr. Brothers also wrote a syndicated newspaper column, a monthly column for Good Housekeeping, and over the years wrote numerous other articles for various magazines. She also appeared in cameo roles in several movies, and was a regular guest on The Tonight Show. She published several books, including How to Get Whatever You Want Out of Life, and in 1991 a book called Widowed which very honestly and forthrightly chronicled her struggles after she lost her husband to cancer.
Dr. Brothers died in 2013 at the age of 85. But she will always be remembered, for better or worse, as the woman who pioneered the path for media psychologists. But as her Ph.D. proved, was the real deal, and as her frequent guest appearances demonstrated, she also had a sense of humor about herself -- and about the place she carved out for herself in American culture.