Thank You, Mr. Leonard

Back on November 5th, I posted an entry here entitled "The Great Deception Continues" which cited a blog by Arthur S. Leonard, a professor at the New York Law School, who saw an early preview of The Farnsworth Invention as it prepared for its opening on Broadway.   I noted then how Mr. Leonard had reiterated one of the fallacies of the play, i.e. Farnsworth’s inability to deal effectively with his "light problem," and how that contention has always been one of the cornerstones of RCA’s PR campaign to dismiss the breakthrough represented by Farnsworth’s Image Dissector Tube. 

This morning I learned that Mr. Leonard has obtained a copy of my book (ah, so he’s the one…) and, apparently a couple of weeks ago, posted an extensive entry to his blog that is very sympathetic to the perspective I have been expressing:

Schatzkin strove mightily to create the most accurate account he could, based on recollections of the inventor’s widow and sons as well as many who had worked with him.  To then see the oversimplifications, truncations, rearrangements of time and place, and so forth, that Sorkin undertook to create a dramatic vehicle of reasonable length, must be upsetting to any author.  But perhaps more significantly, presumably for dramatic purposes, Sorkin’s stage play distorts Farnsworth’s life by suggesting outcomes that differ from the reality depicted in Mr. Schatzkin’s biography — not just in detail but in broad outline and theme as well.

I think Mr. Leonard has gotten to the real crux of the issue, why this play (or movie) is so important, and why it’s so frustrating that it turns out the way it does:

It would do well to remember that many of the important scientific inventions that created our modern world were devised by individuals who lacked extensive formal training in science and technology, who were largely self-taught, such as Thomas Edison, for example.  It may be that true scientific genius would even be hampered by formal training, since formal training may have the unfortunate effect of grounding somebody too deeply in the received paradigms of his or her time … for the truly unusual geniuses among us who are capable of the transcendent insights that produce the quantum leaps in science, higher education may at times prove a hindrance rather than an enabler of such breakthroughs.

Now, why can’t somebody put THAT into a play or movie??

The irony here is that it was my post of Mr. Leonard’s post back in November that first tipped Aaron off to the fact of this biographer’s (admittedly belated) reservations about his play. 

I may have had an opportunity to express these themes to Aaron Sorkin well  before the play opened on Broadway. If I did I blew my chance. Now I don’t know if Aaron and I are on speaking (well, e-mailing…) terms.  So I just hope that whoever is monitoring this blog on Aaron’s behalf will
tell him about this post, and steer him toward Mr. Leonard’s post.  Perhaps then we will have something to talk about:  "the spirit of exploration" (as Aaron put it in a couple of interviews).

About the author

Paul Schatzkin

View all posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *