Watch Mr Wizard
Educational (Science) 1951 - 1972
Don Jeffry Herbert had the idea of Watch Mr Wizard. His love of acting and science were the inspiration to this educational tv show where he showed us at home - and a few of his on-screen helpers - how to perform experiments and how things worked.
Don was born on 10th July 1917 in Waconia, Minnesota. After a fulfilling education, he enrolled in La Crosse State Teacher's College in 1935. As well as his studies, he also became increasingly active in amateur dramatics, becoming the director of the Pioneer Players in 1938 and the founder of the Lawsonia Summer Theater in Wisconsin.
Despite graduating from college with majors in English and Science, Don Herbert continued to pursue his drama interests, playing opposite Nancy Reagan at Coach House Summer Theater (she was Nancy Davis in those days.....Don also worked with Ronald Reagan in later years on a show called General Electric Theater). Through the 40's he took on various roles in the theater and became a magician and master of ceremonies.
A brief but dramatic interlude came when he trained and qualified as a pilot in 1943. This eventually led to his many brave bombing missions over Italy, Germany and Yugoslavia in 1945. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal with 3 oak leaf clusters.
After the war Don resumed acting but found increasing interest in script writing for radio. He was also interested in the technical side of radio presentation and enjoyed editing taped shows. It was during this period that he came up with the idea of having a science show for television. Eventually this was taken up. Don was the creator, script writer and presenter of Watch Mr Wizard. The first show (they were live in those days) was aired in 1958 followed by 27 more on the first run.
In a casual and mild manner, Don would show the audience how things worked and would carry out scientific experiments. He would have some children in the studio to observe and help with his experiments. Although it featured children, Watch Mr Wizard was entertaining for all ages and was recognised as being one of pioneers of educational television. While other educational shows tended to be a little stiff, Don's quiet and relaxed style was seen by many as having greater educational merit.
Very soon the show began to build a large fan club and spawned a library of Mr Wizard books and a cabinet of awards. Time Magazine referred to Watch Mr Wizard as a "masterpiece".
The show was cancelled in 1965. Despite this Mr Wizard was a strong and wholesome brand. Don Herbert worked with schools on various projects including the production of movies for their use. He still worked in television, producing an adult science show called Experiment.
As often happens in tv, the show was revived in 1971 - but only for one year. Now in his 50's Don Herbert may have been forgiven for taking it easy at this point. This was far from the case as he continued to develop his science-for-all theme. Remember that Don scripted, produced and presented most of his work. He was and remains Mr Wizard. When the tv show finally ended this was no reason to stop his work. It wasn't long before he was back on the air with Mr Wizard Close-ups followed some years later by various shows recorded for the Nickelodeon children's channel. He also made many VHS tapes and continued working on various educational projects. He now lives in Southern California presumably dreaming up a new project!
As well as being a fine broadcaster he has always been an entertainer at heart, but an entertainer who has painlessly passed the gift of knowledge to so many.