An Open Letter from Jessica (Farnsworth)


Jessica Moulton, with her grand uncle Skee Farnsworth and cousin Philo Krishna Farnsworth, accepting the induction of Philo Farnsworth into the TV Academy’s Hall of Fame, along with Ron Howard, also inducted on March 11, 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen, please meet Jessica Lauren Moulton – the great-grandaughter of Philo and Pem Farnsworth.  Her mother Camille Moulton is the daughter of Kent Farnsworth, Philo and Pem’s youngest son (born 1949).

Jessica has taken up the family torch, and now stands firmly in the vanguard of the quest to to properly tell an epic tale has remains largely suppressed through four generations.

Jessica comes by her advocacy honestly: she heard these stories first hand, as a child, growing up in the loving arms of her great-grandmother – Pem Farnsworth

Jessica is now at same age now that her great-grandparents were when they delivered electronic video to this planet in 1927.

It is fitting then that she would carry this story for the next generation and the future generations that stand to derive the full benefit of the changes that were first put in motion when her great-grandfather dreamed of bouncing electrons around in a vacuum tube.

The letter that follows was submitted by Jessica to the San Jose Mercury news as a response to the paper’s coverage of the opening of the Palo Alto Players production of The Farnsworth Invention. More precisely, Jessica writes in response to a letter from playwright Aaron Sorkin published in the same paper the day the play opened.  She also takes issue with the inclusion of Steven Player – a previously unknown descendant of the Farnsworth family – who is  participating in the production in a manner that implies the family’s approval of the manner in which Mr. Sorkin has treated the source material.

The Mercury News declined to print Jessica’s letter. is pleased to print it in full:

To whom it may concern:

Respectfully and firmly I am taking the opportunity to express not only my distaste for The Farnsworth Invention, but also my deep hurt that a nephew of my great-grandfather would support this play so lightly. He does not see the harmful damage it causes to my great-grandmother, Elma “Pem” Farnsworth’s only wish; to have her husband’s truth told to the world.

The story of television cannot be told without his wife Elma “Pem” Farnsworth. In her forward of her biography of her husband, Distant Vision, she quotes her husband, “You can do it if you really want to, but you can’t write about me without writing about us, we are one person.” Little did she know this conversation would be one of their last.

Pem spent the next 35 years of her life praising her husband to all that would listen. She published the biography Distant Vision in 1990 with the help of her son Kent Farnsworth. Over time she attracted enough attention to land a  seven-hour interview with the Archive of American Television conducted on June 25, 1996 by Jeff Kisseloff. On September 22, 2002 she was present at the 54th Annual Emmy Awards when the Academy of Arts and Sciences recognized Philo T. Farnsworth as the “inventor of electric television.” At this point, the Farnsworth family thrives on the idea that finally, the truth is being told.

Then on December 04, 2007, Aaron Sorkin conducted an interview with Jeff Lunden of National Public Radio  about his play The Farnsworth Invention as it was about to open on Broadway. He speaks about how he intentionally chose to do a play because the men (Farnsworth and David Sarnoff of RCA) had never met and he could tell the story the way he wanted to. In more recent new quotes he responds to any public disdain that his objective is to entertain.

The immediate family and friends of Philo T. Farnsworth and his wife have spent hours dissecting the play and all of its inaccuracies. Such analysis can be found at While this website gives the Farnsworths great comfort, it is difficult to get more eyes on this page when an ever watchful audience would rather be “entertained.”

Aaron Sorkin is a business man as much as he is a writer. It is not his concern if he offends anyone. His goal, as he says himself is to entertain. I do not expect such a man to change or apologize.

But I am  stunned that anyone directly related to one of the most remarkable men of the century would so lightly support such an insult of a play.

My intentions are to clarify that the Farnsworth family DOES NOT support this play. We have gone to many lengths to discredit the play as it has caused our family more grief than benefit. I am so surprised that you have connected with the only member of the gene pool that wanted a moment in the spotlight supporting The Farnsworth Invention. I suppose there is a reason we have never met.


Jessica Lauren Farnsworth Moulton

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