Sunday, January 6, 2013

Howard Florey sole hero of 1944 American national radio play on Penicillin

Here, Howard Florey rules !
Du Pont's Cavalcade of America  on NBC was a very well financed American national radio and later tv show, popular before and after WWII (1935-1957), that as Marcel Lafollette points out , often featured heroes from medicine and science.

Not surprising then that the series featured an half hour show on "The Story of Penicillin" as soon as the censors would let it : which interestingly enough was April 24th 1944  --- starring Howard Florey as the one-and-only who brought us the miracle of penicillin !

(CALV 440424 380 The Story of Penicillin : episode 380, April 24 1944 is very easy to stream or download from the internet.)

Which is to say this half hour national show aired at a time when the OSRD-AMA-NAS triad was still successfully holding back all press interest in penicillin the miracle (by claiming the triad had legal censorship powers that it actually didn't possess.)

Could it be that even the powerful OSRD had to bow before the enough more powerful chemical giant, in part because it was a prime contractor of the A-Bomb ?

But what I  find so interesting about this show - beyond the fact that I do not recall reading about it from any penicillin historian's writing - is that it clearly announces at its onset that its one and only star is "Howard Florey".

Was the show an attempt to discredit Pfizer's sudden success  with non-chemically produced penicillin ?

(Because of all the months of the six years of war, April 1944 was the one I'd been most inclined to credit Pfizer's John L Smith as the man who finally brought us penicillin.)

Because that months of all months was the very first month that billions of units of the hitherto invisible miracle suddenly started pouring out of his rapidly-improvised Marcy Avenue ice plant cum biological penicillin brewery.)

Perhaps the triad felt a need to suddenly burnish the reputation of the big loser in the race to provide penicillin for D-Day :  that loser being synthetic penicillin and Florey's synthetic efforts at Oxford University.

 And believe me, having listened to as much of this half hour show as I could stand, Florey is indeed portrayed as the one and only star of this miracle of medicine.

Florey has an entire army of fans among present-day historians claiming he was elbowed out the fame-feeding-trove by that big mean bully Alec Fleming.

I have always found this hard to stomach.

Florey, in fact, was seemingly born with at least four sharp elbows of his own.

He also had a strong reputation, as a scientist, of being as ready to use his fists to win scientific arguments as  Fred Banting or Vannevar Bush ever did.

I wonder if his academic defenders will still howl " he wuz robbed" after listening to this old radio show ?

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