The Farnsworth Invention: Fact -v- Fiction

Act I, Scene 4:
In which the invention is "reduced to practice"

The Play
The Facts
Sarnoff the narrator states that Farnsworth tried liquor for the first time when he was in the Navy -- trying to fit in with guys who couldn't touch his IQ with "'two hands and a step ladder." After their successful presentation in San Francisco, there is some mention of a "celebratory bottle of Bushmill's" during the train ride back to Utah, where Philo arrives falling down drunk. The question of Farnsworth's drinking will be addressed later, other than to say that it was not a factor in his life as early as 1926. He did serve a brief hitch in the Navy in San Diego in 1925, but the lasting effect of that experience was shortening his name to "Phil" from "Philo," so that his fellow recruits would stop calling him 'Fido'.

Philo T. Farnsworth, 1926

Philo returns to Provo Utah where he is shown being drunk for the first time in the play. He proposes to his sweetheart, Elma "Pem" Gardner, as he will need her with him when he moves to San Francisco.

Suggesting that Philo Farnsworth would have proposed to Elma Gardner while under the influence of alcohol displays a woeful disregard for the culture that produced these people. Had he been using alcohol, Philo would not have been permitted to even see Pem again, much less marry her.

That said, the facts are these: Farnsworth and Pem were married in May 1926, after the initial funding from Everson and Gorrell, so that Pem could accompany him to Los Angeles, where they set up their first home and laboratory and conducted some early circuit tests. They moved to San Francisco after the additional funding was arranged in September, 1926.

Honeymooning on Venice Beach
Spring, 1926

The play gets some laughs as Pem admonishes Phil for being drunk -- in Provo Utah. This is amusing because Provo is a stronghold of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints -- the Mormons -- who disavow all vices such as alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco. While Pem is dressing Phil down for being drunk, he says something to her about leaving her cigarettes smoldering in an ashtray.

Never mind the inconsistency of Phil's transgression for being drunk in Provo while Pem is portrayed as a smoker; The real Pem Farnsworth never smoked cigarettes.

Pem is also portrayed as something of a Mormon fundamentalist, and while she remained devout throughout her life, it's implausible that she ever scolded her husband for talking to students about electromagnetism instead of "how Jesus had once lived in Utah."

Elma "Pem" Gardner, about the time of her marriage to Philo Farnsworth in 1926

During his "drunken" monologue, as he's contemplating the resources he will need for his lab in San Francisco, Phil muses that the most important component will be his relationship with a glass blower. The art of glass blowing for electronic tubes was still in its infancy, and the tubes that Farnsworth's work would require would stretch the art to its limit. His glass blower would prove to be an indispensible component of his 'lab gang.'

The first Image Dissector was fabricated in San Francisco in 1926

Phil says that he wants his sister Agnes and Pem's brother Cliff to be part of his team in San Francisco. At various times, many members of the extended Farnsworth and Gardner families were part of the Farnsworth crew. Pem was really the first member of the gang, and did much of the record keeping and schematic drawings of her husband's work. Phil, Pem, and Cliff Gardner were the whole team until sometime in the summer of 1927, when other personnel were brought on board in the final push for a "first picture."

Cliff Gardner and Pem, ca. 1926

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Distant Vision

Romance & Discovery on
The Invisible Frontier

by Elma G . Farnsworth

Want the whole story?

Read a Book!

The Boy Who Invented Television

A Story of Inspiration, Persistence,
and Quiet Passion

by Paul Schatzkin

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