Don Herbert, 1917 - 2007

Don Herbert died yesterday, just short of his 90th year. Don Herbert was host of television's Watch Mr. Wizard, a Saturday morning live TV show that had a run of 547 episodes from 1951 to 1965. He was an important figure in the youth of many of today's scientists.

The weekly 30-minute show featured Herbert as Mr. Wizard with a young assistant who watched while Herbert performed interesting science experiments. The experiments, many of which seemed impossible at first glance, were usually simple enough to be re-created by viewers. The show was very successful. (Wikipedia entry on Don Herbert)

There were a couple of later incarnations, but I didn't watch them. By then I was already what he helped me become, a practicing scientist. I couldn't find any free videos of Mr. Wizard (although it seems you can buy the whole series at the official Mr. Wizard website), but I did find a classic radio parody by Bob (Elliott) and Ray (Goulding), whose Mr. Science, was a recurring character on their zany 15 minute radio show. Bob and Ray is an acquired taste for many, but I acquired the taste and loved them. In this segment, you will hear a typical Bob and Ray "interview" with a lady blacksmith, conducted concurrently with a rival network's interviewer. Towards the end of the segment (several minutes in) is the Mr. Science parody.

The parody is funny and spot on. But Mr. Wizard wasn't a joke to the many proto-geeks who watched it on Saturday mornings. For us, Mr. Wizard was, . . . well, he was Mr. Science.

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I watched his program from the time I was five years old...when his series was first broadcast. That was the same year when I was marched up -- along with the rest of my kindergarten (quaint German term; "child's garden") class, to the school auditorium of Erricson grammar school (a public school -- still-- and at that time, too, in Moline, Illinois) to be told the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, by some local Sunday School groveling doofus. As soon as I heard this fool lay out his incredulous tale, I knew immediately that I understood more about this world than he could ever possibly know. I knew that there were "real" reasons for events; I instinctively grasped "cause and effect." And I did not doubt it for a moment.

Nothing has changed (to alter my opinion that "Reason" is our supreme instrument), in the examination of our circumstances, here, in the intervening fifty-one years. Except for the examination of quantum physics, and its relationship to probability theory. Which may call for a re-examination of the "nature" of Reason; but will likely do nothing to repudiate, or dethrone it. The answers -- whatever they might be -- will only add to the vast, ever expanding storehouse of knowledge that we already possess.

Blake: Thanks. These are from the later reincarnations on Nickolodeon. The earliest ones (on which I and many others were brought up) were in grainy black and white. If anyone finds versions of these, please post here. And thanks again, Blake. These will bring back memories to many.

The latter video is from 1972, I think. . . but yes, older things can be astonishingly hard to find in this bang-gee-whiz Internet we've built for ourselves.

If I spot any footage from the "grainy black and white" show, I'll certainly comment here about it!