(this post is an excerpt from the new Afterword that will be appended to the updated 2023 Edition of The Boy Who Invented Television.)
In September 2002, Pem Farnsworth was invited to make an appearance at the 54th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards:
About midway through the telecast, host Conan O’Brien paused at the edge of a stage festooned with vintage televisions and said,
Ladies and gentlemen in 1927 – 75 years ago this month – a 21-year-old, self-taught genius named Philo T. Farnsworth transmitted the image of a horizontal line from one room in his San Francisco lab to a receiver in the next room. Later that day, Philo wired a simple message to a backer in Los Angeles: “The damn thing works.”
That’s right, the damn thing worked so well it spawned this entire industry we know as ‘television.’ For the better part of the 20th century, this remarkable man went unheralded and unrecognized, but tonight, we shine the spotlight on him and give him his long overdue recognition.
But that moment of ‘long overdue recognition’ didn’t last very long, as O’Brien continued with what reads like an excerpt from the Authorized History of Television According to RCA:
No tribute to the pioneers of television would be complete without also recognizing the work of General David Sarnoff, the Chairman of the Board of RCA….
…and yada yada yada, more Sarnoff RCA Sarnoff, until…
In our audience tonight is the son of General Sarnoff, the head of the Television Academy Foundation, Mr. Tom Sarnoff.
Of course. Darth Vader Junior is the “head of the Television Academy Foundation!” There’s no way he’s going to permit the Academy to mention of Farnsworth without bringing up his dad!
Only after shining attention on the one man who did more to dim Farnsworth’s spotlight than any other, did O’Brien finally get around to introducing…
…the widow of Philo T. Farnsworth, who worked by his side in the laboratory and was the first woman ever seen on television, Elma ‘Pem’ Farnsworth.
92-year-old Pem Farnsworth then rose slowly from her seat and turned and waved at the auditorium full of people who, were it not her late husband, would still be working in radio.