Sadly, Mr. Wizard has finally retired, not just from television but from the corporeal world. Don Herbert, the host of “Watch Mr. Wizard,” the science show for children that ran on NBC from 1951 to 1965, died Tuesday in Los Angeles at the age of 89. In my kooky Sixties household, I was limited for awhile to half an hour of television of week, so “Watch Mr. Wizard” had to compete with “Howdy Doody” and later “Gilligan’s Island” But the folksy Mr. Wizard, who had no advanced education, sometimes won out and fueled my childhood interest in science. The conceit of the show was that he always performed a science experiment—one with a minimum of equipment—for a kid from the neighborhood.
Mr. Wizard’s cultural significance can’t be overestimated. According to his obit in The New York Times, “During the 1960s and ’70s, about half the applicants to Rockefeller University in New York, where students work toward doctorates in science and medicine, cited Mr. Wizard when asked how they first became interested in science.”