Written by: Samuel K. Sloan (Farpoint Media Exec. News Dir.)
My generation grew up with him and we all loved him — Don Herbert, better known by millions as television’s “Mr. Wizard,” has died at the age of 89 of bone cancer.
He, along will Bill Nye, the Science Guy, is responsible for introducing three generations of kids to the wonders of science and technology. In fact, without Don Herbert, there would have been no Bill Nye teaching science on television and I think Bill would be one of the first to admit that.
“He really taught kids how to use the thinking skills of a scientist,” said former colleague Steve Jacobs.
“Mr. Wizard” began airing in the 1950’s, was the recipient of the prestigious Peabody Award and many other great accomplishments, most notably, educating in an entertaining way, a whole generation of baby boomers new to this new-fangled thing called TV and a generation that would go on to make some of the most significant contributions to science and technology this world has ever experienced. Much of the boom in science from the early 1950’s to the 1980’s can be laid at Herbert’s feet as the person most influencial in the lives of the people who grew up under his tutelage and forged those advances.
“Mr. Wizard,” would take common household items and turn them into mind expanding experiments that would make kids go, “I can even do more with that,” which is exactly what Herbert was aiming for — get the kids to think outside the box.
“He modeled how to predict and measure and analyze. … The show today might seem slow but it was in-depth and forced you to think along,” Jacobs said. “You were learning about the forces of nature.”
Herbert was trained to be a teacher as a graduate of LaCrosse State Teachers College in the 1940’s. He went to serve as a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot during World War II, then after the war he dipped his toe into acting, writing radio script and was an early pioneer in the new technology called television. He got his real break when NBC asked him to host a science show they called “Watch Mr. Wizard” for one of their Chicago affiliates. Herbert was in seventh heaven. He could still be in the media business and also perform his first love — teaching.
After several years in Chicago the show moved to New York and the rest, as they say, is history. The show went on for four decades, airing from 1983 to 1991 on Nickelodeon then on reuns with its final show in 2000.
Don Herbert, for me, will always be “Mr. Wizard.” He was a great scientist and instructor and an even better human being — one of my generation’s greatest teachers and we will miss him. “Mr. Wizard” dead at 89.