Sunday, June 24, 2007

Goodbye, Mr Wizard; June 12, 2007

Mr Wizard [Don Herbert] died. He was 89. Richard Goldstein's obituary in the New York Times pointed out that success in conveying the excitement of science was based on his skill in communicating to kids. Herbert was born in Waconia, Minn., went to La Cross State Teachers College, and started out as Mr Wizard in 1951 on WMAQ-TV in Chicago. His show was on early Saturday mornings.

"What really did it for us was the inclusion of a child," Herbert said. The show when it started was just him doing science at the lab table. It was like a lecture. When they cast children talking with him, the show took off. Herbert said ideally they had to be around 11 or 12. "Once they got beyond 13, they became know-it-alls."

Mr Wizard helped us fight the Cold War. Respond to Sputnik.

During 60s and 70s, about half the applicants to Rockefeller University in New York cited Mr Wizard when asked how they first became interested in science.
Of course I remember the joy of watching Mr Wizard. Going into his lab, where he would welcome the kids. Somehow I recall him guest visiting Dave Garroway's Today show. A more vivid recollection is of a visit with Steve Allen. When my son was born, I begin taping his Nickelodeon [?] show to put him in front of it on demand. When I wonder why I am doing what I am doing now I think of shows like Mr Wizard, Bell Telephone Science Hour, and Connections.

About the time I was 12 or 13, somewhat grown, becoming a know-it-all I am sure, and he’d been off the air by my recollection [the obit differs on this take], Mr Wizard appeared on the Steve Allen ABC Late Show. My old friend! Totally warm feeling to see him again. And enter again his ‘laboratory.’ Here weird and dark set of Steve Allen. He did an experiment that showed, I don't know - the concept of lighter than air. A thin-plastic dry cleaners bag, Sterno. [Mmmm, beginning to think this would not past muster in the brave new world.] Up up and away into the studio rafters a home-made hot air balloon.

So next day I go out on the patio to try and create this. There was tall bag part that filled up with the lighter than air. An apparatus to form a base and hold the heat source. That was it. My sister was there. Finding a dry cleaners bag without a hole in it was about impossible. Maybe I plugged things with Scotch tape. Getting the Sterno was easy, we always had some at the base of a bronze chafing dish. The dry cleaners also provided the base structure by way of 2 metal coat hanger that formed a square to hold bag into four sides, and to hold at center a round of tin foil to hold the tin foil. Like most of my experiments there were no results. It wouldn’t inflate or fly. I suspect still that, if the bag, had inflated, my base was too heavy to allow flight. [The veracity of this recollection is in no way buttressed by the Bio-TimeLine on Mr Wizard's web site]

Which just let me know that I was no Mr Wizard. But if he'd used lab equipment, I just would have watched, right? Mr Wizard was known for using simple available elements - available to American youths.

Intrigued by smoke, sparks, flame! Wizard the alchemist mixing elements, esp dry ice. Set me off to the bathroom, mixing Gleem with Vitalis and more til goop.

Later Sterno became something else in my mythos. It was what Tommy Johnson drank. Learned this from following Canned Heat. [Kids: Don’t try this. It makes you blind and fries your brain cells.]

When I wonder why I am doing what I am doing now I think of shows like Telephone Science Hour, and Connections .. and Mr Wizard.

Mourning Mr Wizard - NYT The Lede
Mr Wizard Studios Original TV Series on DVD

No comments:

Featured Post

Backporch Poesy June 2016

Reading from three favorite poetry anthologies on the back porch on June 17 (anniversary of Watergate breakin!) The three tomes are 1-Th...