In doing live television, the producers of Johns Hopkins Science Review had to cope with their fair share of surprises and gaffes. A sampling of the more amusing missteps: Gonna' wash that man right out of my hair For an episode about soaps and detergents, four young women agreed to wash their hair in front of the nation. Rehearsals for this show quite literally were "dry runs"Äthe young ladies went through the motions of working up a lather, but no water was used.
When it came time for the telecast, the four poured water on their heads, as instructed, and began lathering up. The water clogged up and overflowed the standing wash basins, leaving the hapless volunteers with soapy heads, and ankle deep in sudsy puddles.
The production crew that worked behind the scenes on "Which Came First?" clearly had had little experience in the area of animal behavior.
In that episode, which aired in February 1951, scientist Wade Brant tackled the age-old conundrum about the chicken and the egg. To illustrate his point, Brant brought with him a hen and a rooster, which were kept together in the same cage just off camera.
When it came time for Brant to introduce his feathered guests, the camera panned across to the cageÄand caught the amorous birds at a most indelicate moment.
Unfortunately for Poole, the show never did answer the question. For years afterward, the producer would be stopped on the street by fans who asked simply, "Well, Mr. Poole, which did?"
Drat that trap!
The idea was ingenious: What better way to bring to life the concept of an atomic chain reaction than to put 100 mousetraps cheek by jowl in a square, and bait each one with a sugar cubeÄthen throw in a single cube to set them jumping?
Unfortunately, with just minutes to go before air time, a crew member inadvertently bumped one of the traps and set off the melee. "If you have never tried to set 100 mouse traps baited with sugar lumps in 10 minutes, you can't imagine the pace of activity that followed," recalled Lynn Poole.
During a show about plastics, Poole would have done well to follow the timeworn advice not to share the stage with children or pets. For that episode, the producer solicited the help of a blonde-haired little girl, not yet of school age.
When her cue came to make an entrance, she balked. Despite repeated coaxing, she stood firm. Finally, exasperated, Poole's wife, Gray, planted her hand on the little girl's derriere and gave her a push. The camera panned over just in time to catch the little girl's entrance, as well as the "encouraging" hand.
Once in view, she stood mute and motionless as Poole launched into his spiel about the marvels of plastics. "Isn't this a a nice umbrella?" he asked kindly.
"No!" she replied, after an excruciating silence.
Poole pressed onward. Leaning down to place a toy accordion in her hands, he prompted, "Wouldn't you like to get one like this for Christmas?"
This time her dissent was more forceful. She screamed, "No!" then threw the instrument on the floor.
What a bite
In an episode titled "Fear," which aired on October 3, 1950, an intrepid young woman agreed to undergo a frightening experience while being hooked up to electric recording devices that would monitor her heart rate, blood pressure, and skin resistance.
When the guest psychologist produced a king snake from behind his back and hurled it at her, she responded perfectly, her vital signs sharply peaking.
She wasn't the only one to get a surprise, however. Just before being tossed, the irate snake had sunk its fangs into the psychologist's hand, deep enough to draw blood.
-By Sue De Pasquale, from Ten Years with Television at Johns Hopkins by Leo Geier (1958).
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