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Mac McGarry: The Quintessential Quizmaster

Washington, D.C., has more than its share of inquisitors. But perhaps the most renowned questioner of all was Maurice James “Mac” McGarry, the founding host of It’s Academic who died on Dec. 12 at age 87 in Potomac, Md. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the televised test of wits for teenagers is the longest-running quiz show in the TV history.

Mac McGarry from 'It's Academic'When It’s Academic premiered in October 1961, McGarry and the show’s creator, Washington lawyer-turned-TV producer Sophie Altman, had a noble mission: making the smartest, most studious kids seem as cool and admirable as their high school’s football heroes or prom queens. They succeeded. To jazz up the show, Altman dreamed up pep-rally flourishes, such as inviting schools’ cheerleaders and marching bands onto the set to cheer on their classmates.

But it was the deep-voiced, amiable McGarry, himself the product of a rigorous Jesuit-supervised education in New York, who gave the show its crisp air of braininess, once even calling the Russian Embassy for help in mastering the pronunciation of a word.

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As a result, the teen-quiz show concept became so popular that TV stations in at least a half-dozen other cities across the country created their own versions. McGarry hosted the show for just short of a half-century, finally retiring from the podium in 2011.

Here are some other intriguing facts about McGarry, who died on Dec. 12 at age 87 in Potomac, Md.


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Here is McGarry’s final episode of It’s Academic, from 2011.


Photo: It’s Academic


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